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Nearly thirteen years ago, our CEO and chairman, Jim Weiss, opened up a small healthcare PR agency in San Francisco called WeissComm Partners. The employees were a mix of former clients and colleagues and the focus was on helping a few customers better communicate with their key stakeholders. At the time, Jim envisioned that the company would eventually grow to 350 employees or more and would ultimately diversify beyond just PR healthcare. Little did he know how right he would be.

Fast forward to present day and the firm has grown from a half a dozen to over 400 employees across seven different offices including London. The company did $62 million in revenue in 2012 and has grown at a annual compounded rate of 40% over the last several years. In addition to its strong health care base, the firm now enjoys a broad base of clients including Intel, Verizon, Procter & Gamble, Hersheys, Michaels Stores, Kraft, Warner Brothers among many others. The agency’s service offerings have also grown well beyond just PR and now include a heavy focus on analytics, digital, media and engagement and corporate strategy.

In keeping with all these changes, the company’s name has also evolved. In 2009, the name changed from WeissComm Partners to WCG. In 2012, a parent company was created called W2O Group with WCG, Twist Marketing and Brew Life (that latter of which are newly created agencies) sitting underneath. You’ll notice in each case, the “W” or “w” has been carried through to represent our CEO and Chairman’s last name.

Over the last few years, W2O has been fortunate to not only experience rapid growth but has also been the recipient of a number of awards including digital and healthcare agency of the year. We’re also excited that Jim Weiss, the “W” in W2O Group has been named to PRWeek’s 2013 Power 50 list. In celebration of that fact, I’m asking my fellow W2O-ers to share a sentence or two in the comments below on their favorite thing or memory (remember this is a public forum) of Jim Weiss or their time at W2O Group.

Are you with me?

A few times a year, there are certain publications that do annual directories (and sometimes rankings) of key players in the areas our company cares about — marketing, healthcare, technology, PR, etc. Here at W2O Group, those outlets include the likes of AdAge, PRWeek, Holmes Report, O’Dwyers and MM&M among many others. To that end, while we don’t get too hung up on where we are ranked, we do like to take a step back and “smell the roses” as our CEO and Chairman, Jim Weiss mentions in one of his answers below.

In light of the recent MM&M listings where the editors provided a review of their top 100 agencies (we are on page 184), I sat down with Jim and to ask him a few questions about the past, present and future of our firm:

  • [Aaron] Jim – we’re in our 12th year of being in business. Rewinding back to your early days of just a few of you working out of a single office in NYC, did you ever imagine that you’d be leading a nearly 400 person agency with 7 offices in the U.S. and London?
    [Jim] Well, it was actually only a few folks in San Francisco not New York City when we started over a decade ago — New York only came online as an office around 2005 or so in the second bedroom of Hala Mirza’s New York apartment — and no, I actually envisioned 350 people or so.  So, we are now beyond what I had imagined it to be and will now be working off a next 5-year strategic plan which doesn’t look all that different from the one from the prior 5 years. 
  • [Aaron] What is the one thing that gets you up every day in the morning?
    [Jim] My family and the promise of a new day.
  • [Aaron] What’s the one thing that keeps you up at night?
    [Jim] Real Housewives & MadMen episodes. But in all seriousness… it’s usually about feeling I or we are falling behind in some way vs. Going and staying ahead.  I have a great fear of becoming obsolete or irrelevant.
  • [Aaron] From whom do you get your inspiration?
    [Jim] Anyone who gives it their all all the time usually against the odds or expectations.
  • [Aaron] Seeing where W2O Group falls in the rankings or learning that we’ve made it onto the listing of the top 100 agencies in publications like MM&M every year serves as reminder of the progress you’ve made. Do you use these opportunities as motivation?
    [Jim] Actually the listings/rankings are a “stop and smell the roses” opportunity for all of us to step back and see the bigger picture accomplishments versus day to day minutiae and fire drills.  I am fortunate to sit in a place where I get to see the whole organization and the many ways we have gone ahead, especially in the last few years, where the change and accomplishment has accelerated and compounded more rapidly and markedly than ever before.
  • [Aaron] You’ve talked a lot about building the agency of the future that focuses on delivering “next practices” to clients. What’s next in this evolution for the firm?
    [Jim] Combining the power of our data-driven insights with automated marketing in the cloud with our human expertise and talents as the way the world does business changes.  I feel our business purpose going forward is to help corporations, organizations and brands evolve the way they do business and relate to customers and constituents in the modern digital age driven by mobile and online media.  Integration and collaboration are now the keys to our future with the same goal of becoming the best in the industry at what we do.  We will do this by hiring the best people, doing the best work and working with the best clients as well as through education, thought leadership, flawless execution, co-innovation with our clients and taking calculated informed risks where we fail and learn fast.
There you have it. Inspiring words from Jim Weiss, leader of W2O Group (parent of WCG, Twist and Brewlife). Lots more to come over the coming weeks. We hope you’ll join us in our brief “smelling of the roses.”

