The art of conversation and the elevation of health in society

An interesting thing happened during this awful pandemic.

We began talking to each other again. Actually, talking to each other. And the topic of course was COVID-19.

When the vaccines became available, conversations around science, health and efficacy increased. Of course, utilizing social and digital platforms to seek and find information was critical in our quest for answers, but they were used to complement not substitute for discussion, dialogue and debate. The key attribute we learned in rediscovering personal connectivity is context. What we are experiencing today is the resurgence of science in our lives based on conversation and context.

Healthcare companies – especially pharma companies – have often communicated above and around consumers thinking that other stakeholders carried more import or influence. But COVID-19 leveled the playing field so to speak, uncovering the power of consumer engagement and empowerment. Instead of social and digital technology becoming a crutch for companies, they became a means to an end – a conversation.

Now, it’s about information being ubiquitous and citizen journalism rampant. People’s appetite for more is growing – for context, rationale, meaning, purpose. They want a peek behind the curtain to comprehend the “how” and “why” companies took certain actions, made certain choices, and operated in a manner that was appropriate.

In Science, Context Matters

Context can be seen everywhere. Reality TV is a direct by-product of society’s increasing appetite to comprehend and experience the real dimensions of life, not the ideal placed on us. It’s the same inside organizations. Employees want to be involved with and aware of the choices that leadership is wrestling with or the options that lead to a key decision. Not just the decision itself, but the information and choices that inform it.

In science, context is multi-faceted. It speaks to breadth and depth. It relates to both thinking and emotion. It establishes a point in time and points of reference. Context strengthens arguments and disarms criticism.

It used to be common practice for public communications to be viewed in a vacuum – going from announcement to announcement, and from action to action, without necessarily thinking or worrying much about explaining the interconnectivity. Today, information on the internet lives forever. As a corporate spokesperson, you need to put your opinions, actions and decisions in perspective to mitigate negative or inaccurate interpretations later. You need to “put the past in context with the present and put the present  in context with the future.”

Being an “Insider”

More importantly, context allows for consumers, patients, customers and employees alike to be “insiders” about the organization’s mission, purpose, aspirations, challenges, politics and, in the case of COVID-19, treatment. In so doing, companies can turn adversaries into advocates while gaining new perspectives and insights to inform decision-making. Being an insider is probably the most important benefit an employee strives for today.

Similarly, from a customer perspective, context reinforces benefit of the doubt, while lack of context generates doubt. Context helps pre-empt crises, lack of context fuels crises. Context helps tell a logical, cohesive story about a company’s choices and direction; lack of context paints a picture of a rudderless, leaderless organization.

For all these reasons, the melding factions of language and intent – context – is central to a company’s ability to engage. Decisions are no longer “one and done,” particularly in the age of the internet. The social nature of the internet means that dialogue around your company continues in perpetuity, and few are shy about referencing your seemingly innocuous comments from three years ago to support their argument – comments that can potentially support either side if they lack context. In a world in which people turn to a variety of  sources for information – friends, employees, media, bloggers, politicians – context is what enables you to influence how that information  gets presented and interpreted.

This can sound academic on the surface, but the implications are practical if not critical. More than ever, it’s crucial that your past actions be brought together with your decision-making – to form a complete picture.

Context, in the end, is as much about substance as it is about intent. Bringing details, nuance and connectivity to communications, context widens the aperture and broadens the argument.

A Test for Healthcare Leaders and Communications

Context puts even more pressure on leaders, who may be stronger pure communicators than their forebearers, but who may not be used to connecting the dots between past, current and anticipated future actions. It also puts more pressure on communicators, who more than ever need to understand potentially foreign topics – clinical trials, manufacturing, purchasing, regulations – to be more conversant about the big picture, and to offer better counsel to senior leadership.

Ultimately, everyone involved must be adept at nimbly offering insight and rationale. Business pages and magazines are filled with any number of organizations that have recently done or not done an adequate job at this.

Context and Storytelling in Science

For science-based organizations, an unspoken element to this point has been the relationship between creating context and storytelling. Establishing context is comparable to telling the ongoing story of your endeavor – conveying all its successes and failures in a manner that makes sense based on past events and future expectations.

Accomplishing this requires several considerations:

  • Recognizing that consumers are the primary stakeholder and influencer in the war on disease and a healthy lifestyle.
  • Providing information and data with empathy and emotion.
  • Orchestrating communications from content to context to dissemination to result in dialogue, discussion and debate or conversation.
  • Understanding that social and digital should complement not substitute engagement.
  • Giving communicators full access to information and senior management; they can’t provide context without that.
  • Recognizing that “top down” communications by fiat is no longer beneficial. Today’s successful organizations communicate on a horizontal axis, drawing on numerous voices and numerous communication platforms.
  • Staying current and telling your story in ways large and small. Creating context is an everyday effort, not one that takes place only when there’s a pandemic.
  • Being dynamic – relating information to the audience to make it personally meaningful.
  • Recognizing the organization no longer controls the narrative. Know your influence ecosystem.
  • Employing peripheral vision. Connecting things large and small, in view and out of focus all work in
  • Constantly assessing consumers, patients, customers and employees to discern issues, trends, challenges, frustrations, lifestyle habits, etc.

In the healthcare industry, organizational leaders and communicators have a unique ability to accelerate the current positive perceptions of pharma and guide their companies in a manner that helps constituencies connect the dots among actions, decisions and events. This will create a cohesive, consistent context that makes sense and helps establish confidence.

Giving people a sense of being insiders engenders ownership, which leads to trust and engagement. In the end, a public that is inspired and engaged along with a patient, customer and employee base that is motivated and biased toward your work is perhaps the most sustainable competitive advantage one could hope for.


Mental health continues to be an unmet need, particularly among underserved populations, and the conventional ways of addressing it have not been successful. Otsuka, a leading pharmaceutical company with a focus on mental health, engaged Real Chemistry to address persistent gaps in treatment with new and innovative solutions.

Working alongside another Otsuka agency partner, Real Chemistry supported the creation of NEXUS (Neuroscience Experts and Cross-Sector Unconventional Stakeholders), comprised of a unique community of traditional and non-traditional mental health stakeholders who are bringing innovative solutions to address critical needs in mental health.

Through in-depth research, stakeholder interviews, and expert insights, Otsuka established a focus for NEXUS on three key areas of unmet need in mental health where Otsuka’s innovative approach could have the greatest impact: women, youth, and the justice system. While the needs of these groups are different, they share many similarities, such as the need for greater awareness, early intervention, a timely diagnosis, continuity of care, and support throughout life transitions. One of the goals of NEXUS is to work collaboratively to resolve the mental health challenges facing these groups at critical junctures, such as women becoming primary caregivers, youth moving schools, and individuals transitioning out of pre-incarceration community mental health services into the justice system.

To effect meaningful change, NEXUS is collaborating with 15 organizations, including mental health and caregiving groups, medical and government associations.

“Knowing it ‘takes a village’ to create meaningful change, we’re not just collaborating with traditional mental health stakeholders; we’re also engaging individuals and groups who are not typically associated with mental health but who bring relevant experience and insights – to shine a different light on issues and bring new ideas,” asserts Eli Perez, Otsuka’s Director of Congress & Stakeholder Management.

Real Chemistry and Otsuka’s collaboration on NEXUS is a continuation of joint initiatives the two have undertaken. Otsuka has created similar educational programs for other underserved groups, including the Global Council on Alzheimer’s Disease (GCAD), which focuses on patient-centered care. Real Chemistry supports this work by identifying audience segments including healthcare professionals and academics and leaders and influencers from advocacy groups and financial institutions who can share knowledge and ideas around the best ways to meet patient needs. Launched eight years ago, GCAD, is currently exploring the impact of untreated agitation with the goal of making meaningful progress in this overlooked aspect of Alzheimer’s, according to Mary Michael Otsuka’s VP of patient advocacy and stakeholder management.

“Otsuka places the audience’s voice at the center, listening and learning to address critical junctures in their experience,” explains Michelle Toscas, Managing Director, Otsuka Integration Lead at Real Chemistry. “Leveraging integrated digital and primary research helps us better understand the communities Otsuka serves and drives target activations.”

