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Almost exactly a year ago, I tried my hand at blogging about my transition from Intern to Account Associate here at W2O Group. Despite being onboard full-time for barely a few months and meek when it came to putting pen to paper, I enjoyed the experience. I was still very wet behind the ears last February, but had had made some solid contributions to my clients and company. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to say that I am a seasoned PR veteran a year later. That said, I have gained some invaluable perspective into agency life that I thought I’d share with you.

To start, let’s briefly rewind. I got my start at W2O Group in Summer 2015 after graduating from a small, liberal arts college without a degree in Communications but rather Spanish Literature. How did a Hispanophile decide to go into Tech PR, you ask? Thankfully, W2O saw my potential in the field through referrals and the interview process, and for that I am most grateful. That leads me to my first key takeaway from my W2O Group Journey: your background isn’t what’s most important. It’s more about what you bring to the table in the present day. Every day, I work on different accounts with a variety of team members. I bet you none of them know that instead of studying how to write press releases in college, I was analyzing heroes like Don Quixote and Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz in a foreign language.

Despite not having a degree in PR, my writing background paid off. Not only did I publish a blog post right here a year ago, but I also had the opportunity to draft an award submission on behalf of a client this past Fall. The project reminded me a little bit of David vs. Goliath. Despite being a bigger guy, this time I assumed the role of David. I had never written an award submission before, and there were over 2,000 submissions. Like David, the daunting odds didn’t faze me. I owned the project from start to finish, which included review from the GM & Senior Vice President of one of America’s largest corporations. He liked it, and so did the selection committee. I have never felt prouder professionally than when I heard the news that my submission had won. My second takeaway from this journey: don’t be afraid to own projects, no matter your level of experience. Have confidence, work smart, and no objective is out of reach.

Bringing confidence and hard work to the table has helped me execute on numerous client deliverables here at W2O Group. Another example of owning and delivering has nothing to do with clients, or awards submissions. In fact, it has everything to do with pie. One of my fondest memories as a young professional has to be organizing and participating in our annual Pi Day, which occurs on 3/14, or 3.14, in celebration of the number pi. As a member of our office Culture Committee, I encouraged my colleagues to bring in homemade pie for a little friendly competition. Not only was the event one of the tastiest of 2016, it was a bonding experience for our office. I saw creative designers mingling with the finance team over slices of delicious pie. Seeing that was extremely rewarding for me, because I knew that without my initiative and participation in Culture Committee, these people might not have had that opportunity. So my last takeaway: get involved with office culture early and often, because there is no greater feeling than bringing people together so that they can laugh and eat dessert in good company

A lot has changed in the past year. I have switched projects, accounts, and teams on many occasions. Despite that fact, I come to work each morning energized knowing that I have the opportunity to contribute in a variety of ways. Whether I am organizing Culture Committee events or submitting (and winning) awards on behalf of clients, I am thrilled to be part of an organization that gives their people an opportunity not only to grow, but to shine.

 

 

 

 

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We’ve had an informal set of core values since I started this business nearly 14 years ago, and they really haven’t changed.  As we continue to grow, it’s critical for us to provide a consistent contextual framework, clarity and guidance across the organization as to the behaviors and actions that are expected and rewarded at W2O Group companies.  By formalizing and codifying our values, which must remain genuine and authentic to our organization, and backing them up operationally, they can serve as a critical filter for how we choose and evaluate both talent and business.

We strive to be the best in the business and want to be well known for our approach.  We seek to stay at the forefront of and continue to innovate in marketing and communications, and that means pushing us into new, sometimes uncomfortable territory.  It means staying scrappy and not worrying about hierarchies.  It means staying open to what’s possible and adapting to change – mastering the art of the pivot.

Ultimately, we are in this business to partner with our clients to enhance their businesses.  Clients are at the center of our world, and everything we do is in service to them.

Accordingly, our values tie back to providing the best client service possible by fostering an environment that supports that – meaning we create the space for ideation, knowledge sharing, collaboration, partnership and mutual experimentation – what we like to call pragmatic disruption of the status quo.   And, above all, we do everything we can to get the job done and done well and with total integrity.  We do what we say we are going to do . . . every time.

Value: Make it Happen 

If we were on a desert island and had only one value, this would probably be it – it’s about getting the job done for our customers and our colleagues with no excuses or caveats.  It’s simple.  And if barriers are slowing you down or holding things up, it is expected you will raise your hand, respectfully step on some toes and work diligently to solve and deliver.  This value speaks directly to our individual and mutual sense of urgency, doing what we promise and the power of perseverance.

#MakeItHappen from WCG on Vimeo.