You can acces PDFs here of our listing on MM&M and Jim’s recent write up on PRWeek’s Power list.

Every time I land at Heathrow, I feel the energy of London-town envelope me – my trip this week was no different. Yes, the weather was gray and cold despite the season, (hello, it’s London!) but the vibe was crazy cool – especially when entering our offices at 16 High Holborn, our burgeoning global center of excellence.

I was lucky enough to be in the office yesterday when the UK PR Week Leagues Tables came out, to join the team in celebrating: we moved up 31 places, to number 56!

It’s no easy feat to be amongst the top 150 UK consultancies after a mere five years of existence and to continue on the growth trajectory we’ve set for ourselves. It is thanks to an incredible team that makes it happen every day by believing in the WCG vision, themselves, each other and our clients. The ranking is a celebratory milestone – one we’re quite humbled by – but it is the day-to-day courage, camaraderie and collaboration that continues to amaze me.

The PR Week announcement has allowed us to reminisce – we certainly had a stellar year growing with our long-term clients and adding 5 new clients to our roster, as well as a fantastic collection of new team members. Interestingly, though, I was in London this week to look ahead, or in WCG vernacular, to “Go Ahead.” We spent time talking about where we’re headed in 2013 and beyond, and it became overwhelmingly clear that in our quickly evolving industry, our team is making its own way and taking calculated risks to deliver “next practices.”

Our 12 new analytics colleagues are working with our strategists and marketing experts to develop new models to guide our clients. Our digital team is creating new ways to evolve relationships via apps, sites and two-way communications. Our communications team is implementing advocacy work that, in many respects, is re-writing the patient/consumer decision journey.

WCG London isn’t having a strong finish as rankings often suggest…it is merely getting started. We’ve found our calling!

 

“It’s not about ‘best practices’ – it’s about ‘next practices’ as learned my new colleague Annalise Coady and I, when we excitedly touched down at the W2O Media and Engagement Summit in Austin.

We knew we worked with some forward-thinking people, but the depth and breadth of experience (along with general awesomeness) blew us away. Here’s a quick and dirty summary of some of the things we learned and plan to pioneer across the pond:

  • Media has evolved and PESO is the future: Day 1 kicked off with Head of Earned Media, Jim Larkin, demonstrating how media has evolved from the 1960’s, and how we as communicators have had to continuously adapt in order to connect with our audiences in new ways. Jim introduced the PESO (paid, earned, shared, owned) model – the integrated future of media engagement for W2O.
  • Relationship is king – know your influencers and tailor your pitch to suit: Ex-reporters Ryan Flinn and Brian Reid, along with Earned Media Director Peter Duckler and blogger aficionado Carla Clunis, shared their insights into ‘What Modern Media Want’. The clear message being we must become part of the community we want to influence and ensure we’re always approaching media with meaningful and relevant content.
  • Bring in the experts, right from the start: When you see an opportunity for our client to integrate, deploy our experts across digital, social, creative and media fields.
  • Jump in the pool: Your career at W2O doesn’t have to be linear. Do great client work and pollinate across the company, teaching account teams to do what you do.
  • W2O’s new search capabilities are awesome: Creating content that’s not findable in search is almost meaningless. W2O Search, championed by Greg Reilly and Sri Nagubandi, enables us to ensure we’re always producing content that meets the needs of our audiences – and most importantly, can be found!
  • Influence can be created – passion can’t: 92% of word of mouth still happens OFFLINE. We have the capabilities to execute outstanding WOM campaigns allowing us not only  to keep track of what people are saying about brands online and offline, but also enabling us to insert ourselves into the conversation through the engagement of ambassadors to spread goodwill.
  • Our clients are looking for first class ideas, strategy and execution: As part of a panel discussion, ex-clients Jim Larkin and Lionel Menchaca shared what they look for in an agency:
    • Passionate and committed to the cause as they are
    • Know the ball park they’re playing in
    • Competitive zeal
    • Always offer strategy and counsel where possible
    • Constantly align agency work with client business objectives
  • W2O knows more about what physicians are doing socially than anyone else in the world: Sounds like a heavy claim, but our MDigital Life database has made it so – just ask Greg Matthews!