In April 2020, NEXUS launched a six-episode Building Mental Resiliency video series to support conversations and share resources to manage the uncertainness of the COVID-19 pandemic. The videos brought together experts to share information and ideas to build stronger mental health, particularly for those who are most vulnerable.  Episodes began with topics relevant to those most adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and expanded to cover issues ranging from COVID-19 support, caregiving challenges, the impact on Alzheimer’s patients, chronic conditions and systemic racism. Otsuka collaborated with the partner organizations and featured guests and used paid media to distribute the videos on a grassroots level. Episodes of the series also were circulated by PhRMA, BioNJ and MM&M.

Real Chemistry created a website and Facebook Page, which were particularly critical to disseminate NEXUS content during the COVID-19 pandemic. It shared additional research around the impact of COVID-19 on patients, caregivers, and healthcare professionals at a virtual blogger summit alongside partner institutions and key opinion leaders. In addition, Real Chemistry developed monthly social content, which was supported by earned and paid promotion.

“You hear from the experts that the mental health burden of COVID-19 could surpass the physical part of it,” said Mary Michael, “We’ll try to support as many people as possible and help build that mental resiliency.”

During 2020, 47,486 users engaged, watched, or visited NEXUS content. Because a campaign targeted to the communities NEXUS identified has never been done before, the team is using this result as a benchmark to create a year-two program that expands the voices and perspectives of NEXUS champions through added multi-channel content and an expanded NEXUS website, with key metrics in place that enable us to nimbly adjust and evolve our efforts.

“Otsuka and NEXUS are meeting a critical set of unconventional gaps in our system that often go uncovered and underserved within the complex mental health experience,” says Toscas. “We’re looking forward to helping more patients moving forward.”

Will Hargreaves, Otsuka CRL, Real Chemistry

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages.

“Hope and help are on the way.”

I said those words to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar as we huddled in the Upper West Wing Lobby one afternoon last November. We were preparing for a podium briefing at which Secretary Azar, as the architect of Operation Warp Speed, would give an update on the COVID-19 vaccine program. It was chilly outside, but I was buoyed by a glimmer of hope.

The weeks prior had brought a string of promising news about vaccines and therapeutics, only 10 months after COVID-19 had been declared a pandemic. We had just seen the news that Pfizer and BioNTech would file for Emergency Use Authorization for their vaccine the following day. Our best hope to eventually bring the pandemic to an end – with safe and highly effective vaccines – was in sight.

The Secretary used those words from the podium that day. President Biden spoke of “hope” and “help” earlier this year. And, like me, millions of people around the country have felt that hope as they and their loved ones have received their COVID-19 vaccine.

That hope and help wasn’t delivered by chance. It occurred thanks to the work and partnership of tens of thousands of heroes in healthcare, government and the private sector – not to mention the tens of thousands of clinical trial participants. While providing communications leadership for Operation Warp Speed – the honor of a lifetime – I had the chance to witness those partnerships accomplish something truly historic.

That teamwork showed us all how incredibly far – and fast – we can go when we show up and work together across silos toward a hugely challenging goal. Together, we took on the critical task of communicating science and data about the vaccines to build public confidence in them – even as they were developed and manufactured in record time. Together, we reinforced the importance of relentlessly pursuing equity – making representation in clinical trials a key measure of our success. Together, this teamwork and those partnerships have led to the administration of more than 311 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S.

The experience of shaping communications at Operation Warp Speed drove home for me the transformative power of breaking down barriers and silos, bringing different perspectives to the table, and seeking innovative solutions, all while letting science and data guide us. Operation Warp Speed showed that, when we work to create and unleash this alchemy in service of people and patients, we can, in fact, change the world.

That lesson is critical for anyone in healthcare or healthcare communications today, because global health innovation is happening faster than ever before. I experienced that rapid pace of transformation while leading strategic communications at HHS. It means that in an increasingly interconnected world where science, data, government, regulation, public opinion and patient views will heavily impact the success of every innovation and solution, clear and concise communications matters more than ever. So does listening to what patients say in response.

I’m thrilled to be here at Real Chemistry, where I’m impressed every day by our relentless collaboration to achieve better patient outcomes. The Real Chemistry leadership team has set us up to take a holistic and integrated approach as we work to solve the most important healthcare challenges of our time.

Hearing stories from my new colleagues about their work supporting COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics over the last year makes me feel right at home. We’re working tirelessly to deliver hope and help to a pandemic-weary world. I’m looking forward to collaborating, integrating and connecting the dots here in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere for our clients. What a mission we’ve been charged with – working together to make the world a healthier place for all.

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages.

Understanding the state of vaccine confidence.

For the 11th year, Real Chemistry brought together leading health care innovators at SXSW to discuss the issues driving us forward. The virtual event was chock-full of robust conversations about important health care topics.

We were proud to present five official sessions, helping people go deep on what’s next in health care and how patient lives have improved as a direct result of breakthrough elements of health technology. We also hosted a two-day virtual Media Lounge that included panels and fireside chats.

Over the next few days, we’ll highlight some of these discussions, with links to where to watch the full sessions on YouTube. We look forward to seeing everyone at SXSW in person next year.

COVID-19 and Vaccine Confidence

The COVID-19 vaccines are our golden ticket back to normal, as Real Chemistry Founder and CEO Jim Weiss wrote earlier this year. Given that news coverage in recent months has been dominated by discussion of the vaccines, it should be no surprise that five of our SXSW panels covered that topic.

Real Chemistry advisor Jane Sarasohn-Kahn and renowned epidemiologist Dr. Michael Osterholm held a wide-ranging conversation about the pandemic, vaccines and lessons to take forward.

Dr. Osterholm, noting other problems the pandemic has exposed or made worse, such as hunger and mental health challenges, said he hoped there would be new investments in public health. “Public health, when it is done well, preventing these kinds of situations, actually has a spillover into so many other parts of our life we don’t think about,” he said.

He noted that the vaccine rollout has had troubles because the federal government did not give states financial resources to distribute the shots. He said it is getting better, but pointed out, “The vaccine isn’t a vaccination until it goes into your arm.”

What a Shot Meant for One Nurse … and for Its Developer

One big star of our SXSW panels was Sandra Lindsay, a registered nurse from Long Island who in December became the first person in the United States to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. On a panel focused on lessons learned, she described what it meant to her: “It represented to me the beginning of the end of a very dark time in our history, that hope is here, preservation of life, abilities for others to get that same feeling.”

Lindsay was on a panel that included Judy Sewards, head of clinical trial experience at Pfizer, a Real Chemistry client, and Dr. Reed Tuckson,  co-founder of the Black Coalition Against COVID, another client. Sewards said Pfizer set high standards for the science and safety of its vaccine and learned the value of transparency during the process. The result? “People are much more aware of the scientific process. We as an industry have figured out where we need to meet people, do a better job of educating others about what it takes to develop a medicine or a vaccine,” she said.

Surveys About Vaccine Confidence Show Rising Support

What we know about vaccine confidence is not just guesswork. A wide variety of public opinion surveys have tracked how people feel about the vaccines and how willing they will be to take them once available.

On a panel with leading health researchers, Ipsos’ Chris Jackson and the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Liz Hamel pointed out the rise in public confidence in the vaccines in recent months. Jackson said polling shows double-digit increases in confidence across the world.

Of those with a “wait and see” approach, many are not really “hesitant,” but they need more information from trusted sources, Hamel said. “Listen to people’s concerns, take them seriously and empathize with them. They come from not only a place of fear but a place of newness,” she added.

Scott McDonald of the Advertising Research Foundation noted that some of the movement reinforces “what we already understand about how opinions change and how advertising really works.” He pointed out that people get their cues from a “norm” that is now influenced on social media by people they never meet.

While confidence in the vaccines has grown, confidence in governments to deal with the crisis has not. “It has slowly eroded over the past year,” Jackson said.

(For the latest in vaccine confidence news, subscribe to Real Chemistry’s free Vaccine Confidence Weekly newsletter here.)

Messaging About the Vaccines

Messaging about the vaccines and what platforms to use to communicate to those who have questions and concerns was a major focus of most of the Real Chemistry SXSW panels.

