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W2O study uncovers sentiment of internal dynamics and perceptions shaping organizational confidence in U.S.

 “Just tell me what’s next?”

If you can sum up the sentiment from today’s employees regarding COVID-19, then providing answers to that question is a start. W2O undertook a comprehensive study on U.S. employee attitudes and perspectives toward COVID-19 in order to understand overall perceptions of the pandemic from an employee standpoint including concerns, interests and beliefs. The study also examined how companies are addressing these issues and how they are shifting over time as society and business moves to the next phase of this public health crisis.

“Employee relationships and engagement have become front and center during COVID-19 as leaders discern the right balance of providing clarity, recognizing effort, maintaining performance and ensuring safety, said Gary F. Grates, Principal, W2O and a leading authority on organizational communications and change management. “Our deep-rooted analytics expertise allowed us to explore the multiple dimensions of employee attitudes and behaviors and how companies should recalibrate and design effective solutions to adequately respond to this new reality.”

View full study results can be found here.

Highlights from the study, conducted with more than 1,000 employees representing various business segments from the overall U.S. population, include the following:

Addressing Employee Concerns and Needs Improves Organizational Confidence

Projecting a strong, vibrant persona as a business is critical to stakeholder belief and confidence. Virtual working models, while efficient, raise issues of isolation and myopic thinking that, if not addressed, can negatively impact brand relevance.

Communication that is Empathetic and Clear Impacts Attitude, Behavior

Improving and continuing communication of company plans and relevant information around the COVID-19 pandemic is important. Companies must establish expectations around working from home and provide daily/weekly updates from the CEO and higher level management. They must create awareness efforts surrounding plans to reopen, strategies to ensure safety, and updates about employees who have contracted the virus.

Clean and Safe Policies Are Expected Before Individual Decisions Are Made

Taking a number of actions that identify the needs and wants of employees and recognizing each individual concern over returning to an in-person working environment is necessary. Companies must utilize sanitation services and provide PPE to make employees feel comfortable returning to work.

Putting Employees First Garners Loyalty

Employees admire employers who set standards and a plan of action to move the company forward. Commitment to employees reassures them that their job is secure and ensures confidence.

Flexible Work Schedules Will Become the Norm

Flexible scheduling gives employees better options to balance home and work responsibilities. Employees want various options to adjust their schedule. They also want the ability to work from home whenever they want or have the option to go into the office when needed.

“We found numerous levels and dimensions of employee perceptions that define the character of organizations. These are extremely important to how employees think and operate, said Dave Johnson, Managing Director, Integrated Intelligence, W2O. “This foundation provides a basis for new and different approaches to policies, decision-making and communications during the pandemic to maintain or exceed employee expectations. As the pandemic continues to unfold, these findings and insights will prove to be more valuable than ever to leaders and communicators alike.”


Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages.

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AMEC Barcelona Principles 3.0 Unveiled – Playing Catch Up, Keeping Pace and Striving to be Bolder

Performative measurement? Superficial metrics? Social as a new channel? Welcome to the dark ages of communications measurement, circa 2010. Measurement has thankfully edged forward over the last decade, and today’s comms practitioners crave integrated, innovative and audience-centric measurement that drives real business results. Without it, practitioners fall further behind their marketing peers, failing to optimize programs and prove the value of comms to the C-suite. 

But are industry standards keeping pace? Are we still stuck in the dark ages? Do we still need to educate on Advertising Value Equivalency (AVE)?

It’s been five years since the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communications (AMEC) refreshed its Barcelona Principles and 10 years since the original launch. The Barcelona Principles provide a foundational basis for comms measurement and evaluation, setting an overarching framework and alignment for industry associations, think tanks, commissions and practitioners from 33 countries.

This week, AMEC unveiled the long-awaited Barcelona Principles 3.0 on the virtual stage of its annual global summit. Drumroll…. please.

Here’s our breakdown of where the industry has caught up, what feels on pace, and where we can be bolder.

Caught Up

  • Taking a holistic approach to measurement. A long overdue evolution of the original “social media can and should be measured principle,” it’s hardly news that the industry has moved toward a holistic measurement approach. At W2O, we believe counseling clients on a fully integrated cross-PESO approach is more important than ever as CCOs are increasingly integrating with CMOs and CTOs to deliver holistic measurement to the CEO. We are constantly exploring new ways for comms measurement to look, feel and behave more like marketing. Comms falling five years behind marketing peers? It’s no longer an option.
  • Goal setting is a must and should be flexible. We wholeheartedly agree with this long overdue update that goals should be dynamic and revisited on a consistent basis. We build in regular reviews of client goals to ensure measurement plans are living, breathing documents to capitalize on optimization opportunities.