As a company at the forefront of innovation, we must continue to push the boundaries of conventional approaches; experiment and practice truly integrated planning for our clients, or as they say in Texas; “Always drink upstream from the herd!”

Jim Weiss Family

Jim_Weiss_Family_Square

W2O_logos

BrewLife is the youngest addition to the W2O Group family, and we’re mighty proud of our family history. For those not in the know, W2O Group was once named WeissComm, born at home in Jim Weiss’ loft in 2002. We outgrew our crib years ago and have more than 300 employees today in San Francisco, New York, Austin, Los Angeles and London.

Now in our teens, we ‘ve become a network of marketing, communications, research and development firms that drive change and growth for the world’s leading brands. And yes, we’re still speaking to our Dad.

So, a Happy Father’s Day to our Chairman, CEO and Founding Father.

 

As I join WCG and the W2O Group, many thoughts and objectives go through my head – meeting our talent and clients, learning about where we innovate, and looking for growth opportunities that align with our clients’ greatest needs and our people’s passions.

These are all important fundamentals that will receive much of my time and attention. But they are basically the same to-do’s for anyone in my shoes joining any new agency.

The reason I joined WCG is because it isn’t any agency. Building on WCG’s unique success thus far, and contemplating its equally unique future potential, I can’t wait to collaborate with Jim, Bob and Gary as well as all of my new colleagues and clients, to explore, test and action ideas that I believe can continue to propel WCG on its journey as a next practices agency of the future.

Smart Growth  & Avoiding Agency Sprawl

If an agency’s annual revenue grows by 16%, has that agency become 16% more valuable as a client partner? If a firm’s headcount increases by 12%, has it become a better place to work by a factor of 12%?

Counting bums-on-seats and the total amount of fees that clients pay them is an essential responsibility for the agency’s owners and managers. But too often these figures become central data points to demonstrate the intrinsic value of an agency to its clients and its people.

WCG needs to provide a geographic footprint and set of capabilities that match our clients’ shifting and growing needs. We also need to have a certain scale that allows for continued investment in innovation, as well as a platform that allows for the on-going development of our people.

All of the above requires WCG to continue to grow. But we must avoid building a company so far-flung that it takes us away from client counseling, product innovation and people development and merely traps WCG’s managers and owners in the business of “feeding the beast” that we built.

As with urban planning that seeks to avoid unintended sprawl, WCG’s growth should be smart, with the right shape in mind for our organization. We need to build tools, expertise and a geographic presence that are doggedly defined by the needs of our clients and the aspirations of our people. We also need to ensure that WCG’s organizational shape as a client counselor and program activator always fits like a glove with the other W2O companies which can provide our clients with insights and analytics that they simply cannot get anyplace else.

Going Being Global

Choosing whether or not to ‘be global’ is as false a choice as choosing whether or not to accept gravity. Organizations and individuals are all operating in a globalized reality. The only variables are our level of awareness and the choices we make.

Companies make a choice to ‘go global’ through specific financial, strategic and operational decisions. But once additional markets have been opened, new products launched and a wider set of consumers are being touched, companies – at their center – must be equally deliberate about being global. That doesn’t always occur.