“A big breakthrough is telling people it’s okay to have questions,” Dr. Tuckson said. He and Lindsay agreed that trying to understand where people are instead of lecturing them is critical. “We need to listen to people, spend time listening and educating them, dispelling myths. Word of mouth remains very powerful,” she said.

Usually, it takes nine months to create an Ad Council campaign, but the ongoing COVID-19 vaccine education initiative took far less, said Catherine Chao, the Ad Council’s vice president for strategy and evaluation. PSAs were out in two weeks after the Ad Council finalized details with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Ad Council (Real Chemistry is an Ad Council partner) is not just developing heart-tugging commercials, but also community-based activities to “get deep into communities” and help people understand what the vaccines will bring, Chao said.

Effective messages come with an empathetic tone, not focused on playing into fears about what the coronavirus might do to someone who is not vaccinated. “Not to say fear isn’t motivating but when leaning on it too heavily, it is not authentic,” she said.

Asked to create his own 30-second script for a pro-vaccine commercial, Dr. Tuckson said it would say: “Dear American households, would you like to get your life back? Kids go back to school? Have a job? Do you want to have Christmas and Thanksgiving with your family? You can’t do it without getting vaccinated. Let’s get our lives back. Today’s the day.”

Frank Washkuch, executive editor of PRWeek, struck a similar tone. “There are many negative messages, but one that really works is, ‘This is how we get back to normal’,” he said.

The Employer Has a Vaccine Confidence Platform

Employers – who can access a toolkit at – may not want to give ultimatums about vaccines, said Allison Weissbrot, editor-in-chief of Campaign US at Haymarket Media, but “employers have a huge platform and microphone to get employees vaccinated.” They can use other ways to persuade, including helping make appointments or giving people information about the vaccines, she said.

Jim Weiss said Real Chemistry would approach employee vaccination communication just as he would recommend to clients. “We’ll meet everybody where they are, listen to their concerns and have mutual respect,” he said.

Health Innovation at SXSW and Beyond

Boosting vaccine confidence is a path to help get us out of this pandemic, which has taken a terrible toll on so many. But one silver lining of this past year has been a rapid acceleration of innovation in health care. We will continue to share with you the insights gleaned at SXSW Online 2021 from our industry’s top thought leaders. Thank you for showing up and shaping the future with us.

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages.

The W2O Center for Social Commerce at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications identifies mental wellness, lack of confidence, and imbalance as byproducts of a global pandemic.

More than one year since the COVID-19 pandemic began, it continues to impact every aspect of our lives. As students at Syracuse University, we and our classmates have quickly learned to adapt to virtual instruction, social distancing guidelines and safety protocols to keep the campus community safe.

The W2O Center for Social Commerce (CSC), a partnership between the Newhouse School and W2O – an analytics-oriented, insight-driven healthcare marketing and communications firm, part of Real Chemistry, a global health innovation company – sponsored a research study to understand students’ attitudes and experiences during COVID-19. The study captured approximately 200 student opinions encompassing various years of study, academic programs, organizations and living arrangements.

For college students and the entire university community, the effects of the pandemic extend beyond the classroom. It has impacted students’ confidence, made it challenging to participate in extracurricular activities and forced a “pause” on many social activities.

The good news is that students are resilient. Each day they are finding new approaches to stay engaged in their studies, maintain connections with peers and work with faculty to share ideas and get support.

We invite you to explore the full research report here, and read below for key takeaways:

1. Social distancing guidelines impact mental wellness

Students are experiencing screen time fatigue and a decrease in mental wellness. Some students also report they feel less eager to attend class to log on to club meetings because of the challenging circumstances.

2. Uncertainty exists around adherence to safety protocols

While many students are doing their part to slow the spread, they felt it was unlikely they could stay completely safe from others who did not take the same precautions.

3. Utilizing in-person resources feels risky for campus community

While many resources moved to virtual settings, students struggle with the lack of in-person resources, resulting in a majority feeling disconnected.

4. Finding professional opportunities in an unstable job market adds pressure

Many discussed how COVID-19 has impacted their post-graduate plans and caused a pivot in their expectations of entering the workforce, especially upperclassmen anticipating graduation.

5. “Silver linings” exist despite challenging circumstances

Many students have found ways to make the best of a disappointing situation. For example, some students shared that the need to maintain small social “bubbles” brought them closer to friends and roommates. Others shared that more downtime and less pressure to participate in social events allowed them to gain new perspective on their priorities and enabled them to grow on a personal level.


Blog post by The W2O Center for Social Commerce Student Ambassadors: Frankie Sailer, Regan Talley and Karley Warden

We are grateful to Syracuse University, the Newhouse School and the W2O Center for Social Commerce for enabling us to explore this important topic. We believe it will be relevant for other universities looking to ensure progress in addressing current challenges and be better prepared in the future.

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages.

The W2O Global Vaccine Confidence Dashboard is exploring the drivers of vaccine confidence and hesitancy across seven countries, sharing real-time learnings that can inform communicators about how to increase vaccine acceptance rates.

You can view the dashboard here.

In our first report, we set an initial baseline for future dashboards and then looked more closely at the findings in the UK. We noted three key learnings for public health officials and the biopharma industry:

  • Self-interest remains the top driver – People are keen to return to a life without restrictions, and the drive for personal protection strongly correlates with vaccine acceptance rates. With the impact of COVID-19 affecting elderly people at a higher rate than younger people, this population will see the greatest value from a vaccination. Younger people who have experienced symptoms are more likely to need to be convinced of the value of vaccination to ensure high uptake.
  • Proven is key – Safety concerns remain the biggest barrier in shifting the hesitant towards acceptance. We believe that people are most concerned about the rapid speed of regulatory approval of vaccines and the dosing schedule. But as the world continues to vaccinate and positive real-world evidence about the safety of COVID-19 vaccine increases, we expect that vaccine confidence will increase. A key challenge will be how to ensure high vaccine confidence both nationally and globally so enough people can be vaccinated to eradicate the disease.
  • Scientists and pharmaceutical companies are the most trusted experts –The selection of spokespeople for vaccine messages is extremely important. In the UK, where there have been multiple lockdowns and one of the highest mortality rates in the world, it is no surprise that politicians rank as one of the lowest trusted sources, especially among Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities. Across all seven countries, scientists and pharmaceutical companies consistently rank as the most trusted experts. Campaigns to increase vaccine confidence will need many and varied voices to convert all audiences, and spokespeople that reflect the interests and composition of BAME communities and younger people will be especially important.

In future dashboards, we’ll assess what is disrupting and causing change in the vaccine conversation and its impact on acceptance. We’ll also look at the differences between the seven countries. If you have a particular interest and would like to dive into an aspect of our data further, or you would like to discuss implications in more detail, please contact us. You can find out more about vaccine confidence in the United States by downloading our recent report: Using Social and Search Data to Build Vaccine Confidence.

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages.

In the absence of physical interactions, COVID-19 is forcing shifts in the pharmaceutical industry from more traditional field-based models to digitized programs designed to engage with patients and providers. Some may say this is a “Tipping Point” but I’d argue it’s a “Forcing Point.” Digital approaches have been around for years, but weren’t implemented to the degree needed to truly change how the industry engages with its customers, runs its businesses, or thinks about technology. Investment in field sales models and tactics has stayed relatively consistent.

So how and why did the pandemic drive a more aggressive shift to digitally transform businesses? Likely because it takes 66 days to change and/or form a habit. As we settled into the second month of quarantine, companies had that necessary time to live without their field-based models and could see that their old-school approaches would no longer work. This realization is forcing mindset and behavior changes and, hopefully, fostering an openness and vulnerability that encourages a new way of thinking.

But how best to accomplish this?

Simply providing iPads and interactive sales aids, and investing in CRM platforms such as Veeva and Salesforce, which many companies have done, hasn’t changed people or their behaviors. Transforming an organization takes a dedicated and measured approach to digital education—encouraging curiosity and problem solving, resulting in ownership of new thinking and behaviors.

It also incorporates a human-centered approach called Design Thinking.

