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I’m excited to share that W2O has partnered with The LAGRANT Foundation (TLF) with the first–of-its-kind fellowship targeting ethnic minorities pursuing careers in healthcare communications. It’s a $50,000 three- year commitment which will fund the Future Leaders in Healthcare Fellowship Program, placing 2 fellows per year in a 10 –week paid fellowship in one of the following offices: San Francisco, New York, Austin, Boston or Minneapolis.

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More than ever, we need to diversify our workforce and continue to help you, our clients, increase diversity in your communications functions. This is a win – win for everyone. It gives men and women something to aspire to and allows a venue for stellar, diverse talent.

When I started this company in 2001, it was grounded in healthcare PR, and the reason I’ve been in healthcare communications for so long is because it fuses two of my passions – communications and health. Now that W2O group has expanded into additional verticals (Tech, Consumer, Auto, Entertainment), I think it’s important to continue to leave a positive impact and I think this partnership is the perfect venue for that.

View this interview with Kim L. Hunter, The LAGRANT Foundation (TLF) Chairman & CEO, Dr. Rochelle Ford, a professor in Syracuse University’s School of Public Communications, and myself for additional insight.

I’m proud to partner with The LAGRANT Foundation (TLF). We’re going into our 15th year in business and I couldn’t think of a better time to team up with an organization like TLF which aligns with our principals of excellence and progress within the marketing and communications industry.

View the press release here for more details.

All the best, 
Jim

Our PreCommerce Summit started off our events with a bang. Hard to believe, but 2016 marks the 6th annual version of the summit. We built it around a series of 10-minute Ted-style talks, and rounded it out with a few panel discussions and a couple of fireside chats.

These discussions featured insights from executives and leadership from some of our top clients and partners. It’s a view into what’s next, the technology that’s impacting all of us, how its changing business, as well as other aspects of our lives outside of work.

  • Lord Peter Chadlington, Founder of Shandwick and Huntsworth Group; See Lord Chadington’s preview interview here.
    Lord Peter Chadington discussed global communications trends with our own Bob Pearson. In terms of global trends, Peter pointed out that 50% of the world’s population have just started getting access to the Internet.  Lord Chadlington is someone who’s dedicated much of his work to politics and shared his thoughts on the impact that social media is having on politics. According to research they did in the UK, 72% said social media and the Internet made them more involved in politics. They feel empowered. You can watch Bob’s interview with Lord Chadlington at about 33:15 mark in the PreCommerce livestream.

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  • Amy von Walter, EVP Global Communications and Public Relations, Toys ‘R’ Us
    During Aaron’s introduction, he shared the news that Amy is now EVP at Toys ‘R’ Us. Amy gave a powerful talk about first impressions. She’s passionate about encouraging confidence in her employees. It’s an extension of her confidence which comes from her experiences overcoming first impressions.  And she’s an expert there, based on her reality of being from South Korea and raised in Minnesota by her adopted parents. She referenced the work of Dr. Hendrie Weisenger’s about the many ways you can build confidence. You can watch Amy’s session at 58:04 in the PreCommerce livestream.

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  • Manny Kostas, SVP and Global Head of Platforms & Future Technology, HP
    Manny discussed breaking through silos to get into more conversations with customers. He’s a person with unique perspective since he’s been CMO at both Symantec and a division of HP and now he’s responsible for 3,000 engineers working to reinvent HP’s printer business. Manny’s passionate about not imposing our business structure on our customers, which breaks the dialog with our customers. You can watch Manny’s session at about the 1:07 mark in the PreCommerce livestream.

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Before the first panel, my friend and someone I really respect, Robert Scoble joined Aaron on stage to share his recent news that he will be joining UploadVR as their Entrepreneur in Residence. All the best to you in the new gig Robert. Your early work at your Channel 9 days at Microsoft and you (and Shel’s) book Naked Conversations helped me prepare for taking the reins as Dell’s chief blogger back in 2006, Onward and upward, my friend! You can watch Scoble’s news at about the 1:24 mark in the PreCommerce livestream. Thanks to Jeremiah Owyang for the live pic.