On Pace

  • People and society matter. The refreshed principle acknowledges the importance of identifying outcomes and impact for stakeholders and society, in addition to the organization. At W2O, we are examining new ways to measure social good and important stakeholder groups such as employees who are increasingly having an impact on long-term company performance.
  • Rooting our work in integrity. Data privacy remains one of our top concerns as we work with sensitive healthcare data and new AI technologies to ensure we are protecting the end user and delivering unbiased results.

Be Bolder

  • Potential impact was left undefined. The updated principle speaks to measuring outputs, outcomes and potential impact, but detail around potential impact is missing. Potential impact, or rather predictive, is where we need to be innovating as an industry. We see predictive as the NOW – not just the future – as we experiment with coupling new technologies with seasoned data scientists to lead comms to predictive modelling.
  • Audience-centric measurement as a stand-alone principle. Audience is more important than ever, and our measurement framework takes an audience-centric approach to understand if the right message was delivered on the right channel to the right audience. New quantitative audience data, combined with qualitative methods, is enabling the industry to push further in this direction.
  • Re-evaluating metrics beyond AVE. As an industry, it’s time to broaden the “do not advise” metric list. Impressions or unique visitors per month are antiquated metrics. Automated sentiment is far from perfect. At W2O, we regularly re-evaluate the metrics we are using to counsel clients and explore new tools, data and methods.

We have edged forward as an industry, but it’s time to be bolder and to critically examine industry guidelines on a more frequent basis, bringing on new talent with diverse perspectives, and experimenting with new methods and technologies to bring comms measurement into 2020 and beyond.

For more thought leadership on measurement, please check out AMEC and Institute for Public Relations (IPT).

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In “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” renowned African American author Zora Neale-Hurston writes, “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”

Six months in, 2020 has proven to be the year of seismic questions that are poised to trigger significant change. The murder of George Floyd, coupled with the protests of the past few weeks and the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, have led to many urgent and important questions across all sectors of society, including corporate America. Over the last few weeks, corporations across the country have been pressed to address questions about racial and social inequity; their engagement and support of their communities; and their leadership approach in these turbulent times – all of which have influenced their overall relevance.

Through our W2O Relevance framework, we sought to understand the effect of corporate responses to recent events on corporate relevance, surface trends and share guidance for consideration. We analyzed social conversations on racial and social inequity, along with corporate responses and employee commentary to solidarity statements. We found one thing that’s abundantly clear: we are entering a new era of corporate citizenship. There is increased pressure and expectations that companies lead and engage on social issues from the inside out and in the communities around them. What’s more, employees and stakeholders are demanding swift, actionable changes, pointing to the need to focus on authenticity and inclusion. Our analysis shows that companies that  are rising to the challenge in open and honest ways are being rewarded with increased relevance.

For a copy of the full “Relevance in the Era of 
Social Change and Disruption” Analysis, click here.

Trends that had been simmering for the past few years have reached a critical inflection point through the convergence of COVID-19 and racial injustice.

W2O has tracked the relevance of 62 Fortune 500 healthcare companies’ racial and social equity efforts for the past two years. This data shows several emerging trends that have intensified with the events of 2020:

  • A growing focus and increased conversation on social equity, with a specific emphasis on diversity and inclusion (D&I)
  • A push for transparent communication and engagement on D&I and social equity issues
  • Mounting stakeholder expectations for action and measurable results

In the wake of the social unrest following the death of George Floyd, corporate America has found itself at a crossroads. While 36 of the top 50 Fortune companies responded to the event and the larger question around racial injustice, the data shows that platitudes weren’t enough. Companies that acted quickly and robustly not only bolstered their relevance, but their commitments went beyond the playbook. Those companies leaned into comprehensive social actions that not only aligned with their values, but were aimed at addressing some of the tenets/issues that have contributed to the systemic racism and social injustice that have plagued the United States for centuries.

2020 continues to be not only the year of questions, but the year of potential change. Companies can no longer go by the playbooks that they have always used. By living and breathing their values in partnership with their employees and communities, companies that are part of the corporate fabric of our society can serve as agents of change.

In the past few weeks, W2O has taken action and made new commitments to D&I. We have made a cash donation of $50,000 to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, two nonprofits working to address racial inequity. W2O has also created a matching program for employee donations and outlined steps for W2O and our industry to do more. We will continue to work toward change, and know we must do more.

Contributions to this content were made by Marianne Gollub, Kayla Rodriguez, Katy Hagert, Meredith Owe, Kendall Tich, Alan Chumley, and Daniel Steffen of W2O.


Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages

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The idea of moving scientific and medical conversation online is not a new concept. Indeed, when the online world began to open to a broader swath of people in the early 1990s, one of the first uses brought people together around various health topics.

But in the new COVID-19 era, consuming scientific and medical data virtually is not a novelty. It’s not even one of many options for accessing information: it’s become the only way. With major medical congresses, such as ASCO 2020, going completely virtual, it’s critical that we re-think not only the end of the process – the presentation or the publication – but indeed the entire span of how we think and talk about research.

It means understanding usability, optimizing for data-sharing, and analyzing each decision and each channel to make sure that the right stakeholders are getting the right information.

Planning for the Future Now

The best way to ensure virtual dissemination of data is to plan from the beginning!

During the publication planning process, we should incorporate virtual distribution into the plan for seminal data releases as they are developed for both congress presentations and more finalized manuscripts.

A successful publication plan will consider secondary congresses with unique, specialized audiences to maximize the reach of the data to all interested clinician types, payers, and patients. Important considerations can include how the timelines for development may be impacted, what additional resources (graphic design, digital expertise, IT) may be needed, and which key stakeholders may need to provide feedback.

Virtual—What Does it Mean?

The concept of virtual can mean a lot of things to a lot of different folks, so it’s critical not to use the word as shorthand or stay at a superficial level. The same goes for “digital.” Some people associate those concepts with social media while others might think of any electronic communication as falling into those buckets.

Virtual data dissemination, done right, is about multiple channels, many with significant overlap. For every effort, we need to specify what those channels might be,  including webinars, social media, email, PDFs, websites (eg, company, congress, database), pre-print libraries, for starters. And we need to be specific about how we can use them to highlight the right virtual data, at the right time, to the right audience.

Speaking of the right audience, it is important to think about how doctors, patients, and pharma companies are viewing and consuming virtual data, with the days of only abstracts, congress booths, congress posters/presentations, and manuscripts a bygone era.  So, how can we leverage virtual dissemination of data to extend the reach and life of these traditional channels, especially in the new era of virtual congresses?

  • Our Old Friend, the QR Code! In years past, QR codes in the corner of a poster would take the view to a website or link to the poster PDF. That, in the virtual and digital world, was always redundant and the subject of some mockery. But in the new normal, there is potential here. What if scanning our QR codes linked us out to a mini, poster-specific website that included more interactive content, such as a podcast author narration of the poster, a video abstract, an interactive/animated mechanism of action, a graphical abstract, an infographic, a lay summary, and an expert video commentary? Couple the virtual extenders with responsive web design, and then, the data can be viewed properly on a myriad of different devices!
  • Sharing is Caring. Another important consideration for virtual data dissemination is how the data will be shared through different channels after its initial release. By its very nature, virtual data are more enduring once shared. Take the graphical abstract mentioned above—we should consider how we optimize it for shareability across multiple platforms (e.g., email, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, TikTok, YouTube) wherever we and our audiences my share it.
  • Analytics to Measure … With extension of data from the traditional formats into the virtual realm, we can embrace the expansion of our metrics to include so much more than a journal impact factor! Moving into the virtual space allows us measure things, such as number of site hits, shares, time spent viewing data, location of viewer, and device type.
  • … And Analytics to Manage. Of course, having metrics for metrics sake doesn’t really help anyone. Deriving insights from these metrics with appropriate healthcare analytics is key to understanding how virtual data dissemination can be optimized for the future. For example, where are the data being shared (e.g., platform), how are the data being shared over time (e.g., just around a congress), and what parts of the data are being viewed and for how long (e.g., survival vs safety) can continually inform how to best optimize virtual data dissemination.

So while COVID-19 may be forcing us to adapt, dissemination through virtual channels can help maximize the reach and impact of medical and scientific data.


Read more of our ASCO 2020 content.