Design Thinking starts with understanding end users (reps and healthcare professionals) while remaining empathetic to their needs and stated problems. Instead of just providing iPads, for example, it involves understanding whether HCPs want to see a rep at all. Did they want a 13” screen to review clinical data held 6 feet away from them? Did reps want a device designed to track their performance vs. improve their engagements with HCPs? No, not in the least. But therein lies the issue. The very thinking was flawed as it focused more on how to use an iPad in the field to track rep and HCP behaviors than on better understanding the end users, their needs and how technology could enable net-new behaviors that would benefit HCPs and pharma brands.

Much of the conversation that we’re seeing today in light of the pandemic is not about reinventing approaches or the use of digital technologies in pharma marketing and sales. Rather, we’re seeing a willingness to embrace approaches that have been proven and well established but lacked adoption. The challenge now is to wrangle strategic partners together who are best suited to execute these types of strategies and corresponding tactics.

Partners who can:

  1. Design their firms using data to uncover deep insights about audiences.
  2. Understand that it’s not just about being creative, but about delivering engaging experiences via digital platforms.
  3. Create, develop and integrate technology platforms together into a seamless digital ecosystem.
  4. Put the power of the data and insights back into the customers’ hands for use across business functions.
  5. Understand the complex web of digital media channels and tactics, how they can be customized with data, and provide personalized experiences in micro-moments that matter.
  6. Harness the ultimate power of digital to demonstrate measurable return on investment (ROI) down to real business metrics such as new prescriptions, total prescriptions and sales.

Here’s a prime example of a forcing point.

Telemedicine has been around a long time but lacked adoption, in many cases because insurance companies didn’t have reimbursement models for these types of appointments. The pandemic created the forcing mechanism to make them a necessity. One Medical and other companies made this investment many years ago and are well positioned to capitalize on COVID-19. And it won’t stop there. We’re likely to see the uberization of healthcare, via an app-like experience that lets a patient call a physician to their house and have their pharmacy deliver medications without any physical interactions. Forcing points like these are going to further impact how we market therapies and how pharma and healthcare as an industry adopt digital approaches.

So how do companies achieve true digital transformation? 

At times, and depending on the organization’s Digital IQ, it may be more efficient to accelerate progress to centralize efforts in a high-functioning group working with technologists and digital evangelists throughout the organization. Once incubated, members of teams with higher Digital IQs can be dispersed into project teams throughout the organization, bringing their knowledge into groups that reach customers. Project teams will learn what actually happens in a website build, a digital media campaign, or an analytics assignment other than what the final product looks like. They’ll learn by listening, asking questions, and learning the range of possibilities of these new avenues of communication.

Unlocking curiosity.

When I was 10 years old, I took apart every doorknob in our house. Not because I wanted to be a locksmith, but because I was curious to learn how they worked. How did the knob trigger the latch or dead bolt? How did it keep the door shut? That same curiosity must be encouraged to drive teams to learn the possibilities of digital communication, how they can be used in new ways to reach customers, setting them free to brainstorm ever more effective ways of engaging and converting them.

To drive true transformation and changes in thinking, we must understand the following:

  1. Digital is the new traditional must be an ingrained belief within an organization. Digital is central and immediate to current communications.
  2. Each employee is the digital person in the room. The days of “bringing the digital person” into the room must become a thing of the past. Dispersing employees with higher Digital IQs into project teams (see above) uplevels everyone’s understanding of technology and ensures that digital solutions will be woven into every tactic and strategy. Digital is in everything we do. It spans every form of communication. It’s no longer an afterthought or nice-to-have. It’s foundational for business.
  3. There is a symbiotic relationship between technology and digital engagements. Voice skills and actions wouldn’t have taken off without the invention of the Amazon Echo and Google Home. Mobile apps and basic features such as SMS wouldn’t exist without smartphones. And services such as Instagram and TikTok wouldn’t exist without sophisticated cameras in smartphones. Understanding the connection and potential between the two will help us create even better user experiences.
  4. User-centric and design thinking approaches are mandatory. Rather than what we want to say, or what we want people to do or buy, we must be empathetic to users to better serve their unmet needs, by communicating the benefits of our products through meaningful digital experiences. We must fundamentally shift the way we think, behave and operate. We also must deliberately hire, train and educate staff to be curious, ask questions, sit with and learn from the practitioners. The organizational changes discussed above will be required to make this happen, but the payoff in output and results will be huge.

Yes, it’s unfortunate that a pandemic has forced the acceleration of digital innovation, but it’s a great time to capitalize on the momentum. Hopefully, this crisis will pass so we can all get back to a sense of normal. However, if organizations do things right, the transformation to new ways of thinking and communicating will stay with us for a long time to come.

–Adam Cossman, Group President and Managing Partner, W2O

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages.

The pandemic that’s right next door.

COVID-19 has become the context in which we’re living, the focus of every media outlet, and the worry on everyone’s mind. However, what many don’t realise is that there is another pandemic that has been both ignored and exacerbated by COVID-19 and is likely to last much longer with no hope of a vaccine to prevent it. That pandemic is loneliness, which is a silent enemy[1] and one that leaves those over age 75 especially vulnerable.

Personally, I didn’t know much about the true effect of loneliness until my grandfather was diagnosed with stage III metastatic bladder cancer. Soon afterwards, I began spending my days caring for him while watching news about the second wave of the pandemic and local lockdowns. My grandfather had lived alone since 2012, after both my grandmother and great-grandmother passed away. He was never very sociable and previously relied on my grandmother’s boisterous ability to make friends quickly. Unfortunately, he never recovered socially after her passing and has been unable to forge any new connections in the years since. My sister and I are his only remaining close relatives, and over the years it has become more and more apparent that we are the only people who speak to him on a regular basis. My grandfather is sadly just one example of many in this situation.

Loneliness may seem to be a subjective and immeasurable concept, which could explain the apparent lack of scientific study in this area. However, there is a widely agreed upon definition in the UK. A government-funded report on loneliness defines it as “a subjective, unwelcome feeling of lack or loss of companionship, which happens when we have a mismatch between the quantity and quality of social relationships that we have and those that we want.”[2] In addition, loneliness is known to have serious physical health consequences[3]– including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and increased cortisol – and is associated with increased comorbidity for people with mental health issues.[4]

In England, more than 2 million people over age 75 live alone.[5] While it can be assumed that there has always been a degree of isolation for some members of society, it is believed that loneliness has increased as a result of 21st century social practices and technology. In Noreena Hertz’ recent book, “The Lonely Century: How Isolation Imperils our Future,”[6] she discusses how recent technological advances and changes in society have placed self-interest above interest in others, contributing to a feeling of isolation for those who are less tech savvy. This technological divide leaves senior populations at an increased risk of loneliness especially during COVID-19 lockdowns. Even when restrictions were lifted for others in the UK, seniors were asked to remain home. For those who have a difficult time adapting to technology, it can feel like they’re left on the outskirts of society.

The odds seem doubly stacked against pensioners – many of whom suffer from anxiety, have mobility issues, or have comorbidities that make it unsafe to leave their homes. As we move into the winter season with COVID-19 case numbers in the UK rising again, it’s likely we will see the implementation of more restrictions for pensioners.

Several initiatives have been created to address loneliness in the UK. One initiative from the Campaign to End Loneliness provides patient questionnaires designed to be used in a clinical setting for GPs to refer patients to social prescription workers if necessary.[7] This initiative highlights the need for greater social prescription in primary care and was instrumental in setting a goal of hiring 1,000 new social prescribing link workers by 2020/2021.[8] In the context of COVID-19, the Campaign to End Loneliness has begun researching whether a phone call will help pensioners with lockdown-related isolation.[9] Another initiative is the Silver Service, which also provides this option. Founded by television presenter Esther Rantzen, the Silver Service allows pensioners to call a number and speak to someone about anything, whether it’s about the loneliness they’re experiencing or just the weather.[10]

Other initiatives to combat loneliness also have been trialled elsewhere. In Ireland, the charity Engage with Age has started People Against Loneliness (PAL), a service in which volunteers conduct a half hour call with a senior each week. Unlike current interventions in the UK, the service requires seniors to register in order to be matched with a volunteer, but allows for the same volunteer for each senior.[11] In Canada, a program is in place in which volunteers stop by seniors’ homes and keep them company once a week. To date, this service has received positive feedback from the community.[12] These initiatives are encouraging, but there is no time to wait as we endure another lockdown.