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  • Susan Glasser, Editor in Chief, Politico and Peter Cherukuri, EVP Audience Solutions & President, Politico
    Susan and Peter discussed the evolution of sponsored content. Interesting perspective from the two of them and how they’ve made a new publishing model work for Politico. To do it, they re-invented what it means to be an online news platform in an era where journalistic speed a given in the space. That meant diving deep into new types of stories and experiences to stay ahead of their competition. You can watch their session at about the 2:16 mark in the PreCommerce livestream.

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  • David Kirkpatrick, CEO, Techonomy, author of The Facebook Effect and Graham Weston, Founder/Chairman, Rackspace
    David sat down with Graham to get his take on where the cloud was headed. Before jumping into the conversation, Graham took a minute to thanks Robert Scoble for his 7 years at Rackspace. Rackspace is a $2B company who provides cloud infrastructure and integration services for AWS and Azure clients. His company’s still focused on providing “fanatical” support in the midst of a changing competitive landscape. Lastly, David asked Graham about his considerable community efforts in the city of San Antonio and beyond. You can watch their fireside chat about the 2:47 mark in the PreCommerce livestream.

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  • Jeremiah Owyang, Founder/CEO, Crowd Companies
    My good friend Jeremiah spent a few minutes getting into the future of Crowd business models. He shared examples of how the collaborative economy is already disrupting traditional businesses and also shared his take on how it would evolve moving forward . Key takeaways 1) Common digital technologies empower people to get what they need from each other. 2) The crowd is becoming like a company—bypassing  inefficient corporations. 3) Like the Internet and social, corporations must use the same digital strategies to regain relevancy 4) This requires a business model change: Product>Service>Marketplace>Repeat. You can watch Jeremiah’s session at about the 4:08 mark in the PreCommerce livestream.

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  • Greg McCullough, Senior Director Partnerships, Medtronic and Gail Day, VP, Publisher Harvard Business Review
    Greg and Gail sat down to discuss what’s next in brand/ media partnerships. Gail attributed part of HBR’s success to the organization’s commitment to a goal to rid the world of bad management. That focus also extends to their partnerships. They’re strict about working with their brand, and that’s why they choose to work with limited partners. Medtronic was one of those partners. Their collaboration resulted iYou can watch their session at about the 4:31 mark in the PreCommerce livestream.

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  • Becky Brown, VP Digital Marketing & Media Group, Intel
    Becky spent a few minutes discussing The New Digital. Becky reiterated that marketers are all aware of consumers’ aversion to ads—look no further than ad blockers and the fact that they are willing to pay a premium for services without ads. Intel is answering this co-creating with companies like Buzzfeed and Mashable. And now, taking that idea with new ESPN where they integrated technology into the X Games, which allowed both companies to create new kinds of content. And they are building on the success of their online magazine called Intel IQ, where they will introduce original programming next month. You can watch Becky at about the 5:28 mark in the PreCommerce livestream.

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  • Amy Hoopes, CMO, Wente Vineyards
    Amy took some time to discuss how user experience is becoming the new marketing. The family Amy works for has been in the wine industry for 133 years, in the Livermore Valley area of California. They were always good at making great wines. To understand the history of Wente Vineyards, Amy did extensive interviews with the family. Through that research, it was clear that the Wente family had been doing many innovative things, like operating a full-service white tablecloth restaurant that recently celebrated it’s 30th birthday. Amy talked about here SMS strategy: Simplify, Motivate and Share. You can watch Amy’s session at about the 5:43 mark in the PreCommerce livestream.

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  • The third panel of the day, All Hype Aside featured 1) Michael Putnam, SVP Consumer Marketing, AmericanWell 2) Lorie Fiber, Global Corporate Communications, IBM Health and 3) Jeroen Brouwer Director of Marketing, Sales and Business Development, Philips
    Our own Rob Cronin moderated this esteemed panel of guests to discuss how digital health will impact our lives in the future. You can watch the panel discussion at about the 6:20 mark in the PreCommerce livestream.

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  • Alex Gruzen, CEO, WiTricity Corporation
    Alex discussed the future of wireless charging and how it will impact us with all the smart devices we carry with us every day. When he says wireless, he means it. Their technology doesn’t require a charging pad to be plugged into on outlet. It’s about moving power over a distance. WiTricity Corporation’s technology works with all kinds of devices: from Bluetooth headsets, to laptops and tablets, and event electric cars. You can watch Alex’s session at about the 6:56 mark in the PreCommerce livestream.