Behaviors – Act with purpose and good intention, do what you say you will do, be scrappy and fail fast, breakdown silos and hierarchies

Value: Deal With It

We’ve been through extreme bouts of change over the past few years in terms of significant growth, innovation, evolution of business priorities and integration of services and teams.  But there are some things that will never change – including our commitment to excellent client service and best in class work.  In order to thrive in our marketplace, we have to be nimble and flexible – even as a mid-size organization, and that means change is inevitable.  People here do best when they “know thyself,” act and think like owners, take responsibility for their own career path and trajectory, can handle ambiguity, and who adapt to their environment to produce optimal outcomes for our colleagues and our clients.  To be clear this value does not mean “tolerate it” — especially at any cost — but rather get in the line of fire, pivot with the changes, hit the key issues or activities head on and get to solutions and resolution always versus grinning (with cold teeth) and bearing it or worse yet hating it.

#DealWithIt from WCG on Vimeo.

Behaviors – Get comfortable with change and adapt, leverage the diversity and blended expertise of your colleagues, be resourceful in approach and developing solutions

Value: Why Suck?

This goes hand-in-hand with “Make it Happen” because what’s the point of getting the job done if it’s not done well?  We’re not always perfect, but we should strive to provide the best product possible and deliver with flawless execution – always.  I have a nameplate on my desk in the office that says, “A+ or Nothing” and that motto still motivates me, but I also don’t let it stop us from growing and scaling.  To Become the Best, mistakes will happen and the route home can be circuitous.  As long as communications are clear and transparent and expectations are set with your clients and colleagues, slightly less than perfect can often be the perfect solution.

#WhySuck from WCG on Vimeo.

Behaviors – Follow your instincts and talent to achieve awesome outcomes, provide clients with epic work; strive to wow, be accountable to your clients and teammates and own the outcome

Value: Let’s Hang

Collaboration and camaraderie allows us to produce the best possible work for our clients, and that’s what this is all about.  It’s the reason we invest in experiences that bring our teams together outside the office – so that our people can share information and learn from one another.  Our direct communication style sets us apart from other organizations.  I discourage my team from withholding feedback; people deserve to receive timely and constructive feedback so they can improve.  We intend to create an environment of mutual coaching, responsibility and accountability and one where we are helping each other to succeed in the best interests of our clients and our collective self.

#LetsHang from WCG on Vimeo.

Behaviors – Collaborate with colleagues and clients to innovate, learn constantly from your colleagues and on your own, share what you learn for collective knowledge and growth, coach your colleagues

Value: No A**holes

I do believe it’s all one Web and one community:  Clients, Channel Partners, Consultants or Colleagues.  We live in an increasingly small world and the way we treat others – especially one another — will be remembered and comes with requisite consequences, good and bad.  In terms of behaviors, I recognize it is aspirational to “leave your ego at the door.”  It takes a lot of ambition and drive to come in and do what we do every day, and we should honor that.  But the way we show up for each other every day is really important, and we need to recognize that it’s not about “Moi.”  It’s about “we” and our clients. People should want to be here; we don’t want anyone here who has to be here or is here for the wrong reasons – making everyone miserable including themselves.  We have low to no tolerance for A**holes here, at our clients and with partners, so if direct communications and coaching doesn’t work to rectify it, then seek help from management to resolve it.  See also #ChooseHappiness.

#NoAholes from WCG on Vimeo.

Behaviors – Treat teammates with respect and expect the same treatment in return, we’re all here because we want to be here, leave your ego at the door

Value: Choose Happiness

It’s all a matter of choice:  The way you approach your work, the way you react to challenges, interact with colleagues and clients, friends and family.  We must encourage and create the space for creativity, innovation and work that really wows our clients and the industry.  While we expect full presence of mind and total engagement from the entire team, we encourage you to do so in the spirit of “get it done” optimism and aplomb that inspires and motivates versus pessimism and fear-driven directives that shut people down.  Let’s assume all of us have the best intentions at heart and in mind.  And that every member of the team is showing up and playing to win on behalf of themselves, their colleagues and, above all, our clients.  Only by working together and collaborating with a positive attitude and best intentions toward one another — while still pushing each other to do their best — will we produce the best work and outcomes.  Instead of sniping, complaining or cutting people down, let’s coach each other to play our best and get to the solutions and great work and work experience we all came here for.

#ChooseHappiness from WCG on Vimeo.

Behaviors – Remain curious and open to what’s possible, create the space for inspiration and creativity, step up and engage

I believe these six values and associated behaviors support our Integrity as a business and our goal to Become the Best.  Let’s keep it real, always.  And let’s own and take pride in who we are instead of apologizing for or compromising on it.  Let’s “bleed orange” together.