Unfortunately, the challenges with existing interventions regarding loneliness is that they rely on pensioners to take the first step, either by raising the issue with their GP or picking up the phone. For many, denial or pride may stop them from asking for help, or they don’t realise they suffer from loneliness, or that it may impact their health. Additionally, some studies have shown that existing interventions, such as group activities and socialisation, are ineffective in meaningfully treating loneliness.[13]

It’s clear that new, effective interventions need to be created. University College London (UCL) has taken a step in that direction and is currently looking to fund research into initiatives that can make a difference.[14] The Campaign to End Loneliness has reported on an intervention that is being trialled to help those affected by loneliness and depression.[15]

Ultimately, what these examples show is that there is not enough research into loneliness and what can alleviate it, and more proactive steps need to be taken. The studies by UCL are a great start, but they’re only the tip of the iceberg for a problem that is a pandemic of its own.

As we look to end loneliness in seniors, three key issues must be addressed:

  • There must be different ways for people to access interventions, ranging from hospital visits to phone calls to dedicated technology.
  • Interventions must be continually evaluated for their effectiveness, including asking those taking part what has worked best for them and then implementing those changes.
  • All of us must actively reach out to those in the community who may be suffering from loneliness.

Although I know my grandfather is grateful for the connection we’ve maintained over the years, I will always wish I could have done more to make him feel less lonely. Loneliness is an issue that is so common and that we all experience at some point in our lives. Staying silent about it won’t lessen its impact. It’s time for us to be more emotionally aware so that together we can help make the world a healthier place.

Additional information provided by Shanda Kopp.

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages.
















Five essential principles to change management in a virtual world 

Transforming an organization in normal times is akin to turning around an oil tanker on a dime. Now overlay a pandemic where your workforce is operating virtually, customers are adhering to different norms, supply is being challenged, society is in flux, and competitive balance is upended. Under such conditions, an organization’s core capabilities and resources must be continually tested and adapted to ensure resilience and achieve results. The key question though is “How?”

Here’s the secret: stop overthinking! COVID-19 has accelerated organizational change by forcing leaders to move quickly in a shifting economy and a more dynamic corporate culture.  The opportunity lies in organizations proceeding with the velocity digital affords to impact business outcomes, including customer experience, employee engagement, supply chain efficiency, and more dynamic capabilities. The key is not to resist the change inherent in a marketplace and workplace where expectations are designed for agility, speed, value and recognition. What we are experiencing is big data becoming complex with insight more acute; physical and data information coming together; and organizations providing digital services not just traditional products and capabilities.

We have observed five critical principles that we are actively pursuing in partnering with organizations – global, international, domestic – to embed a sustainable digital blueprint where boundaries don’t exist, information and insight is ubiquitous, innovation is enabled, and the business model is fluid. Each of these tenets become important factors in changing the business exponentially:

  • Discern – Change and digital are all about understanding and comprehending the business in a 360-degree fashion. What are your information, IT, digital, social and technology sources? Are data and insight getting to the proper places inside your company? Are you uncovering influence, white space, roadblocks, barriers, etc.?
  • Detail – How are you built for rapid, flexible decision-making? What is your organizational system? What do your ecosystems look like?
  • Decide – What investments and actions are necessary to drive the business? How is data informing decision-making?
  • Distinct – Is innovation a priority? If so, how is insight the DNA of the process?
  • Discipline – Is there recognition and consequence to organizational behavior?

The pandemic has forever altered the fabric of society – from a personal and professional standpoint and, of course, from an organizational perspective. One of the areas, though, that’s been pushed ahead is how we incorporate data, insight and technology to develop new value propositions, ensure our employees are respected, our processes are nimble, and are customers are treated with dignity and purpose. Change management and the digitization of business has been a long slog for many organizations, but the elements and principles are there for a more seamless and successful journey.

Sometimes the change we are looking for is right in front of us!

Be safe and healthy!

Adam and Gary

Adam Cossman is Chief Digital Officer at W2O

Gary Grates is a Principal, Change Expert at W2O     

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages.

Jane Sarasohn-Kahn, Author, Health Economist & Advisor, rejoins the show and her message about health citizenship could not be timelier. She unpacks the 2020 Election, key trends, COVID-19, and what this all potentially means for healthcare. Take a listen below.

Don’t miss an episode of What2Know, subscribe to our podcast on iTunesStitcher or Spotify!

If you’re interested in learning about W2O, check out our About and Healthcare page

Leaders of healthcare systems have long understood the benefits of telehealth, and the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that healthcare systems have the capacity to rapidly adopt digital solutions. In just six months, we have seen a decade’s worth of digital transformation. For example, 46% of U.S. consumers are now using telehealth compared with just 11% in 2019. But will the benefits of telehealth be experienced by those who could benefit most?

With face-to-face interactions restricted, telehealth has allowed health systems worldwide to provide patients with access to ongoing care. Digital solutions such as remote patient monitoring (through devices or patient-reported outcomes) and video clinic visits have helped bring healthcare providers and patients both back in touch, and simultaneously, into unchartered waters.

The rapid reshaping of the way care is delivered and received has increased our reliance on the internet to access healthcare. In an ideal world, telehealth and other forms of technology-enabled care would improve access to healthcare in areas where access is limited. However, limited access to the internet has resulted in a healthcare “digital divide” – defined as the gap that exists between individuals who have access to modern information and communication technology and those who lack access.3

Recognizing the Digital Divide in Healthcare 

Those fortunate enough to have unlimited access to telehealth platforms may be surprised to find that 41% of the world’s population doesn’t have internet access.2 There are many reasons for this digital divide, including personal, socioeconomic and structural barriers, such as limited digital literacy and geographic isolation. With the continued threat of COVID-19, these barriers can mean the difference between life and death.

Unfortunately, these health inequalities are likely to worsen as we begin to rely more on digital services in healthcare. As health systems continue to be digitized, it’s important to understand barriers to patient access so we can address them:

  • Age: There is a wide disparity in internet use between people age 18 to 29 and those age 65 and older. Fewer older people engage with smartphones and computers regardless of whether the technology is easily accessible to them. Research has shown that generations that didn’t grow up with limitless technology solutions need more training to gain a good understanding of new technologies, especially those regarding healthcare.4
  • Socio-economic background: While 87% of people in developed countries use the internet, only 19% of those in developing countries do so.5Having a lower income and being of minority race or ethnic background not only impedes people’s access to health services but presents an added barrier to accessing telehealth. Recent research has shown that the proportion of non-Hispanic white patients accessing health services was approximately 40% higher than for Black/African and Latinx patients since the COVID-19 outbreak began.6 This represents a potentially life-threatening reality in a time of digital transformation.
  • Geographic location: In the United States, one in four rural Americans does not have internet access at home, primarily due to fewer telephone lines and internet cables in those areas.7 Reduced connectivity to telehealth services could lead to health complications for rural populations.

Bridging the Gap  

Addressing these barriers and minimising health inequality and ensuring digital health is inclusive is possible with the following:

  • Telephone consultations – including call-back or freephone telephone services that provide an alternative to online video consultations
  • Telehealth kiosks – providing accessible care in areas of limited broadband access. Such units can be installed at pharmacies, supermarkets and recreation centres.
  • Telehealth literacy training – promoting the use of publicly available services (e.g., community centres and libraries) to provide resources and training to communities with low digital literacy
  • Accommodating language barriers – providing translating capabilities for telehealth websites and applications in a variety of languages
  • Internet as a basic need – governments can work toward prioritising improved broadband access for the most disadvantaged populations

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues worldwide, it will be important to identify even more ways to increase access to telehealth and ensure that people with limited access to the internet aren’t left behind.

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages.