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  • Amber Naslund, SVP Marketing & Chief Evangelist, Sysomos
    Amber used her time to discuss the Future  of Analytics: Social Data and Beyond. She started by talking about how much customer expectations have changed. They expect answers in 30 – 60 mins, and they also expect those answers on nights and weekends. She  also talked about how creative design is even more important as a way to reach customers. Then, she discussed the importance of bridging the gap between data scientists and marketers or communicators. Analytics is currently a specialized skillset. But back in the 50s, typing was a job that was done via dedicated employees. Amber argued that data analysis will ultimately become a core skill just like typing did. You can watch Amber’s session at about the 7:10  mark in the PreCommerce livestream.

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  • Shiv Singh, SVP Global Head of Digital & Marketing Transformation, Visa
    Shiv discussed how to open source your brand.  He started with a simple but painful premise: that customers don’t trust your brand. And then he offered examples of how Visa reached out to the startup community for innovative ideas. One outcome: they are opening up the Visa network as an API for developers. You can watch their session at about the 7:20 mark in the PreCommerce livestream.

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  • Hugh Forrest, Director, SXSW Interactive and John Battelle, CEO of NewCo and co-founder of Wired Magazine & The Industry Standard
    This fireside chat was a blast. John interviewed Hugh on the past, present and future of SXSW. See my earlier blog post here for a much more detailed summary of that lively discussion. The interview covered a lot of ground. My favorite quote from Hugh? “TED is this finely curated meal. And that’s wonderful. [SXSW] is a 24-hour all-you can eat buffet, and that’s wonderful at times too.” You can watch Hugh Forrest’s interview at about the 7:40 mark in the PreCommerce livestream.

Make sure to tune into W2O Group’s Movers & Shapers event.

 

As each year passes, graduating classes of Millennials continue to join the workforce, bringing with them their media and technology focused minds and experiences. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Millennials are on track to make up 44% of the workforce by 2025. To say that Millennials and technology go hand-in-hand is an understatement. Luckily, they bring that insight to the PR industry day-by-day. With this in mind, we went to the movers and shakers themselves to discuss how the Committee of Millennials at W2O group believe that Millennials are shaping the industry and what is ahead for this “disruptive” generation.

Culture and Balance

First and foremost, office culture has drastically changed since we joined the workforce. We’ve said goodbye to the strict 9-5 and hello to connecting outside of the office. Now, thanks to social media many coworkers are able to connect outside of the common cubicle; and thanks to Mark Zuckerberg, offices across the nation as well as with our neighbors across the pond, are able to stay connected through Facebook groups, and up to date on the activities occurring throughout the company, regardless of location.

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Office culture overall has become more laid back, casual and many offices include an open floor plan to encourage collaboration and communication among coworkers. Additionally, Millennials are more focused on developing friendships with those they work with in comparison to Gen X or baby boomers. There is a large push to establish and maintain office culture through fun events throughout the year, outside of the typical annual office holiday party.

In The Know

Say what you will about Millennials being fully absorbed into their phones and social media, but in the PR industry, it is increasingly helpful for those to be “plugged in.” According to study conducted by the American Press Institute, 88% of Millennials use social media, specifically Facebook, as their primary source of news and check it regularly. In this industry specifically, there has been a shift from traditional practices to incorporating more digital media strategy and encouraging a larger presence on social media for clients. Being “plugged in” has us on the frontline of all things tech and consumer based, and with that we are able to suggest different platforms and ideas on how to expand a client’s reach to a different audience in a fresh, new way.

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However, we argue that it is more than just our strong connectivity that puts us at the cutting edge. Rather, it is our desire to question common practices, to ask and learn more, which sparks yet another difference between us and other generations. Millennials love to contribute and suggest new ideas so a company that promotes that kind of participation is key for prospective jobs.

What We Look For

 When asked, “What attracts you to a job,” or what made our Millennials choose W2O Group, many of us reported that the opportunity to communicate and bring ideas to the table is a huge attraction in a potential workplace. Overall, many noted that when interviewing, they highlighted that having strong and natural conversations with interviewers was something that they took into account when choosing a potential workplace. In this day and age, it is no longer only about a skillfully crafted job description and a decent salary, but rather the work / life balance and culture a company supports that this generation is looking for.

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Gone are the days where an entry level employee is discouraged to share their thoughts and ideas. Where previously, they would have to go through their manager and then their manager’s manager to get an idea pitched at a meeting. Now, we are encouraged to contribute wherever possible and at all times. Many also suggested that it was a lack of “red tape” at W2O that drew us here and what we saw was a company that recognizes the flexibility to do what is needed to get the job done.

Moving Forward

Regardless of the daily criticism Millennials receive, whether it be for being too self-involved, too out of touch with traditional concepts or pushing back more than some would like, this generation is shaping not only the workplace, but the public relations industry as a whole. We don’t claim to know everything and our tech savviness will soon fade with newer platforms emerging every day, but until then we will continue to ask questions, remain “plugged in,” and look forward to what is yet to come.

 

It’s rare that we have an opportunity to find out more about what makes CMOs tick, and more importantly to share what’s on their minds. Today, we had the rare privilege of having our W2o Group President and Chief Innovation Officer, Bob Pearson, sit down with three marketing leaders at Overstock.com, Interstate Batteries and Accel Partners at the Holmes Report’s In2Summit.

Here are quick questions and answers (with a huge infusion of wisdom) from Natalie Malaszenko (Overstock), Dorothy Jones (Interstate Batteries) and Larry Yu (Accel). Enjoy!

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Background and Thoughts on Being a CMO

Natalie: Over my career I have realized the importance of following my heart. Early on, I underestimated how important it was to be happy and passionate about your work. Having that alignment with your job is critical to getting to the next level. During my time at Hewlett Packard, I also learned how important it was to stay focused. Ignore the politics. Do a great job and concentrate on leading the people you lead courageously.

Dorothy: I have led marketing in three very diverse business. My key learning over those three opportunities has been to work with a purpose and to maintain a work life balance. It took me taking two years off to really understand what I wanted to do. During that time, I realized I had a choice regarding the people I wanted to work with/for.

Larry: The length of time people stay at organizations has changed. Making sure that you are picking companies to work for on paper as much as you are picking the people you will work for is underestimated. I’ll talk more about this later but during my early days of Facebook, it was clear that Facebook had a real mission and I now realize the criticality of this to a successful company.

Scouting Emerging Talent (Keys to)

  • No “one type” of marketer. Key to find story tellers. (Natalie)
  • Find people that have flexibility and multidisciplinary experience. Other key is leadership. Can’t teach people to have drive or to think ten steps ahead. When you see the raw gem, you take it. (Dorothy)
  • I have a communications background with a marketing title which speaks to the ambiguity of marketing these days. I like to look at people’s ability to take in data and translate that into the best possible story. Problem solving is also a needed skill. Do employees have the mental agility to figure things out? (Larry)

As we shift toward digital, what are we learning?

  • Everything is measurable which is a good and bad thing. And we are now looking at experience and journey versus single channels/pathways. Sometimes we can over-analyze and make the wrong decisions. (Natalie)
  • Data is your friend. But you can spin it however you want. And Digital is changing so rapidly, it’s critical to stay on top of it/out ahead of it. The whole purchase life cycle has changed. It is more important than ever to be in tune with what’s happening. Brand trust/positive sentiment can change overnight. I learned this firsthand at Susan G. Komen. (Dorothy)
  • How do you protect certain brand assets online? Example: trying to update your company’s logo on Wikipedia. (Larry)

What do you read? How do you learn?

  • I never miss an opportunity to learn from m,y network. At the same time, time is precious. I can’t read my daily “8,000” emails. Instead, I rely on my team to help me filter/seek out the most relevant topical ideas and news. (Dorothy)
  • When I am teaching classes/companies, I tell teams that if you aren’t willing to say, “I don’t know the answer,” you aren’t really learning. (Bob)
  • I ask experts, “who are three other people I should meet/talk to” about a particular topic. I also leans on social/aggregators to stay abreast of current topics. I have also found out how important it is to pick the people with whom you spend your time. (Larry)
  • Everything impacts ecommerce these days (Superbowl, Star Wars, David Bowie’s death so I am a student of pop culture. I also study business people intensely. (Natalie)

Additional Keys to Picking Best Talent

  • Surround yourself with people that are smarter than you. (Natalie)
  • Keep language simple and being mindful of not using terms like, “change management” while doing change management (it’s construed as a negative term). I also think about using language I would use with my grandmother who was not college educated to explain things. (Dorothy)
  • Great leaders keep messages clear and simple to make them understandable and repeatable. (Bob)
  • Organizations are very decentralized these days. People work from home more than ever. Orgs are also global. So it’s very important for companies to lock down the values and clearly communicate them. As an example, when Facebook did their IPO, it didn’t go well and employees were rattled. What helped keep the troops together was having  values (and a mission) as a touchstone. Even the leaders at the time were scared and didn’t want to let employees down. But the leaders got out there and helped bring everyone along. One other point is that values need to be organic. They can’t be handed down from the top leaders. (Larry)

Most pivotal part of your career

  • Mine wasn’t magical but was pivotal. “Peace in the midst of a storm” during time at Pepsico in the middle of a divorce. Had a baby (single mom) and working 75+ hours a week. Running a $2 billion division. Remembers running to pick up daughter from daycare, went to networking event with her girl. Took her back to office. At midnight, couldn’t find her and panicked. Realized she had crawled up under desk and fallen asleep. This was not a good “mommy” moment. It was pivotal because it taught her balance. (Dorothy)
  • Got to leave everything digital at HP. No politics among digital leaders within all the divisions at the company. Digital people find digital people and work hard to avoid politics. Had one mission and one cause. Lesson was, independent of companies goals/mission, you can always find people with a common cause. (Natalie)
  • Don’t judge people too quickly. Remembers seeing Zuckerburg at Web 2.0. Saw him on stage with hoodie and was wondering, “who is this guy?!?” Fast-forward two years, I followed my boss to Facebook. I remember one of Mark’s first internal Q&A sessions and was blown away by what he heard. (Larry)

What do you want your department to focus on?

  • What is the mission? A lot of time is spent focused on product but not on the “why” of the brand. (Larry)
  • Be idea generators. Money follows ideas. (Dorothy)
  • Don’t be afraid to kill things that are stale. The world is constantly changing so it’s okay to pause and sometimes weed. (Natalie)

How do you mentor?

  • I make time on the front end while being mindful of time and I always try hard to be willing to take calls/emails or even set up 30 minutes meetings at Starbucks on the way into the office. Sometimes I find just referring someone to the right person or providing the right business insight can be enough. (Dorothy)
  • I choose people that I can ultimately help be happy. My message is keep it simple. And then I work to make them feel comfortable with the idea of finding their own path. (Natalie)

Even though I can only assume, I think it is safe to say that most people with college degrees can relate at least a little to the job search conundrum facing recent graduates. Just six months ago, I was in that position myself. I had applied to many different internships and jobs over the course of a few months, but had not gained much traction. I was beginning to get a little nervous about my options after graduation, and then I found W2O Group. W2O Group was willing to take a chance interviewing an internship candidate without a degree in communications, but instead in Spanish Literature. Although I cannot deny my love of Garcia Marquez and Cervantes, something told me that I would not go on to write the next great Spanish novel. So I dove head first into the interview process, fully embracing the chance to work at an innovative company like W2O.

Andrew Echeguren and his rock-star team
Andrew Echeguren and his rock-star team

After the hiring process, I moved back home to San Francisco and walked excitedly through the doors of 60 Francisco St. thinking that I was about to embark on a two and a half month PR journey. I was wrong on multiple accounts. Instead of focusing solely on PR, my internship at W2O Group engaged me in many roles within the company. During the internship, I was able to combine account management experiences with media relations work, all while collaborating with my fellow interns to complete a challenging yet rewarding intern project.

All these experiences made a lasting impression on me, and I made it clear to my supervisors that I loved working at W2O Group. At this point, I knew my destiny of becoming the next Garcia Marquez was not in the cards just yet, and that instead I wanted to become a full-time employee of W2O Group. Thus, in addition to clearly communicating my aspirations to my colleagues and mentors, I worked hard to establish myself as an important member of my teams. All the hard work I put forth paid off, and I still clearly remember the day when I accepted an offer to become an Account Associate in the Tech Practice here. One of my coworkers even organized a welcoming party for me, which is when the thought crossed my mind, “This is the place for me, because they value what I can contribute to the company, but also, more importantly, who I am”.

After completing my internship, I transitioned into a more account management focused role, and I feel like I have grown tremendously, both professionally and personally, in these first few months. Truthfully, if someone had asked me six months ago if I had planned on doing what I do now, I would not have even understood my current job title. That just goes to show how much one can learn with hard work and support from the right people. After these first six months working here, I can safely say that this beats reading and writing about Don Quixote’s adventures in Spain (despite how awesome they are), and that I am even more excited about the next six months here at W2O Group than I was on my very first day.