I want to thank all of you across the organization for helping us to define and articulate our values more concretely.  Many are core tenets that I’ve been talking about since Day 1 and really serve as the backbone of this organization. I was gratified, but not all that surprised frankly, to see that W2O Group’s teams not only agreed with these key tenets as being authentic to our organization, but also as important motivators for individuals when they thought of what attracted them and what has kept them here.

As we evolve, grow and scale and more new people enter the company, some of what got us here is exactly what we need to reinforce and use as a filter for hiring, selecting clients and retaining talent to truly Go.Ahead.

What’s your Why?  Why Matters.  What value do you identify most with? What experiences have you had recently that tie back to one of these?  Share your views in upcoming Town Halls, on the web and soon in our video competition – more details to come on that.

 

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Our goal is always to provide the most value for our clients in all we do.  It starts with our team.  And this is why we are placing more emphasis in the months and years ahead on building a more diverse workforce that identifies a wider range of talent and perspective.  Diversity of people = diversity of thought and we see that as powerfully translating into better ideas and results for our clients.  One way we’ve been making this real is continuing to build our partnership with The LAGRANT Foundation (TLF), an initiative that we are pretty jazzed about.

TLF is a nonprofit organization with a focus on addressing the lack of diversity in the advertising, marketing and public relations fields. Last year we announced a $50,000, three-year commitment to TLF to fund the Future Leaders in Healthcare Fellowship Program to provide opportunities for minority candidates pursuing careers in healthcare communications. Our inaugural class far exceeded our expectations with their drive, passion and expertise and we look forward to what’s next for this talented team.

Diversity of people thought, perspective and ideas is what makes America truly great. That has always been a core belief driving this perspective, involvement and our CEO Jim Weiss‘ personal and corporate contribution and partnership with TLF.  And the reason it’s TLF we partner with is because Kim Hunter, Founder & Chairmain of TLF, is committed to taking action that makes an impact versus just talking about it which doesn’t move the needle or accomplish very much.

We have moved a step further with Jim joining TLF’s board of directors to learn more and help us accelerate how we evolve our firm.


Check out former fellow, Dianique Ashley’s perspective on the program


Recently, we were fortunate to host the first of several TLF Career & Professional Development Workshops in our Austin office. Our marketing analytics team discussed the fundamentals of the practice and the evolution of marketing models, audience architecture, data sciences and the best way to meet client expectations. We look forward to continue hosting these workshops in our offices across the nation.

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Additionally, TLF Founder & Chairman, Kim Hunter took part in a roundtable discussion with our Austin team regarding diversity in the workplace and within our industry. Throughout the frank and mind-opening conversation Kim noted, “I love W2O Group for many reasons, but one of the main reasons is that the firm hires ‘non-traditional’ people.” As a firm, we will continue to recognize the importance of hiring diverse people in order to access a truly diverse mindset for the work we do.

We’re thankful to Kim for his vision and leadership and we’re looking forward to what’s next as Jim gets involved at the board level.

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Each holiday season, I spend time reading 5-6 books, often around a theme.  This year, I focused on people who are shaping our world.  Here’s a brief summary of each book and the next book(s) I plan to read to continue this learning process in 2017.

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight – Phil describes the chaotic journey of building a world class company.  He doesn’t discuss modern day Nike, but rather how it went from an idea for a paper at Stanford to fulfilling a life-long passion.  Knight realizes from the beginning that building Blue Ribbon, then Nike, was really an integration of his personal and professional life.  Nike became an extension of his family.  It is a great example of how entrepreneurs persevere, no matter how tough it gets, and how important it is to stay focused on the vision at all times, since many people with short-term views of the world have the potential to derail the success of the organization that is being built.  If Knight listened to the short-termers, Nike would not exist.

Next Book – Bryan Cranston’s Memoir…want to see how an actor who became successful later in life stuck to his dream, as well.

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow – the book that inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda to create Hamilton, the musical, is impressive.  It made me realize how important the U.S. Constitution was, how uneasy many were with its creation and yet, how Hamilton stayed focused on building the first Treasury Department, the US Mint, the Federal Reserve, the first Navy and even The New York Post, among many other accomplishments.  Alexander Hamilton was not always well-liked.  He often was swimming against the views of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and other notables, but he stayed focused on building a government that would withstand the ages.  In my view, one of the most entrepreneurial government leaders in U.S. History.

Next Book – Benjamin Franklin by Walter Issacson, John Adams by David McCullough and The War that Made America by Fred Anderson.  The latter is the prequel to the Declaration of Independence and the other two are foundational characters in the formation of the U.S., so this will round out what I learned by reading Alexander Hamilton.