  1. Telehealth: A quarter-trillion-dollar post-COVID-19 reality? 2020.
  2. Digital users worldwide 2020 .
  3. Steele C. What is the Digital Divide? | Digital Divide Council. 2020.
  4. Vaportzis E, Clausen MG, Gow AJ. Older adults perceptions of technology and barriers to interacting with tablet computers: a focus group study. Front Psychol. 2017;8:1687.
  5. Staines R. Digital divide threatens health and wellbeing during pandemic – UN -. 2020.
  6. Insights on racial and ethnic health inequity in the context of COVID-19, 2020.

Covid-19 exposes digital divide in healthcare. Direct Relief. 2020.

COVID-19 has accelerated a race to the middle for technology, engagement, connectivity and strategy, changing business forever  

One of the unforeseen benefits of this pandemic is an accelerated adoption of digital as an operating model for organizations and a behavioral mindset for customers and employees. From the elimination of silos to the seamless transference of work and ideation, we’re experiencing a more efficient system of productivity and excellence. Organizations are moving from transactional to sustainable relationships, utilizing technology and data to forge greater engagement and connectivity based on knowledge and newfound insight.

For communicators and marketers, this intersection is defining a new reality for:

  1. Brands – Digital is translating static brands to dynamic lifestyles.
  2. Innovation – Companies no longer own innovation. Rather, customers are dictating what comes next, sharing new ideas that defy the status quo.
  3. Knowledge acquisition – Digital accelerates the entire concept of idea creation and solutions, pushing companies and employees to new heights of value creation.
  4. Organizational culture – The way we work, interact, organize, recruit, develop and collaborate takes on new meaning as attitudes and values are shaped by a more focused view of purpose over profit.
  5. Trust and relevance – These will be the bedrock of company existence but ever-shifting as the marketplace and customers become more confident and able to better discern given the plethora of information and context available.

Given this upheaval, leaders are looking to devote time and capital to redesigning their approaches to marketing and communications, specifically employee communications and engagement, content and new technologies to understand influence, opinion, relevance and customer preferences. Less time and activity is being given to such legacy processes as long-term strategic planning, product development and employee satisfaction. Digital is rendering such time-consuming and limited activities obsolete. Agility and speed are now the north star for organizational success.

“Probably the most difficult decision a CEO makes is to disrupt a business model that once worked.”

However, there is one other area that is being dealt with as part of this seismic change: business design. That is, how an organization is organized and designed for optimum value to its stakeholders. Probably the most difficult decision a CEO makes is to disrupt a business model that once worked. Doing so means the very core of the enterprise is shaken. New pieces come into view. Priorities shift. Contradictions happen for a time. People’s lives are turned upside down. Losses may happen for a time. The company’s narrative may be lost.

But through it all, staying the course and redefining the business model in a digital world is ultimately what saves a company or brand from future demise.

The Digital Intersection is happening right before our eyes. To navigate through this landscape, we suggest you consider the following reference points:

  • Signal the Change – Be upfront about what’s taking place and what it means.
  • Adopt Technology – Don’t protect yesterday; forge ahead to what’s next.
  • Follow the Data – Insight will determine the direction.
  • Start New Conversations – Do this specifically with employees; be provocative; be contextual; be empathetic.
  • Recognize It Won’t be Clean – People won’t necessarily understand right away; keep moving forward.
  • Focus on Relevance – This is the balance of what you want to say and what stakeholders hear.
  • Be Forthright – Never waver in your journey. Ever.

COVID-19 continues to impact our lives and will for some time. Assimilating the changes we’ve experienced and enacted means developing a whole new playbook from which to operate.

Coming through the other side with our integrity and our efficacy intact albeit with a whole new worldview is the goal.


W2O’s additional COVID-19 coverage

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages

Last month, we spoke with Dr. Robert Fullilove, Associate Dean for Community and Minority Affairs, Professor of Clinical Sociomedical Sciences at Columbia University and the co-director of the Cities Research Group, where he’s researched the health of people from ethnic minority backgrounds, with a focus on infectious diseases and HIV. An expert on racial inequity in health care, Dr. Fullilove comes from a family of physicians and was an integral part of the Civil Rights movement from 1964 to 1968 alongside Martin Luther King Jr., and his work has even earned him a place in the Smithsonian. 

Dr. Fullilove’s passion for art, science, and international affairs brought us a unique perspective on health inequalities in the time of COVID-19. Dr. Fullilove shared his thoughts on racial disparities in the United States and abroad, comparing COVID-19 with HIV and explaining how pharmaceutical companies have a role in bridging gaps in care.

Read below for some key insights, which have been edited for clarity.

On Access

“The biggest issue that I see is the fact that now, we are at the point where we can manage COVID-19 quite well once it’s diagnosed. However, there are significant delays in diagnoses and results in testing centers that minorities have access to, which is really the difference between life and death. Not to mention the lack of hospitals in minority communities in the first place creates even more issues.”

“What’s more, a lot of what is occurring in minority communities with COVID-19 is because of the fear of high costs deterring folks from seeking out the care that they need.”

“Most importantly though, is the fact that it also comes down to political will or lack thereof. We have all the data and know about all the problems affecting these communities and how to solve it and it’s still not working out so well for us. The impact of COVID-19 on minority communities in America is a functioning tragedy.”

On Potential Solutions

“There has been so much ongoing dialogue and literature that describe in incredible detail obvious, easy solutions that can be implemented in less than seven shakes. However, in health and the health sciences, we presume that everyone is rational and logical, meaning that if we provide enough information, most people will make rational health-based decisions.”

“But that’s not the case: we have the information, we’ve already explained time and time again on how to wear masks, where to get tested, etc., but the science has failed. And that’s not a new thing; in the U.S. 96% of adults understand what HIV is, how to contract it, and how to prevent it, however, we still face around 40,000 new cases every year. Why is that? Because it’s not about logic; it’s about emotion. There needs to be an effort to share a message, to sell an emotion or behavior. This is where science and communications comes together.”

On the Difference Between HIV and COVID-19

“When HIV first hit communities of color, it no longer became a pandemic of national urgency. With COVID-19, it’s everyone’s problem. The disease does not care about race or class; we’ve seen world leaders and local government organizers get sick, making it clear that this is something that can’t be ignored by certain groups.”

On How Pharma Can Make a Difference

“Speak to the gatekeepers of the communities you’re trying to reach. Find out what would be useful and ensure that the representation on your end matches with the community you are trying to help. Additionally, work with charity hospitals in the respective communities who have an obligation to provide community health needs assessments under the Affordable Care Act. Work closely with these hospitals and a board of community advisors to create and vet a plan of action because that will truly make a sustainable and significant impact.”

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages.

Over the last five months amid this pandemic we have all been afforded the chance to realign our thinking, our schedules, our priorities, and in a few instances, our purpose. For me, this time has resulted in a journey of personal and professional change.

My family celebrated our son’s high school graduation with pride and then just recently we saw him off to college and a whole new life of discovery, knowledge and friendships. We experienced how our daughter continues to grow into a confident and caring young woman with hopes and dreams for her future. It’s been a time for my wife Audra and me to enjoy the present while envisioning the future.

During this time, I also made a commitment to get healthy. Walking, exercising, eating better, and adopting a healthier lifestyle has resulted in losing over 40 pounds to date. Not easy I can assure you.

So why am I sharing such personal things?

What does it all really mean? The common thread is: Change, Growth, Development, Discipline, Purpose and Performance.

My personal journey in many ways mirrors my professional travels. I’ve had many experiences and emotions seeing my colleagues adapt and adopt behaviors to not only survive but prosper. Before COVID and the Black Lives Matter movement galvanized us further, W2O was already moving at light speed, growing the business, acquiring new capabilities, bringing people together and delivering results for our valued and trusted customer organizations and brands. As such, it was rather difficult to see past all of that and focus on other more human aspects of the business. Similarly, on a personal level missing the little things, ignoring tenets of health and happiness and taking note of life’s nuances, actually impedes growth and the ability to scale as healthfully as possible.

These last several months have unveiled a new and richer chapter in my personal and professional evolution challenging, energizing and pushing me and everyone in W2O to be there for loved ones, customers and each other. It had made us view our ourselves and our business through a real and sometimes raw lens making us uncomfortable, proud and agitated all at the same time.