Andrew Echeguren is now an Account Associate at the W2O Group office in San Francisco. Learn more about him on LinkedIn and at @therealbigech .

As millennials begin to hit one, two and three year anniversaries at work, their feet begin to itch. It’s time to uproot their lives and try out a new location! Who doesn’t love the idea of conquering a new city, trying out new bars, restaurants and coffee shops, and most importantly escaping the bitter cold, dreary rain or sweltering heat (depending on your current city that is). According to a recent Business Insider article, Americans are least likely to consider international relocation for a job. However, the one demographic of Americans who are far more likely to seek out career moves abroad are millennials. Fifty-nine percent of millennial professionals say that they would be open to moving to a foreign country for a job opportunity. We thought it necessary to catch up with some of our own W2O Group millennials who are traveling far and wide, home and abroad and near and far to see how and why they decided to make their own moves.Moving Boxes

Holly Batchelder: New York, NY — Boston, MA

My background is rooted in science, and I spent many years – during and after college – working at various research institutions and hospitals in the Boston area. After a couple of years, I realized my true passion was translating science into easy-to-understand health information for patients in need, so I went to graduate school to pursue a career in health communications. When I finally completed my program, I took a leap of faith and accepted a job in NYC at Twist.

I loved living in NYC. I reconnected with friends from my past, met fun new co-workers and indulged in a convenient little delivery service you may have heard of, called Seamless. However, there was still a lot I missed about Boston, including the nearby beaches, the health-conscious culture, and – of course – the lobster rolls!

In the end, I am so happy that I moved back. The Boston office is small (12 people), but we are thriving! We have an unbeatable office culture, and when we’re not at work, you can find us boxing at The Club by George Foreman III, or drinking Paloma’s at 75 Liberty Wharf in the Seaport.

moving dogsErin Scialabba: New York, NY — Austin, TX

Ultimately, I moved to move—to meet new people, to try new things, and to gain a fresh perspective on life and the work that we do.

At 25, I realized that I had a lot of growing to do; I’d lived in the New York area for my entire life, spending season after season doing the same activities with the same people. I loved my home, my family, my friends, and my coworkers, but I was itching for a plot twist.

So I set myself up to make the change. Months before I wanted to leave, I spoke with managers about my interest in living and working in Austin. I met with leadership in New York and Texas about logistics. I connected with other transfers around the company and asked them about their experiences. Not only was I taking responsibility and ensuring that I didn’t leave anyone high and dry, I was also creating external momentum to help me take a leap of faith.

So I jumped—and by jumped, I mean I slept for 20 hours while my incredible parents drove me halfway across the country, where I would later live with a roommate I found on Craigslist.

But since the initial jitters, I haven’t looked back. Not only have I had a great time exploring one of the coolest cities in the country, I’ve also made significant strides in my career. By switching offices, I was able to “start a new job,” but draw on a year’s worth of experience I had already gained in New York. Moving to a new office almost doubled my professional network and my confidence at work.

Brianna Kuhl: New York, NY — London, UK

I spent a good amount of time abroad in college, first in Austria and then in France, and ever since I’ve wanted to find my way back out ASAP. I joined W2O over 2 years ago knowing about our many amazing office locations. The London office has a lot of heavy digital growth goals and, after a quick visit last month, seems to be everything I’m looking for. So here I go, off to a new country in a new place where I need to learn how EVERYTHING works. I can’t really explain how excited/nervous/happy I am. It’s a decent amount of paperwork to get a visa for another country (and securing travel for your pet is EVEN harder, more intense than getting myself over there for sure!) but in less than 10 days I’ll be in a new place with a bunch of AMAZING folks out in the UK office. Definitely a learning experience going through the process but overall there is so much support at W2O it’s been much smoother than you would think. I am excited to start a new chapter with a supportive company.

 

 

Recently, after being briefed on the company’s internal communications strategy and plan for the year – the CEO of a global organization posed a compelling question: “Fast forward to December, tell me why all of this didn’t work.”