The Terror Years by Lawrence Wright – I loved his prior book, Looming Towers, and learned a lot from reading about how Al-Qaeda has evolved and how the Islamic State has formed.  Although it often feels like this has all happened in years, these organizations have formed over decades, so to understand them better, it is worth going deep on their thinking and approach.

Next Book – The Qur’an by Bruce Lawrence and Understanding Iraq by William R. Polk.  My goal is to learn about the importance of the Islamic Faith (the many positive qualities of Islam) and to also better understand the region, country by country.

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance – this is a great introspective look at poverty in America, particularly in the Kentucky/Ohio area, where the author grew up.  In a year where politicians are throwing around venomous comments about people, I wish that all of us would take more time to look at the real lives of people who are having trouble getting ahead, wherever they may live.  Understanding the history and drivers of poverty are one step in the direction of identifying solutions (and rhetoric) that is more appropriate.

Next BookThe Bargain from the Bazaar: A Family’s Day of Reckoning in Lahore by Haroon Ullah.  Haroon is a friend who works in the U.S. State Department.  He has written several books.  In The Bargain, he provides a deeper look at one family’s trials and tribulations in Pakistan.  In my view, reading about families and actual examples helps to better understand policies that may be effective.

Broken But Unbowed by Governor Greg Abbott – the story of Gov. Abbott is inspirational in reading about his journey from becoming paralyzed via a falling tree in his 20’s to his now role as Governor of Texas.  Gov. Abbott is a constitutional expert and this book is devoted to his views on how the U.S. Constitution can be protected more effectively, including his direct interactions with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Next Book – The Gene by Siddhartha Mukarjee.  Gov. Abbott goes deep on the Constitution.  Siddhartha goes deep on the importance of our human genome.  I love authors who focus intently on a topic.

And since these books are all non-fiction, I’m taking a break right now and finishing A Little Life, a Man Booker Award finalist by Hanya Yanagihara.  Great read about four friends and their journey through life together.

Let me know of the books you’re interested in.  Hope you all have a Happy and Healthy 2017.

Best, Bob

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As our clients’ needs evolve, so do we. Over the years, we’ve found that growing organically and strategically are the best way for us to keep pace. To that end, we announced back in September that we had acquired leading communications consultancy, Pure Communications.  Then last month, we shared the news that we were bringing the expert research and social listening firm, Marketeching, into the fold. Today, we are excited to let you know that today we have acquired digital-first marketing communications firm, Sentient Interactive.

While a press release is always an important formality when putting out news, some of the details that add to the context and color of the story get left behind. As such, we often create accompanying blog posts like this interview with co-founder and current president of Sentient Interactive, Adam Cossman. The interview gives a little more background on Sentient, how it started along with some of its areas of expertise. Equally important is the fact that Adam will now be W2O Group’s Chief Digital Officer.

With that as background, let’s jump right into the questions:

Aaron: There is a famous saying that understanding the past is the key to the future.  To that end, tell us a little about how you and your co-founders came to found Sentient.

Adam: Back in 2008, I was just coming off of a short stint at Revolution Health (now EverydayHealth.com) after having built and run two other successful digital agencies (Temel, Inc. now part of Zeta and Ignite Health’s east coast office, now part of Palio).  It was a beautiful morning in mid-August and I had just had one of those nights where you have a dream that was going to haunt me for the entire day.  As I sat there on my dock on Lake George with my wife pondering my next career move, I remember a distinct moment where I stood up, turned to Lindsey and said, “I’m going to build my own agency.” I realized at that moment that I certainly had the experience and have always possessed the entrepreneurial drive to create my own agency and anything short of this was nothing more then a cop out.

From there my thought process snowballed including who would I want to be my business partners.  Since strategy is so critical to any successful agency Jeff immediately came to mind.  He’d be able to drive our approach and help define the “special sauce” that would define and differentiate us.  Next came a moment of panic, how were we going to execute all of our big ideas?  It was then that Walter popped into my mind, who better to be able to bring an operational mindset and unique ability to find creative ways to execute seemingly daunting projects.

Jeff and Walt jumped in head first and Sentient was born in October 2008 and I suppose the rest is history.  One thing that I didn’t realize at that time was how complimentary we’d all be to one another’s personality, capabilities and management style.  This ended up being the key to our relationship that fostered a truly impressive partnership.

Aaron: What is Sentient exactly and how is it different then other digital marketing agencies. 