2020 will be remembered as the year the world stopped, literally and figuratively, allowing people to:

  • Appreciate their health
  • Respect each other always
  • Listen and hear again
  • Maneuver around physical and virtual barriers to achievement and relationships
  • Reach out and empathize with another’s reality
  • Focus on what matters 
  • Make life meaningful

We’ve been given an advanced education on many levels from a business and personal perspective. To scale properly — that is, become stronger, more resilient, and confident — it’s important to set your foundation right. To assign your time and resources to the most high-valued, high-return aspects of your life and organization. To get your relationships right. To be clear and forthright about your purpose.

Personal health and organizational health means being focused on the most important factors.  What I’m learning every day is that change isn’t easy. Never has been. But perseverance, self-awareness and discipline are key. Having fun. Being attentive. Poking fun at yourself and others. Being curious. Shaking things up. Sweating. Respect. Listening. Being Accountable. Seeing ahead. Creativity. And of course, love.

As such, we will come out of this pandemic stronger, fitter, more confident and better suited to address controversy and unexpected events. My personal journey is a great metaphor for W2O to transform itself for what’s next. For the future.


It’s always a unique pleasure when I get to chat with one of my colleagues for What2Know. W2O’s Global Privacy Officer, Dan Linton, joins the show to discuss how our recent survey serves as a data privacy playbook for healthcare companies, how our findings were impacted by COVID-19, and what this research means for the healthcare industry as a whole. Take a listen below.

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages

Don’t miss an episode of What2Know, subscribe to our podcast on iTunesStitcher or Spotify!

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.

As Americans continue to confront the realities of racial injustice during an unprecedented global public health crisis, communicators are being called on to bring relevant information to the public. As part of this action, W2O participated in a panel at PRWeek’s Convene event, discussing lessons for the communications industry amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the confrontation of racial injustices in the United States, which undoubtedly go hand in hand.

“Successful crisis communications must take on a level of cultural competence unlike ever before,” said Parris Bowe, Managing Director at EGAMI Group.

During our discussion, we considered communications as the new health imperative. From this, three critical themes emerged:

1. Data can be our most powerful tool in our quest for equity

As health inequities across the world continue to be exposed amid the current pandemic, communicators must ask hard questions, challenge the ways we’ve always communicated, and engage with both purpose and empathy. We have never had access to more information, more sophisticated data, and more tools to help us understand where gaps persist and how we can bridge them. Our industry can use these insights – from social analytics to real-world evidence to public health data – as a force for a new level of visibility and change.

2. Collaboration is the new “innovation”

“One of the silver linings of what’s happening right now is that the lines between competitor and partner are being blurred. Individuals and companies are coming together to see how we can get solutions to people faster,” said Amy Atwood, Head of Communications at Takeda’s Vaccine Business Unit. During this unprecedented time, collaboration is essential for the common good. As communicators, we must look for ways to partner in both conventional and unconventional ways. When we do this and communicate effectively, real innovation is born, enabling us to be a catalyst for change and drive real impact.

3. Relevance (vs. reputation) powers change

I noted, “Our counsel needs to be as dynamic as the environment we are living in.” In today’s world, relevance – the intersection of what the outside world cares about and what companies want to put out into the world – is the price of entry. Relevance is not easy and doesn’t just happen organically. Being relevant starts inside companies and is reflected in their external communications and partnerships with other businesses, which now more than ever need to mix empathy with real action and accountability that is quantifiable. Organizations must work together to figure out how they can adapt, listen and be actively engaged stakeholders offering novel and measurable solutions.

The public is looking to organizations to show how they are striving to make a difference for those affected by both the COVID-19 pandemic and racial injustice in the United States. Communicators have a role to play, and organizations must step up because communications is a health imperative.

See the full take on the panel discussion here. Registration is free but required with a valid email address.

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages.

As we start to come out of lockdown with our own “4th July” in the UK, I’ve been reflecting on the last three months. Unless you had a critical job to perform, you were to stay at home and only leave to get necessary groceries or exercise. While W2O had a work from home policy in place before the COVID-19 pandemic began, which allowed staff to work one day at home each week, transitioning to working full time at home hasn’t been easy.

Despite some of the twists and turns we’ve had to overcome, I’m incredibly proud of the way W2O’s EMEA team has continued to perform in these challenging times. We’ve continued to deliver outstanding work for our clients, hired 20 new employees, won awards for our creativity, and helped our local community.

Here are a few highlights:

Giving Back

At the start of the lockdown period, we assessed a few non-client partnerships where we could offer our expertise in healthcare and communications pro bono to help make the world a healthier place. We chose the following groups and have been working with them as follows:

  • The World Health Organization Emergencies Programme, managing meetings with 200+ clinicians and researchers triweekly to support them in knowledge-sharing and prioritising research to combat the virus.
  • The AGILE research platform, supporting a clinical team based out of the University of Liverpool in their efforts to accelerate the search for novel effective COVID-19 treatments.
  • The Royal Free London Trust, supporting their communications team with social media strategy and creative during the COVID-19 crisis.

Keeping Our Culture

Going from two physical offices in EMEA to over 150 home offices has proved challenging in remaining together and aligned. It’s not just face time, it’s celebrating the small victories and personal achievements and battling the loneliness that can occur.

Before lockdown, we had a weekly office-wide meeting, which still continues today, just over Zoom. This meeting allows us to connect, share positive news and introduce our new hires. Each week, a guest host shares something interesting or personal. We book-end this meeting with a virtual happy hour on Friday where we give thanks to those who have delivered fantastic work or gone the extra mile or just simply share our gratitude for our colleagues.

To keep us closer together while working from home, we introduced a weekly Culture Club challenge, which involves a fun task, from participating in a TikTok video to coming up with something witty or sharing what we’ve been up to. The goal is to do something a little silly that everyone can participate in and have a laugh together, which is so vital to helping stay mentally well.

Finally, we’ve had to re-work how we do introductions to ensure our new hires get enough face time with their new colleagues as they’re not able to simply walk around the office and introduce themselves.

Supporting One Another

We talk a lot at W2O about our long hallway, which runs from Zurich to San Francisco, and how we’re able to connect along the way. I’ve always been impressed by how W2O is able to create connectivity among offices. But nothing has shown that more than now, when all of our colleagues have come together during the pandemic. I’ve heard so many great examples of colleagues reaching out to each other and making sure everyone is doing okay, especially those who live far away from their home or who live alone.

One of my favourite ways W2O has adapted is a global initiative created by staff members that provides parents in the firm with a selection of activities and experiences for their children. What started as a small idea has grown into an initiative that helps parents address the challenge of educating children from home while allowing them to volunteer and spend some time helping out their own community!

It’s very easy for people to use the word unprecedented. It’s become a cliché. However, there’s no better word to describe what a turbulent year 2020 has been so far. Despite the difficulties, W2O EMEA has come together and become stronger, unified in helping our clients, our communities and each other.

I’ve never been prouder.

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Corporate Communications is quickly transitioning from Programming to Precision 

Corporate Communications plays a vital role in influencing and maintaining organizational health, setting priorities, establishing a clear direction for strategy execution, managing reputational efficacy, impacting decision-making, telling the business story, and directing competitive positioning.

Under this construct, Corporate Communications’ efforts drive demand for products and services, attract and retain talent, and build comprehension around purpose, mission, and values, thereby enhancing financial valuation, softening barriers to market entry, building critical relationship capital, easing governmental and NGO relations, and nurturing and growing stakeholder trust. Consequently, the Corporate Communications function spans an entire organization while simultaneously being tasked with bridging various agendas, priorities, and egos between and among other functions. This can be a daunting task for any Corporate Communications team, whether housed in a large, medium or small organization.

And now COVID-19 and the current racial unrest occurring worldwide are changing the purpose and effectiveness of Corporate Communications. Social awareness is high, cultural nuance is more acute, competition is intense, consolidation continues, media has become fragmented, customer skepticism is rising, and information dissemination is happening faster than ever. Against this backdrop, an individual’s belief in a company or institution is likely to decline. A corporation’s ability to present a sustainable, meaningful and authentic corporate reputation to consumers, customers, employees, shareholders, and other key stakeholders is critical. In the fiercely competitive global marketplace, marketing products, services, or consumer-facing brands alone is insufficient. Stakeholders, particularly customers and employees, want and need to know about the company behind the brand, including how it connects to the greater whole.