In addition to executing specific ‘going global’ investments and activities in new markets, similar to GE’s concept of ‘reverse innovation’, global brands and companies must subject themselves to ‘reverse influence’ whereby, the center of their organization – including but not limited to the C-suite – is infused with and influenced by a mosaic of global expertise, insights and intelligence on an on-going basis.

This reverse influence should be sustained, it should disrupt assumptions and broaden the waterfront of perspectives that impact real decisions. A company’s agency partner should be a part of this reverse influence. WCG wants to be that type of partner to our clients with our people and our point of view.

Borderless Trust

If you you want to be trusted anywhere in the world, tell the truth. However, beyond that, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to building, managing or repairing trust across all markets or every stakeholder relationship.

How does a Brazilian multi-national energy company build trust with policy makers in DC?… How can an Indian healthcare company establish trust with doctors when entering a new market like the UK?… How should a US food & beverage company repair trust with moms in China’s Tier 2 & 3 cities after a recall?

Attaining borderless trust requires certain universal principles and behavior. But then it gets local – quickly. No one needs to read or write more words about the influence and impact and highly localized aspect of of social media communities and conversations. Similarly, most of us  drown in thick monitoring reports from multiple sources that go unread, dashboards that only cover half the markets you are in and less of the languages your consumers speak, and buzz analytics that merely measure… buzz.

All the while, strategic decisions are ill-informed and campaigns cannot be assessed in real-time for either course-corrections or amplifications. And there is certainly no central repository, let alone criteria for, true influencers across all borders.

Borderless trust requires diving into local conversations and communities and building real relationships. Local instincts and expertise are definitely required. But any approach to listening, analyzing and measuring requires a singular divining rod that is informed by (and can influence) an organization’s overall strategy.

WCG can draw on W2O Group’s proprietary solutions that equip our account teams to provide uniquely powerful counsel on how our clients can build, manage and protect borderless trust.

That’s not happening at any agency. And that’s why I am so excited to be here.

Note: Jim and Bob’s thoughts on hiring Chris can be found here.

The Dow drops precipitously based on a single Tweet; the Boston bombing perpetrators are identified and caught rapidly in part due to FB and Twitter posts and citizen action; even better yet funds are set up and raised to support victims and their families; a movie is financed outside the Hollywood studio system in record time.

These are only a few recent of a mounting number of examples of the power of these relatively new media channels to move people to action, report events, create movements and set the national and international agenda.  In much the same way radio did in the 1920’s and 30’s and TV in the 1940’s and 50’s, so the Internet and online media (social and otherwise) have changed the way we receive, process and share information.  This is isn’t news and I’m not the first to cite this but I did see quite a bit of coverage on CNN, CBS, ABC and other networks over the weekend in the wake of the Boston bombings about the power of social media, its speed, reach and “coming of age” and ultimately posing the question: is it time to take “social” out of social media?

Like radio and TV, it has been much maligned and mistrusted and in many cases is biased and inaccurate.  It also brings with it myriad social, economic, legal and policy issues that will have to be debated and worked out in the coming decades — giving pundits, lawyers, bloggers, talk shows, think tanks, policymakers and the like a whole new frontier to keep them busy till the next big thing comes along that changes everything yet again.

As the new rules are being contemplated and written, people, businesses and organizations of every kind smart enough to have caught on to this have already gotten policies in place, trained their people and invited them to learn about and participate in this phenomenon.  The train left the station a while ago.  That said, because it’s the most democratic of media, you can opt in or out or choose to turn it on or off at your control and even filter out a lot of the bad stuff.  That’s anyone’s prerogative in a free market society. Yet ignoring it will be hard if for no reason other than tracking the progress of a favorite sports team or a child’s whereabouts and well being.  Like TV and radio, it will help us accomplish great things we can be proud of that will bring our world closer together and in the wrong hands it will cause some problems.

Clearly, there will be good and bad stuff to learn along the way, but make no mistake, we will all have to learn how to live with this media because it will be downright anti-social if we don’t!

