Headquartered in San Francisco, W2O has been front and center for nearly 20 years when it comes to communicating healthcare advances emanating from the Bay Area and beyond. And because great communication requires strong leaders, we were fortunate to add seasoned healthcare communications strategist Jen Shaughnessy to the W2O team as a Managing Director, working out of our San Francisco office.

In this blog interview, I’m excited to share insights into her background and approach to healthcare communications in the rapidly-evolving social/digital-first environment.

Side note: We are hiring at all levels on the West Coast! Join us in shaping the world of healthcare through marketing and communications – you’ll enjoy yourself while you do it.

Mike Nelson: How did you begin your career in healthcare communications?

Jen Shaughnessy: Early in my career, I had the opportunity to support a breast cancer medicine that was changing the way patients with this type of cancer were treated. It was when I saw how cutting-edge science could materially impact and improve the lives of people living with life-threatening diseases that I became hooked on this line of work. It became apparent to me that, by working in healthcare communications, I would – in some small way – be working for the greater good. I started my career in FleishmanHillard’s Healthcare Practice in New York, later transferring to the agency’s London office.

MN: What drew you to W2O?

JS: The people and opportunities at W2O. Having met the Leadership Team, I was impressed by how incredibly smart, accomplished, nimble and kind everyone was. I knew that W2O was a firm I wanted to be a part of. Given my dozen-plus years of experience in healthcare communications on the agency side, I was confident I could make a difference – especially on the West Coast, where so many of our biotech client partners are located. I was also eager to partner with the particularly strong earned and social media teams at W2O and leverage their expertise to make a real difference for our clients.

MN: What does a typical day in your life look like?

JS: My day starts early because I oversee teams on both the East and West Coasts. Every day is a bit different, but the common theme is connection – whether that’s building relationships with clients, connecting with colleagues across the W2O long hallway, or engaging with other important stakeholders on behalf of our clients. Another important part of my day-to-day job is making connections between news and trends and the influence or impact they may have on the work we do. Connecting these insights and understanding our clients’ business objectives helps shape our strategy or evolve our approach allowing timely, authentic and meaningful work.

MN: What gets you up in the morning? Personally? Professionally?

JS: I am inspired and driven by the scientific breakthroughs and medical advances our clients are making each day. It’s humbling to see true change in the outcomes and quality of life for people living with serious diseases.

I am particularly passionate about rare diseases and neuroscience. I have seen the community excitement and scientific amazement around new medicines for rare diseases that had no treatment in the century since they were first identified. Being part of communicating those milestones in healthcare and medicine is incredibly meaningful. Alternatively, I have experienced the heartbreak that comes with late-stage investigational medicines in areas such as Alzheimer’s disease that did not prove to work. The disappointment does not discourage me, however – these setbacks drive my curiosity and commitment to work with researchers and companies that do not shy away from weighty challenges. Setbacks are an inevitable part of scientific progress.

MN: Tell us one person in the industry you admire and why.

JS: I recently read “Procedure: Women Remaking Medicine,” which celebrates 10 women who are changing the face of healthcare. The book highlights women with a variety of backgrounds and experiences who took their individual circumstance and experience as a catalyst to materially impact how healthcare is approached and delivered. Each woman learned from her triumphs and obstacles and challenged herself to make a difference in the lives of others – sometimes behind the scenes and sometimes at the very front, paving the way for many to follow.

One particularly inspiring example is Dr. Rhea Seddon, who spent her professional and personal life being the “first” in areas where few women had come before. She was the first female surgery resident at the University of Tennessee, one of the first six women accepted by NASA, and a former astronaut who then utilized her experiences to help hospital systems run as a team more efficiently, with better outcomes and more fulfilled staff.

MN: What do you consider one of your greatest accomplishments in your career to date?

JS: I have been fortunate throughout my career to support a number of first-in-class medicines for extremely serious diseases that previously did not have approved treatments. I am most proud of my work in rare diseases, supporting the regulatory approval and launch of multiple breakthrough therapies – among them first-ever medicines for cystic fibrosis, spinal muscular atrophy and a number of rare hematologic cancers. Each of these was historic in its own way. The opportunity to work with the companies, scientists, advocates, patients and families in these communities around these important moments has been career-defining for me.

MN: What do you consider your biggest challenge? How did you address it?

JS: Finding a way to reconcile the things I want to do – professionally and personally – with the constraints of time. On a daily basis, there are so many opportunities, deadlines, meetings and demands to prioritize. It’s a virtuous cycle of learning, stumbling and relearning – how I focus and dedicate my time to colleagues, client partners, new friends (I’ve recently relocated from New York), family, professional organizations and my personal interests. Fortunately, each day is a new opportunity and a clean slate to try again – and the things that went undone one day will be waiting for me the next!

MN: Where do you see healthcare marketing/communications heading over the next five years?

JS: In the current environment we live in of immediacy, convenience and “custom everything,” I think this reality will increasingly permeate our work in healthcare over the coming years. From tailored gene therapies to individual interactions on social media, the way we engage with patients, caregivers and healthcare professionals will have to evolve and change. We’ll of course need to find the right balance of maintaining critical regulation and oversight to protect people, but we also will need to be more bespoke in how we approach and engage with all stakeholders. This expectation already exists to some degree, and where we’ve found challenges is in the disconnects. 

MN: If you could have dinner with one person living or dead, who would it be and why?

JS: George Washington. In reading his biography, I was most impressed that he did not want to be president of the United States but took on the position well into his elder years for the time – age 57 in 1789 – because he understood that the country needed him. He was tasked with navigating a course that was completely uncharted, while leading and unifying a group of people with very different backgrounds and beliefs. I admire his brand of self-subsumed leadership: he lived his life instilled with a sense of serving a purpose larger than himself. That has a lot of implications for my own personal and professional life, and I do my best to live by this philosophy every day.

# # #

Key Facts About Jen

  • Experience in New York, London and San Francisco working with biotech companies of varying sizes and stages of development – from startups to “big” biotech
  • Joined W2O from Edelman, where she completed an eight-year tenure and served as Senior Vice President and Biotech Group Head
  • Began her career at FleishmanHillard
  • Graduate of the University of San Diego

If you’re interested in learning about W2O, check out our About and Culture & Careers pages.

Want to chat? Drop us a line.