As we enter a new year, it’s always a positive and somewhat idealistic time. Strategies and plans come together with their requisite measures and synchronized business goals. For communications professionals, specifically those involved with organizational effectiveness, the challenge remains – how can we improve employee engagement.

Former General Electric CEO and leadership guru, Jack Welch, often describes employee engagement as the most important measurement for a CEO. “There are measurements you need to understand at a business to know if you’re on the right track, Welch once told a major business journal. First and foremost, is employee engagement.”

As you begin the year, ask yourself the following questions as a means to test your internal communications programming to ensure the results are met and possibly, exceeded.

What are you Solving for?

The most important question to answer is whether internal communications is directed at improving employee engagement. This can be done based on specific business goals – providing line of sight between people’s jobs and customer needs, marketplace expectations. Engagement includes but is not limited to leader rhetoric and commitment; manager involvement; feedback and discussion; and recognition.

Is it a Conversation-based model?

How are you planning to catalyze dialogue internally? Without dialogue, discussion, and debate, internal communications is nothing more than a cadence of information with no real intent or meaning. A key measure of this approach is to constantly discern what people are talking about inside, which leads to the next point.

In order to ignite discussion, are you provocative?

How is Data informing decisions?

Where do employees go to get specific information inside the company? Do they prefer video? Are they active on social channels? What is the volume and the key themes from feedback?

All of this is now available through technology and must be incorporated into your planning and decision-making. Data and insight provide precision allowing for course corrections during the year.

Is your plan Activity-based or Solution-based?

Step back and objectively size up your plan. Is it designed to solve the key objectives of the business. Or is it a series of activities? Do the elements connect and work together to create a better destination? Often this simple exercise is an eye-opener leading to a more strategic realignment.

Is the CEO involved ?

The most critical determinant in engagement, as Welch stated, is the CEO’s commitment. Engagement and effective communication starts at the top and is based on leadership’s view of the business, its prospects, challenges, opportunities, and competitive reality. Internal communications professionals must have access and influence in the C-Suite helping to direct the organization’s narrative and counsel the appropriate actions that link strategy to execution. When this takes place, companies achieve coherence and most importantly, clarity.

Are you Mobile?

With organizations increasingly featuring employees outside of their own offices and placed across the globe working across time zones, while more office stable or manufacturing oriented employees operate across boundaries, companies are building their IT systems including communications platform outside their walls. Mobile applications allowing everything from benefits updates, to stock price alerts, to CEO briefings, and up-to-date competitive news, are becoming more visible.

Delving into these questions at this point to avoid end of year mea culpas can prove to be a wise investment of time and talent.

Is the Organization Getting Smarter?

Ultimately, employee engagement and organizational intelligence are inextricably linked. At the heart of engagement lies information (content). Is it contextual? Is it relevant? Does it challenge assumptions? Does it encourage experimentation that leads to innovation? Does it help people to make the argument themselves?

One notable organization, upon naming a new CEO, went from focusing on what they knew to what they didn’t. Translation: Internal communications became more provocative and meaningful touching on competitive moves and products, societal shifts, internal issues such as quality and productivity, etc. It’s focus is on expanding people’s knowledge and building confidence in the future. Results thus far indicate a more robust interest in important company initiatives and a more active discourse among employees on topics that just a few months ago were never broached. A recent CEO blog to employees reflects this new found approach. In it the CEO asked a very profound question – “Who is our most dangerous competitor?” He explained that competition today comes in all shapes and sizes and is no longer confined to a company’s competitive set. After an incredible amount of employee posts, most offering key competitors as the answer, the CEO stated that Amazon was the most dangerous competitor because it keeps “changing the level of customer expectations.” Amazon, which is not in this company’s competitive set provides a different way to think about the business and is a proxy for a new business strategy about to be introduced.

This is particularly important to capture employee attention with so many distractions. It is also crucial for long-term business success especially as companies continually redesign business models in a social and digital context to be more fluid, agile, and omni-channel.

As business becomes more seamless and friction free the very nature of the workforce will be revolutionized. Analytics will provide more specific information on employee engagement making it easier to discern performance and thus merit compensation. This type of transparency will result in higher levels of organizational acuity that couple with new technology will force a more sophisticated approach to internal communications.

Now Ask Yourself …

The role of internal communications as we’ve reiterated is to improve engagement. To do that, it needs to move the workforce to become future smart or capable of recognizing and navigating the myriad changes taking place around them. It’s about balancing the marketplace with the organization and the individual. And then balancing the individual with improving the lives of others as well be it colleagues, customers, communities, etc.