With the 2013 version of SxSW Interactive in the books, it’s time for a look back on highlights, key trends (or lack of) and links to some of the awesome content we collected during the several events that we hosted during the event.

For starters, there really weren’t any big technologies that shined through at this SXSW like we’ve had at past events. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but likely more of an indication that it’s becoming harder and harder to break through all the noise at SXSW Interactive. There was a larger corporate presence than ever this year and that will likely be a continuing theme over the next few years as companies continue to embrace, grow and operationalize social, digital and mobile into their corporate DNA.

Social Commerce Summit

For W2O Group in particular, we had a very successful set of of events that kicked off with our Social Commerce Summit on Thursday, March 7. During this six hour event, we had 19 speakers each give 10 minute TED-like talks. The talks covered a range of topics including love, marriage and creating brand passion. We know it’s a lot of content but we hope you’ll take the time to watch the video (or at least read the highlights in the blog posts) from the speakers below.

We also had a few nice write ups from the event by former PR Week/current Holmes Report writer, Aarti Shah (here) and friend of W2O, Lisa Grimm (here).

In particular, we would like to thank our sponsors, Sysomos and BazaarVoice, for making all of our events during SXSW possible. They were (and are) great partners.

 

W2O Group Open House/Live from Stubbs Video Podcasts

While there weren’t any breakthrough companies this year at SXSW, we did have a number of themes crop up during our Social Commerce Summit and then again during our Live from Stubbs podcast tapings during our open house on Friday, March 8. In particular we heard a lot about big data, mobile, analytics and the operationalization of digital across the organization from many of our speakers/guests. There was also a significant amount of interest in our partner, SnapTrends, technology that provides for location-based analytics, a topic that W2O is quite bullish on.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be embedding the Live from Stubbs videos in blog posts on our Common Sense blog. In the meantime, you can check out all of the videos on our Youtube channel here. You can also read my Live from Stubbs co-host, Kyle Flaherty’s summary of our interview with Youtube’s Jeben Berg, here. When Kyle is not podcasting he is the VP of marketing at local analytics firm, 21CT who was kind enough to sponsor our Live from Stubbs videos. I would also like to thank local video production and strategy company, UPG for all of their brilliant work with both the Live from Stubbs videos as well as recording/editing all of our Social Commerce videos.

Geek-a-cue

Of course SXSW wouldn’t be what it is without a party. And party we did at our 4th annual Geek-a-cue on Saturday night at Franklin BBQ (ranked best BBQ in the U.S. by Bon Appetit Magazine). Fortunately the rain held off this year allowing us to eat fantastic BBQ, enjoy the brilliant music of local favorite, Monte Montgomery, share a few beverages, take funny photos in our photo booth and play a little Corn Hole out behind the tent.

This short video shot and produced by UPG does a wonderful job of summing up this fabulous event.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l_TYROYXApk[/youtube]

We also need to thank Natalee Norwood and Spoiled Doves for producing our Geek-a-cue. Without all her creativity, foresight and elbow grease, this event wouldn’t be what it was. Thank you to Aaron and Stacy Franklin and the Franklin staff for use of their venue and all the mouth watering BBQ they served up with smiles on their faces.

Digital Brunch

Capping off the week, we hosted a digital brunch at our East Austin offices. In spite of threats of rain, the springing ahead of the clocks and a lot of hung over SXSW attendees, we still enjoyed over 125 visitors to our new offices. The petting zoo, chair massages, drinks (alcoholic and caffeinated) and gourmet brunch courtesy of local restaurant/catering company, Dai Due, probably didn’t hurt.

Biggest thanks of all go to the dream team at W2O Group of Erin Disney, Stephanie Layton, Blaire Borochoff and Katrina Hallowell for their months of hard work putting these events together. Huge props also go to our CEO, Jim Weiss and President, Bob Pearson for making these events possible. Last but not least, a shout out to all of our W2O Group employees who volunteered/attended as well as our clients for being an integral part of our SXSW experience. Thank you!