Adam: Sentient is a digital-first marketing communications firm that works across a wide variety of industry verticals, yet with a core practice area in pharmaceutical and healthcare marketing.  There are really two key areas that differentiate us in the market:

  1. Many digital agencies have limited themselves to UX design agencies with boutique technology capabilities. Others have grown as technology companies that don’t focus too much on the creative.  Digital media agencies in many cases grew from being a paid search companies or as part of traditional media agencies and don’t focus on creative or tech.  We focus on all three and have built an agency that is equally as skilled in creative, tech and digital media/metrics.
  2. Our results-driven methodology and approach is perhaps the biggest differentiator for Sentient. We have a fully transparent, accountable model that gives clients confidence in working with Sentient as we’re able to effectively forecast for a client what they can expect and then prove it after.

Aaron: In your mind, what does it mean to be “results-driven”?

Adam: It means everything that we do should be focused on achieving a desired result for our clients and their brands.  While results may vary by industry, product, service or brand the focus of an agency should not. We should all be focused on achieving a desired and predictable outcome from our efforts otherwise what value are we providing to our clients?

Aaron: Today we announced that W2O Group was acquiring Sentient.  What intrigued you about joining forces with W2O Group?

Adam: There are a number of considerations that motivated Jeff, Walter and I to want to join forces with W2O.  First and foremost is the complimentary nature of our two businesses.  Sentient fits incredibly well within the broader W2O Group and as such it is not one of those acquisitions where we need to be concerned about duplication of efforts.  In fact, we see it as a huge benefit to our existing clients to be able to offer a much more robust and broad set of capabilities that compliment what we’re already doing digitally.  Second is the fact that we share a very similar philosophy and culture rooted in analytics and insights.  We’re a group of inquisitive and curious people who are constantly trying to find was to improve the results we’re seeing from our efforts.  Lastly, it’s so exciting to become part of an organization that has achieved the scale and overwhelming success that W2O has and what better time to join forces than now?

Aaron: What does this news mean for you and the Sentient team.

Adam: For me, it represents the next chapter in my career and the opportunity to use my nearly 17 years of internet and digital marketing experience to take Sentient and W2O to the next level digitally.  If there’s one thing that was reaffirmed as we went through this process is how incredibly proud I am of what we’ve created at Sentient.  Not many people can say that they’ve built a successful company that has experienced remarkable growth in the midst of an awful economy.  I’m truly excited to continue providing our existing clients with the services and quality they expect while also introducing to them an expanded offering that can drive measurable results for their businesses.  I’m also excited to work with W2O’s clients by bringing a more robust and integrated set of digital capabilities to the table.

As for the Sentient team, this is an incredible opportunity for all of them, and that’s perhaps what I’m most excited about. I’ve always told my employees that they represent one of the most important assets we have as a business, and we would never do anything that would put their jobs or livelihood at risk…after all, if we did we’d be putting the company at risk.  One of my jobs leading Sentient is insulating us all from risk wherever and whenever possible.  If we’re to grow, which in and of itself is the biggest insulator to risk, we must not solely rely on organic growth but also seek more strategic drivers that can truly change the trajectory of the business.  This partnership with W2O is going to do just that and as a result give our employees tremendously greater career opportunities.  Our staff will now be part of a larger organization, with greater capabilities, increased access to a wide variety of clients and greater geographic diversity.  This move only represents upside potential so long as they’re motivated to help us build the best possible company.  In fact everyone at Sentient, and everyone already operating in a digital/creative capacity at W2O, should view this moment as being placed at the “knee of the curve” of something truly incredible.  Its times like these that provide employees with a dramatic increase in career opportunity as they have a bigger stage on which to perform.

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Aaron: Where is the future of digital headed?

Adam and Jeff Rohwer: Digital has never ceased to amaze me and has always kept me on my toes given how rapidly it changes.  In fact its this incredibly fast pace that has made me avoid answering questions like this in the past as I’ve always been afraid of reading my response a year later on things like Web 2.0, social and mobile and chuckling at what I may have said.  But since you asked this loaded question I’d say that on a macro level the Internet of Things (“IoT”) will truly transform how we target, engage and influence users.  IoT will put an increased responsibility on marketers to engage our targets in more meaningful ways.

IoT will force us to put more emphasis on engaging our targets in the moments that matter and those moments tomorrow are going to be defined very differently than they are today.   While we’ll have increasingly creepier ways of targeting users and leveraging attribution to motivate behaviors, we must respect the increased responsibility this places on us all as marketers.

At a more micro-level, I’m hopeful that clients across industries will seek to unify how they engage with their digital agencies.  Divesting digital programs between multiple agencies (creative, tech, media) does not, in my opinion, save money, time or produce positive results.  I’d like to see the pendulum swing back to a place where the digital agency defines the strategy, executes the creative (whether unique to digital or pulled through from offline), builds the actual destinations and promotes the program seamlessly through targeted digital media.   After all, how can we feel comfortable telling a client that we can motivate changes in customer behaviors at influential moments in their journeys if we’re not using a fully integrated approach?