Interested in learning more about W2O? Check out our About or Healthcare pages.

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Uncertainty pervades. Restlessness overcomes. When can we get a haircut? Nails done? Maybe a tattoo? Walk around without a mask? Work at the office? Work out? Travel? When will our kids go back to school? When will the economy rebound? When can we live again?

To help guide companies through the uncertainty of how and when best to engage with stakeholders, approximately 10 weeks ago, our firm refocused the W2O Relevance Quotient and examined how companies are maintaining engagement with key stakeholders.

Tracking the relevance of 240 companies for three years before COVID-19 and since January 1 specific to the pandemic, we now have a strong, longitudinal body of data to analyze. Unlike past reports, where we focused on shifts in a two-week period compared to the prior two weeks, this report takes a more aggregate look at patterns regarding what it means to be relevant throughout the entire crisis thus far.

For a copy of the full W2O COVID-19 Relevance Analysis, Vol. 5, click here.

Our analysis found four main determinants of COVID-19 relevance as the pandemic continues to evolve:

  1. Being a first-mover matters.
  2. Dormancy drives irrelevance.
  3. Engagement is fatiguing and, as a result, relevance is in decline (mostly).
  4. Relevance before the crisis has led to resiliency now.

Let’s unpack each of those.

1. Being a first-mover matters.

The difference between first movers and fast followers is clear.  First movers are those organizations that, mid-to-late March, announced a robust, multi-pronged, multi-stakeholder response initiative via multiple channels. This effort was focused initially on employees and customers. Fast followers fell short and struggled with timing and authenticity. For example, Delta CEO Ed Bastain’s decision to forgo his salary was an early initiative met with praise. Companies that waited several weeks to follow generally did so in the context of announcing furloughs or layoffs. These moves were seen as too little too late and inauthentic.   

2. Dormancy drives irrelevance.

To be relevant is to be thought of, sought out, talked about, engaged with, and believed in. Organizations can hardly be relevant if they are conspicuously absent on an issue. If they aren’t visible, vocal and engaged with stakeholders, relevance is at high risk. We noticed companies that played too small while stakeholders were craving big and bold suffered. Companies that were dormant, inconsistent, disproportionately focused on too few stakeholders and too few channels either maintained low levels of relevance or dropped significantly. Relevance is hard to gain, hard to keep, and quick and easy to lose in the absence of an always on, multi-channel, multi-stakeholder engagement.

3. Engagement is fatiguing and, as a result, relevance is in decline (mostly).

As stakeholders have engaged less with COVID-19-related news, relevance for healthcare companies has been in decline, after peaking in April – but we predict this is temporary. Highly engaging media coverage of company announcements surrounding COVID-19 vaccine development and testing has begun to slow among the Top 20 Healthcare companies.  However, companies that are extending the narrative by providing updates on potential vaccines, safety precautions, back to work protocols, and partnerships via multiple channels are continuing to drive relevance. There are two notable exceptions to the trend of stakeholders engaging with less COVID-19 news generally: an uptick in engagement on topics related to the economy and the disproportionate effects on minority populations.

Non-healthcare companies have experienced a minor increase in relevance in the last two weeks given technology partnerships around testing and tracing. Big tech companies have led the way with extending work from home policies until the end of 2020 or forever in some cases.

4. Relevance before the crisis has led to resilience now.

The strongest predictor of relevance amid COVID-19 is how relevant companies were before the crisis. Of the 19 of 20 most relevant healthcare companies in 2019, the same are among the most COVID-19-relevant in 2020. They have remained relevant for all of the reasons outlined above, operating with an engagement mindset and empathy in all decision-making.

From our data, it is important to note that Relevance leaders are:

  • Not necessarily the most revered
  • Transparent and open to some risk
  • Emboldened to take a differentiating stand on issues meeting stakeholder expectations
  • Focused on values and purpose
  • Sharpening their narratives and aligning narratives internally and externally
  • Leveraging all stakeholders to help
  • Employing always-on, integrated cross-PESO content, storytelling and thought leadership strategies

W2O will continue to refresh the Relevance Quotient data to identify new trends, determine how these trends evolve and uncover key themes related to moving forward beyond COVID-19.

In the meantime, stay safe and healthy.

Contributions to this content were made by Gary Grates, Chuck Hemann, Katy Hagert, and Justin Harris of W2O.


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