Last but not least, we also had a little fun with our #sxswpickuplines this year. Details are here. Video that put the cherry on the cake is below.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nR6kVwM2Gp8[/youtube]

UPDATED 3/19/13

Living by our mantra of failing fast and recognizing and rectifying mistakes quickly and transparently, I inadvertently and absent-mindedly did not list our London office promotions —  which were communicated to them personally late last year — in yesterday’s Blog Post.  I am reposting yesterday’s Blog post today to call out our London colleagues who deserve an equal shout of recognition, admiration and gratitude — with an “I’m sorry” thrown in for good measure.

PS:  That makes more than 50 promotions company wide along the long hallway, not the nearly 50 I referenced yesterday with more to come in September.  Way to Go.Ahead!

——–

When we reported our business results and highlights last week, the simple explanation I gave for our 12th year of double-digit growth was “great people doing great work for great clients.” The mantra since day one has not been to be the biggest but to be the BEST! Why suck, right?

In particular, our great people make our business what it is so we need to recognize and reward achievement to sustain a true “meritocracy.”

We were pleased to promote nearly more than 50 among our best and brightest and expect more to come this Fall.

Our colleagues listed below reflect the spirit and accomplishment of the organization and deserve a shout out of respect, admiration and gratitude.

Full List of Promotions:

  1. Josh Baldwin – Sr. Account Manager, tWist
  2. Haifa Barbari – Director, Digital
  3. Erin Bittner – Account Director, tWist
  4. Andy Boothe – Director, Data Engineering
  5. Morgan Carricarte – Account Associate, WCG Healthcare
  6. Lauren Chapman – Manager, Analytics
  7. Jaclyn Cohen – Sr. Account Manager, WCG Healthcare
  8. Muna Cullivan – Manager, Analytics
  9. Kelly Davisson – Account Director, WCG Healthcare
  10. Anna Dorfman – Account Manager, WCG Healthcare
  11. Kristen Drake – Account Director, tWist
  12. Mary Claire Duch – Managing Director, tWist
  13. Seth Duncan – Group Director, Analytics
  14. Paul Dyer – Managing Director, Media & Engagement
  15. Jessie Eborn – Sr. Manager, Finance
  16. Emma Ferguson – Manager, Analytics
  17. Dina Folkman – Group Director, Talent & Culture
  18. Colin Foster – Managing Director, tWist
  19. Audrey Gross – Sr. Account Manager, WCG Healthcare
  20. Tom Haan – Managing Director, BrewLife
  21. Nadia Hasan – Sr. Account Manager, WCG Healthcare
  22. Chuck Hemann – Group Director, Analytics
  23. Diane Holst – Managing Director, Talent & Culture
  24. Chris Iafolla – Acount Director, tWist
  25. Darcy Keane – Sr. Account Manager, WCG Healthcare
  26. Dana Kinker – Sr. Account Manager, WCG Healthcare
  27. Allison Klein – Sr. Account Manager, WCG Healthcare
  28. Steph Layton – Sr. Manager, Facilities & Operations
  29. Rachel Leslie – Account Manager, tWist
  30. Vicky Lewko — Group Director, WCG Corporate & Strategy
  31. Luis Mendoza – Staff Accountant, Finance
  32. Robin Nasby – Sr. Account Manager, WCG Healthcare
  33. Jennifer Ormerod – Associate Creative Director
  34. Becky Ostrom – SVP, Finance & Operations
  35. Amy Pasqua – Account Director, tWist
  36. Adam Pedowitz – Account Director, WCG Corporate & Strategy
  37. Shannon Richardson – Group Director, tWist
  38. Lisa Shichijo – Sr. Account Manager, WCG Healthcare
  39. Hayley Soffer – Managing Director, WCG Healthcare
  40. Aaron Strout – Managing Director, W2O Social Commerce
  41. Ashley Swartz – Account Director, WCG Healthcare
  42. Elise Trent – Account Manager, tWist
  43. Carolyn Wang – Managing Director, WCG Health
  44. Brandon Watts – Sr. Account Manager, Analytics
  45. Beth Weiss – Sr. Manager, Facilities & Operations
  46. Stephen Yoon – Manager, Analytics

You are an inspiration to us all!

Way to Go. Ahead.

Jim