Looking into the crystal ball can be dangerous but there are some things that we know will continue to transform the world and how we market products and services.

We believe we’re at the knee of the curve with marketing disruption when you look at the coming wave of algorithms that will forever change not just how we engage people on behalf of our clients, but fundamentally the role of technology versus humans. As technology becomes more sentient (no pun intended), we know that algorithms will eventually replace many of the things that people do today. In a world where algorithms can understand us, create content, analyze data and make marketing decisions, the question becomes what is the role of technology vs. the role of humans in marketing?

As a services-based business that relies on technology to facilitate what we do, we’re looking critically at these issues to better understand the partnerships, technologies and human skill sets that will be needed to take our offering successfully into the future and maintain our competitive edge.

Aaron: Switching gears, what is your approach to learning and staying up to speed?

Adam: I have to admit that I’ve never been to keen on reading books or taking tests.  I realized this early in life but it was reinforced when I went to college where I had the opportunity to learn from some truly impressive and successful businessmen and women.  The people that have been most influential in my life learned more from watching and doing then reading.  So instead of reading about something, I’ve gone and done it.  This taught me to make it a habit of surrounding myself with the smartest and most influential people I could find.  It’s these people that I’ve been fortunate to call my friends and colleagues that have been responsible for most of my education.

Aaron: Can you recall a movie quote that has inspired you in business and your personal life?

Adam: Bruce Wayne’s Father in Batman:

“Do you know why we fall down?  To learn how to pick ourselves back up”.

This couldn’t be more true for me and its something I’m constantly telling my little boys.

Aaron: Fun question: if you were stranded on a desert island and could only listen to one album for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Adam: That’s easy Bob Marley’s Exodus

Thank you Adam (and Jeff). We are very much looking forward to having you and the Sentient team as part of the W2O Group family. Wrapping this interview up, I have a good feeling that as Mr. Marley wrote in the famous song, Three Little Birds, “Every little thing gonna be alright.”

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To simply say the lines have blurred is a gross understatement. Digital has not just disrupted business and society it’s upended it to a degree that has not yet been truly comprehended.

While some can argue that a digital world is really geared to the individual making his/her existence more informative, fruitful, and personal you could also state that, in so doing, a digital society has caused irreparable harm to careers, businesses, and entire industries reeking chaos and uncertainty in its wake.

So what is it? Clarity or Chaos?

Let’s explore a bit. No profession has seen itself be completely impacted more by digital than marketing, advertising, and communications. Media is virtually anyone with an opinion and web profile.  Publishers are giving way to platforms placing technology companies into the “news” and “entertainment” business. People can skip ads with a mere touch of a button. Companies are now publishers, developing their own content, no longer relying on outside parties to characterize their products and policies as well as value proposition. Mobile continues to be a fascination but, quite frankly, it’s not been evolving as quickly as many would like or have us believe. Nonetheless, mobile is an important element of the new world order as it relates to consumer engagement.

As consumers, we have more information in more formats than any time in history. Does it make us smarter? Perhaps. Does it make us more inquisitive? Absolutely. Does it place more power in our hands? Yes. But has it meant we’ve really solved problems or injustices in sustainable ways? Not really.

As employees, we can voice our opinion and share our perspective. Does it mean anyone is listening? Maybe. Are we better able to balance the inconsistencies enveloping business today? Nope. Does it give us more freedom around choices we make? Yes, but.

The Paradox of a Digital World can be summed up in two words: “conscious choice.”

We have more information leading to more pathways and more connectivity leading to more diverse relationships and perspectives. But that only matters in terms of how you choose to use both.

With all this change, there are still constants. Data and analysis is one. Big ideas are another. We have always needed both but the nature and cadence has shifted. Instead of leading with a creative idea and then building strategy around it based on experience and instinct, we lead with a precise analysis of the situation uncovering influence and white space where a brand can capture interest and then purchase based on behavioral insight. From there we unpack a creative idea or strategic platform to discern the pathway that leads to engagement based on the business direction and priorities.

The new dynamic is using data, insight, and technology and discovering how to reach today’s consumer and employee in a manner that is both natural and meaningful.

What has resulted is the influx of new and different competitors – management consulting groups, technology-oriented companies, traditional research and analytics shops, talent agencies, media agencies – leveraging data capabilities into full-fledged marketing and communications offerings. All of this noise tends to confuse and obfuscate.