Organizations are migrating their Corporate Communications function from a programming mindset to a precision focus on building stronger relationships with individual groups and positioning messages to cater to their specific needs and/or interests. This is a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the use of analytics to assess the situation as a means to address stakeholder concerns and needs better. One way to increase involvement with stakeholders is to utilize the plethora of data tools and platforms available today to unearth insights and translate them into supportive actions, decisions, attitudes, behaviors, and positive word of mouth. 

For example, employees want to work for companies that “promote trust,” “empower,” and “inspire pride.” Given that, Corporate Communications should discern information, including contextual needs, for employees to understand and perform at a level necessary for success. From a customer standpoint, corporate relevance is critical to believing in and interacting with the company, products, and services at a brand or business level in a manner that makes sense to that customer. It signifies that the company behind the brand is doing the right thing from an ethical, moral, and operating standpoint. Given the social nature of business, communication should be tailored to reach individuals, not masses.

 Critical Path for Corporate Communications – Uncovering the Machinations of Stakeholder Behavior, Preference

Over the last several months, W2O has uncovered a number of important and consistent themes regarding how the Corporate Communications function can best optimize its efforts to deliver stronger ROI to its organization as we enter the next phase of the pandemic.

The major truth to better aligning Corporate Communications with company performance lies in ensuring that this function is well-defined internally, specifically as it relates to realizing that its mission has organizational connectors.

All organizations should constantly strive to make Corporate Communications a fully realized and integrated function. This can be difficult to achieve as it demands relatively universal organizational support. The hallmark of a successful Corporate Communications function is the team’s transition from simply occupying a “serving” role to that of “leading.”

This entails having a say in wider organizational decision-making and the clout to dictate strategy. To accomplish this, Corporate Communications must work to become a proactive catalyst, assert its own priorities, and leverage new technologies (such as analytics) to inform decisions. When Corporate Communications embraces these roles, it is more likely to result in substantial ROI, a more engaged workforce, and a leaner and more dynamic function. With this approach, Corporate Communications must have a deep understanding of employee and leadership opinion, brand narrative, current strategy, and a vision for the future. The result is a de-emphasis on programming and outbound activity and a concentrated focus on information gathering and insight to direct relationship-building.                                                        

What Are You Chasing? Undoing Programs for Stronger Connections 

For organizational communications professionals, the answer to “what are you chasing?” is a critical element in securing a viable solution to myriad workforce realities. The subtle but deadly outcome for not determining the specific goal or state you are aiming to accomplish is chasing symptoms that give the illusion of achievement through activity. 

Following are some of the ways Corporate Communications can transition its purpose and effectiveness to reflect the new reality: 

  • Start with Strategy

 If an organization’s Corporate Communications strategy and function are not directed toward the business strategy, then it is not of any value – period.

  • Find the White Space

An important area to explore via analytics is where the organization has the best chance to succeed. The strategy and tactics developed must elicit specific outcomes, or your approach needs to be rethought. 

  • Uncover the Nuance

Find out what’s behind stakeholder perceptions, concerns, interests, actions. Determine if there is an impetus for certain behaviors.

  • Precision is Realism

Precision is at the heart of addressing the ultimate goal or cause of your effort. Analytics now affords the opportunity to focus, clearly comprehending the priority at hand and establishing a reality check.

  • People (Behavior), Process, Perception

Bottom line: what you are chasing tends to fall in one of these three areas. Either you’re trying to change behavior (purchase a product, gain a new skill), improve a process (streamline customer service), or perception (reputation, brand).

In the end, “What are you chasing?” is about ensuring that the means lead you to the end result.

So, before you finalize your next program, ask yourself exactly what it is you’re chasing….you may be surprised!

The new Corporate Communications function consists of three levels:

  1. Insights on employee, customer and influencer behavior (in addition to media)
  2. Comprehension of how brands, products, policies, and leaders are being discussed and shaped
  3. Connection with story drivers inside the company to convey holistic solutions and a clear narrative

In this regard, the Chief Communications Officer’s value is wrapped around a directional view of the organization as opposed to a current state perspective reinforced by tactical activities. The implication is that Corporate Communications is evolving to address the new realities of the organization’s business, reputation management, marketing, and communications in order to be an accepted and trusted advisor and resource. To get there, you must consider several factors:

  • Environment: Comprehending the competitive and customer environment you are operating in
  • Communities and Stakeholders: Company shareholders, customers, community and employees are adjusting to the “new normal,” needing more real-time, high-touch communications
  • Organization: Respecting the management model and organizational structure
  • Positioning: What are your market positioning and communications challenges? What is your trajectory for growth/loss?
  • Operations: Balancing roles that have changed and those that have not
  • Rapid Change: Ongoing change in the market forces the need for new communications practices and procedures, highlighting areas for continuous improvement

COVID-19 has disrupted our lives in myriad ways. But for many professionals and organizations, the pandemic is a time to rethink, recalibrate, and relearn what it takes to provide value in a shifting world. Taking advantage of analytics and data to discern insight and address new expectations is the pathway to a new and better future.                   

In this regard, precision is the new programming. 


W2O’s additional COVID-19 coverage

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages

COVID-19 has consumed the world’s attention and raised the level of consciousness about how infectious diseases can affect us all. In the United States, we have also seen how this novel coronavirus can exacerbate existing disparities, exposing deep cracks in the healthcare system. But amid a pandemic caused by a completely new pathogen, there is an ever-present need to continue reminding the world that another pandemic – HIV/AIDS – is far from behind us.

To do our part in the fight against HIV, W2O has been incredibly fortunate to partner with the International AIDS Society (IAS) as the regional agency of record for AIDS 2020, the 23rd International AIDS Conference. Starting today and lasting throughout the week, the conference was initially planned to be held for the first time in two cities – San Francisco and Oakland – to shine a light on the disparities that expose how different health experiences can be in two cities only a few miles apart.

Our partnership with the IAS is based on a shared passion for improving global health. The conference theme, Resilience, was chosen by IAS as a nod to how far the community has come since 1990, the last time the AIDS Conference was held in the Bay Area. The history of the response to HIV/AIDS is replete with incredible models of resilience – from the first activists who took on the medical and political establishment to pave the way for astounding gains in prevention and treatment, to the newest generation of advocates fighting for equity in access to healthcare across the globe.

We are particularly proud of the award-winning Profiles in Resilience poster series, which was created by the IAS/W2O team in partnership with Bay Area artists. These works of art were inspired by, and in celebration of, the extraordinary work individuals are doing to advance the response to HIV/AIDS and are based on interviews conducted with people at the forefront of the movement. Each poster is a thoughtfully crafted visual interpretation of the complex factors that make up human resiliency. You can see some of this work featured in a recently-released video and view the full gallery here.

There is so much more to look forward to as AIDS 2020 begins. In addition to the virtual conference itself – which will feature over 600 sessions and events – a free and open to the public Global Village will demonstrate how science translates into community action and intervention.

Feeling inspired? Here’s how you can engage:

  • Listen to, and share, What2Know episodes featuring dynamic and accomplished conference co-chairs, Cynthia Carey-Grant and Monica Gandhi, M.D., who discuss health disparities within marginalized communities and highlight the parallels between HIV and COVID-19.
  • Watch virtual panels hosted by the Commonwealth Club of California (now accessible on YouTube) related to HIV/AIDS and the upcoming conference. The first reviewed the origins of the AIDS Memorial Quilt and the second explored resiliency as it applies to LGBTQ+ individuals in professional sports, resiliency in living through a pandemic, and resiliency in dismantling structural racism.
  • Follow and keep your eyes on the AIDS 2020 Twitter and Instagram handles for the final four installments of the Profiles in Resilience poster series and other conference content.
  • Access all the COVID-19 Conference content free on July 10 by signing up at Of note, Bill Gates will be the keynote speaker.
  • Register for full access to AIDS 2020, including the scientific sessions, at org, or peruse the Global Village for free by signing up at the same site.

Our mission at W2O is to make the world a healthier place, and nowhere is this more evident than in our work in partnership with the IAS and AIDS 2020. 

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages.