How W2O is Attempting to Avoid the Proverbial ‘Race to the Middle’
It certainly hasn’t been lost on anyone that the past few years have been extremely challenging for communications and marketing firms in terms of revenue growth and profitability. Holding companies, large independents, and mid-sized agencies alike are struggling to gain traction amid a new environment where data and analytics provide a more precise media spend, consumer choice of content and channel is ever-changing, and employees now dictate corporate strategy. The byproduct of all this churn has been a race to the middle as firms have looked to reduce rather than invest while clients struggle to compete in today’s harsh business climate.
Last week, W2O, now in our 17th year, announced the 16th consecutive year of double-digit annual growth, in a market where major competitors retrenched, restructured, and restated their purpose citing myriad marketplace and client realities and rationale. The premise of this commentary is not to question nor comment on competitive moves. Rather, it’s to offer a perspective on where the industry is heading and how firms like ours are operating in this tumultuous time to stay ahead of the curve.
From the moment I founded the firm, my strategic intent was to deliver results for my clients based on what they needed, not what I wanted. Today, we are a firm that is neither fish nor fowl, so to speak. We’ve invested in data and analytics to generate insights in brand, relevance, marketing, and communications; digital; creative; and dimensional expertise in all the industries we operate in, primarily healthcare and technology, and where those sectors increasingly intersect.
And most importantly, we continue to invest in the only thing that really makes a difference over the longer term – A+ Talent.
Over this time we have taken many twists and turns as one can imagine. From an entrepreneurial mindset and specialty-based offering to a truly global, integrated entity with a mix of capabilities and skills wrapped in a consultative blanket and directed at solving business situations.
As I look over the last 17 years, there are four areas that have kept us fresh:
- One P&L – By far, the single most critical operational decision. One P&L keeps everyone – nearly 700 plus professionals – focused on the client vs. their parochial interests.
- Innovation – We were one of the first to invest in data and analytics and today out of 700 people over 125 are analysts, researchers, data scientists and the like. We develop our own proprietary models such as Inception (for Crisis and Issue Mitigation) and Relevance. We build our own algorithms and are applying machine learning to our models and exploring how new AI tools can take us to another level and address specific client and industry vulnerabilities and opportunities. This keeps us and our clients ahead of the curve and able to see around corners.
- Creative Destruction – For us, it’s always best idea wins. We encourage constructive disagreement and debate. This fosters a culture of learning, preparedness, and professionalism. It pushes us to be fast and agile. And the result is the best answer for clients.
- Talent Development – Not just acquiring the best talent but investing in training, diversity and university partnerships like the one we have with Syracuse University’s Newhouse School and the W2O Center for Social Commerce where we develop the next generation of professionals.
The one thing that pervades each area above is “investment.” Not always an easy thing to master as you wrestle with a multitude of risk. It’s a well-known belief that once a firm like ours hits the $100m mark, the “pivot” takes over. You either bust through and keep growing or stagnate and possibly fall backwards, never to recover.
There is certainly much to be done. I’m the first to acknowledge that maintaining the growth trajectory we’ve experienced will be challenging and difficult. It means we must be resilient, collaborative, committed, and open-minded.
But make no mistake, we have no intention of rushing to the middle.
Given the vagaries of business today we are not sure exactly where the journey will take us. We do know, however, we will be courageous, forthright, and prepared via analytics, insights, content, and execution to give our clients an unfair advantage in their business.
It’s a great time to be in our business – whatever that is!
We will always continue to “dream” like I did at the beginning…and place the right resources behind our dreams so they come to fruition. And continue to give talented and creative people the entrepreneurial running room necessary to break through and evolve. As technology and data continue to proliferate all we do, it’s still all about the people to me to ensure the healthiest and most desirable growth.