As professionals and as a firm, we need to be digital period. Every idea, concept, approach, and argument must be made in this context. We must move our clients even faster into being digital recognizing the challenges inherent in doing so.

Digital provides untold rewards but also is fraught with risk. We certainly need to be generating new ideas and new solutions while realizing that our own models, methodologies, and approaches will evolve given the pace of technology.

The choice is whether we embrace digital or fear it…whether we continue to innovate, invest, and create the future.

In this new world order, only the confident and curious survive.

And that, my friends, is our conscious choice!

Jim

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“You were a public relations major? I didn’t know that was even a major.”

Okay, I get it. How hard can it be to pitch your story to a reporter or run a few social media campaigns, right? Is it really necessary to spend four years of your life studying public relations to be good at it?

During my very first college course in public relations at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, only a couple weeks after I declared my major, my professor told us that PR can’t necessarily be taught. Baffled, I contemplated going back to my advisor and changing my major, wondering why I would possibly devote my college career to a subject that “can’t really be studied.” However, after finishing the program, I believe that although professor was brilliant in many ways, he missed the mark a bit.

My program started off with what I know to be the backbone of any communication-based degree: writing. Though I fancied myself to be a pretty good writer coming out of high school, I was soon knocked down a peg (or two) in my writing classes. Professors constantly reminded us that because PR is about shaping your message for different audiences, your writing has to not only be effective and error-free, but also persuasive. As president of W2O Group Bob Pearson pointed out, studying public relations or communications teaches students how to be a storyteller through their writing, a key trait that is vital to the success of any PR pro. I’m proud to say my professors taught me how to do this with ease, but it wasn’t an easy road.

I distinctly remember a class where each week, we would have a different in-class, timed writing assignment. During the next week, our professor would distribute our work to the class, and would point out all the things we did wrong—in front of everyone. We would also have weekly quizzes on everything there was to know about the dreaded AP Style. However, we weren’t solely grilled on grammatical errors and bad typos. We were meticulously taught how to use those good writing tactics to shape the story any story we were trying to tell. At the time, I dreaded going into that class, never knowing what misery was waiting for me in that tiny classroom, but now, I couldn’t be more thankful for that type of push.

Moving up the ladder and into higher level courses, the coursework switched from learning about tactics of PR, like writing an effective press release or creating a 30-second PSA, to learning about the strategies that drove a good campaign. I learned how to create a strategic plan from start to finish, and tested it on with a real non-profit organization with my peers. I didn’t just study the Subway PR Crisis—I was able to use it to devise my own crisis communications plan. I understood, on a deep level, the power of the media in a multitude of areas, including business, politics and healthcare, to name a few. Through various group projects and presentations, I learned how to use those tactics to execute creative and strategic PR campaigns, something that many PR professionals don’t get to do until they are deep into their careers.

Because my major also fell under the journalism school, I was able to take electives in journalism that further enhanced my PR coursework. I was able to see the connection between the two fields, and could learn what type of relationship journalists dreamed of having with public relations professionals. I was able to meet peers in those electives who went on to become journalists themselves, making connections with future reporters who I can one day work with in my own professional career.

My professors and my coursework gave me all the necessary tools to have a successful career in my field, but those tools extended far beyond what my professor wrote on a whiteboard or what I was tested on during final exams.

As a PR major, I was given access to amazing leaders in my field. Because many of my professors worked in PR for the majority of their lives—or still worked in the field—they were able to bring in guest speakers who had a fresh and genuine perspective on all things PR and journalism. My professors not only emphasized the power of a network as a PR pro, but hand-picked a network that I could lean on. Over the years, I met pros in nearly every field, at major companies and huge agencies.

I was also respected and trusted in the field of PR before I was given my first job. Because most students don’t have the opportunity to actually study public relations, I had a leg up. I already knew the difference between a press release and a media alert, and I knew how to write a pitch. I was able to land so many PR internships right out of the gate, and was able to get an amazing opportunity at W2O Group, because my coursework gave me professional experience that most can only get through the actual working world.

I went into college with a passion for media and communication, and I came out with an enhanced understanding of how it all works, but I only got of it exactly what I put in. I used the connections that my professors and peers gave me to build my network. I looked for internships to compliment the skills I was learning and practicing in the classroom. I took all of the opportunities given to me as a PR major to make me ready to be a PR professional the second I walked across that graduation stage only five months ago.

The people I know to be successful in public relations come from all sorts of backgrounds. I am confident that I would not be in the same place professionally without my degree, because it was that program that forced me to leave my comfort zone. Though I’ve only been with W2O for a few months, I already know that this the kind of agency that also pushes people to get out of their comfort zone. The times when you are pushed so far out of your comfort zones are some of the only times you are really learning and growing, and this is the kind of environment I need to be in to learn. My PR program may be over, but I’m happy to be working in a place where my knowledge of public relations can continually expand.

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Every career takes twists and turns. Sometimes ones you plan, sometimes ones you don’t.

When I left W2O Group three years ago, I thought I knew the risks: leaving mentors who had invested in me, clients who challenged me, colleagues who had become IRL friends, and teams that I loved. Understanding risks and benefits have always been a key part of my life, whether in healthcare communications or as a junior researcher, and I thought I had it nailed.

But like so much else in health, it was the risks I didn’t account for that loomed large. I missed the unique blend of healthcare clients that lives here at W2O Group and the way that healthcare makes up the backbone of the firm’s DNA.

I’m a healthcare geek. I’m energized by the cross of healthcare clients that have found a home here at W2O Group.  We see the forest and the trees: the innovation of start-up biotechs, the experience and rigor of pharmaceutical companies, the novel approaches of medical device companies, and the digital health companies, health systems and other stakeholders that hold the ecosystem together.

It turned out that leaving the Long Hallway was also an underappreciated risk. The Long Hallway–our unique location-agnostic model—actually boosts collaboration between offices and geographies by allowing us to tap into talent, no matter where talent calls home. I’m in Austin, Texas—an inferno of a hotbed for new ideas—but unless an agency can partner seamlessly with clients and teams anywhere, they risk creating heat but no light. At the end of the day, clients are looking for an agency that has the team members who bring the best thinking and execution to help them achieve their business goals.

But the most important—and unexpected—flaw in my risk/benefit calculus in leaving W2O Group was failing to appreciate the firm’s relentless pursuit of “what’s next” in communications.  From the day Jim Weiss started this company, we have always asked how we can better understand the trends that will impact our clients’ position in the industry. How we can more effectively understand patient mindset. How doctors want to get information in today’s communications environment.

In the traditionally conservative healthcare industry, W2O Group has leveraged learnings from other industries and created totally new tools in analytics and software to drive forward healthcare communications.

That was three years ago. Earlier this year, I once again looked at the risk-benefit data when it came to health communications. I realized that if I wanted to sit at the intersection of critical health trends, if I wanted to work with a top-notch set of teammates dotting the globe, if I wanted to work with the next generation of tools, there was only one place I belonged.

So I’m thrilled to be rejoining the impressive W2O Group team as we write the next chapter in “what’s next” in healthcare communications.

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A First-of-its Kind Internship

This summer, I was given the opportunity to participate in a first-of-its-kind internship program. This unique eight-week program—organized by the W2O Group Center for Social Commerce at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School—consisted of two four-week internships, with the first month spent at W2O Group’s WCG agency based in its Minneapolis office and the last four weeks at the Medtronic operational headquarters. Over the course of the internship, I gained exposure to a wide range of communication activities including content development, media engagement and digital analytics. It was my first time to working in the healthcare communications industry, and I was extremely impressed by the ways agency and “in-house” communications teams worked together on projects and campaigns.

Working at an Agency & In-house

Working at both an agency and in-house has given me a valuable perspective on the differences between the two environments.

At an agency, you have the chance to work with a wide range of clients across different industries. The environment is fast-paced and those that are able to multitask and learn new skills will quickly thrive here. Employees are really the drivers behind the work culture, and in many ways, define the values of the organization.

On the in-house side, you have the opportunity to gain a deep understanding of the business and brand. You are able to see a campaign and project from start to finish and have the opportunity to focus on the overarching strategy of the business.

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During my internship at WCG, I was assigned to the account team supporting Medtronic and worked across both the analytics and the client relations departments in the agency. I worked on a variety of projects and had the chance to diversify my skill set. It was fascinating to see how engaged the client teams were with Medtronic, understanding the business and the market, and working side by side with their Medtronic counterparts.  It truly was an extension of the Medtronic team inside WCG.

While I was at Medtronic, I was able to take a deeper dive into one project and hone my skills in that particular space. Being inside a company changes your perspective immediately as attention focuses to specific goals and the performance of the business on a daily basis.  It is filled with meetings and conversations, discussions and debates, all in an effort to generate new ideas and ensure the business is running well.

Advice to Young Professionals

Based on my summer internship experience, agency life offers many advantages for young communications professionals who are up for a challenge and looking for a chance to work across a multitude of industries.

For young communication professionals who are passionate about a particular brand or industry and want to expand their expertise in that field, in-house might be the better fit.

Either way knowing and working in both areas during your career can only make you a stronger and more confident professional.   

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