Given all of that, how will your own performance be evaluated at the end of the year?

It’s December 2016…

Spending time now to address the inherent discrepancies or gaps in your internal communications strategy and plan will go a long way to ensuring you get the results you seek and the company demands.

It really comes down to seeing ahead … just as this CEO did!

In 2015, the Committee of Millennials (COM) stepped up its game to accomplish goals and objectives set forth by its members. As the year comes to a close and COM celebrates its 2nd birthday, we wanted to share a few highlights and key learnings from 2015.

2016-new-year

  • Slow and Steady Wins the Race… Sometimes:
    • In May and June, COM initiated peer onboarding sessions for all interns, associates and managers led by none other than the committee members. Who better to show new hires the W2O way than those who do the job every day! With courses including account management basics, media research, social and traditional media monitoring, and office basics, COM is taking an active role in helping the future leaders of W2O Group nestle into their roles quickly and efficiently.
  • Oh the Places You’ll Go:
    • One of the COM’s objectives since its inception has been to expand across the long hallway. Originating in New York, the Committee of Millennials is proud to announce that our meetings now include New York, Minneapolis, Boston and Chicago. Additionally, we are working closely with the AA’s and AM’s in San Francisco to align COM and SF Up and Comers, and to extend their meeting to all of the West Coast offices. Hold onto your cowboy hats, Austin. We’re coming for you next!
  • You Ain’t Never Had a Friend Like Me:
    • Expanding COM’s reach across multiple offices created the opportunity for an initiative we’re calling “COMrades.” Our goal was to institute a program within the group to enable its members to get to know one another better. Thus, COMrades was born. Each month, committee members are matched with a designated COMrade and encouraged to take time to get to know each other over hipchat, a phone call or coffee break.

On top of the new and exciting additions to the Committee of Millennials, we continued to stay true to our roots with peer presentations on case studies, key insights from senior leaders and professional development workshops. 2015 was an excellent year for the Committee of Millennials and we have no doubt 2016 will be even better. As Jim would say, we #MakeItHappen.

We look forward to sharing what’s next in 2016!

Happy New Year!

Lauren, Meredith and Colleen.

When searching for the “perfect” job applicant, organizations are beginning to find more often than not that they are willing to overlook a lack of specific qualifications in favor of ensuring the applicant is a good fit for the existing culture.

More and more employers want to know who they are hiring and how they will relate and work with other employees. As many organizations have already figured out, recruiting shouldn’t only be focused on an applicant’s GPA and past experience anymore. Rather a focus on the individual and what their interests may be outside of the workplace.

Employment site Glassdoor has collected hundreds of thousands of questions asked by hiring managers, and the following four ranked among 2015’s 50 Most Common Interview Questions, though they have little to do with work:

  1. What are your hobbies?
  2. What’s your favorite website?
  3. What was the last book you’ve read for fun?
  4. What makes you uncomfortable?

Why does this matter?culture fit and experience

According to a research paper conducted in 2004 by Development Dimensions International (DDI), an international talent management company, 78% of respondents believed that organizations and hiring managers do not assess for culture fit because they do not know how to do this.

Oh how the times have changed. Employers now seem to have a much better understanding of the importance of colleagues being able to relate to one another to accomplish any given task. In recent years there has been a shift to hiring for culture and focusing on training and developing employees who may be new to the workforce, such as millennials.

With the workplace changing and more millennials climbing the corporate ladder, more research is being conducted by experts like Dan Schawbel, author of Me: 2.0, who identified specific needs of millennials in search of positions. According to Schawbel, “millennials want a culture that’s less hierarchical, more flexible, and more understanding of difference, because millennials are the most diverse generation.”

As culture continues to become increasingly important and effecting employee attraction and retention, making sure you pick the right people is crucial. You now not only need to make sure a candidate has the background criteria you are seeking, but can also thrive in your existing culture. As culture begins to play a bigger role within organizations keep these five questions in mind to help you identify a candidate who will help keep your business moving forward.

Read the person behind the paper.

  1. What unique talent does this applicant add to the existing team?
  2. What similarities do they have with existing team members?
    a. Did they attend the same school?
    b. Do they have similar interest outside of the office (traveling, sports, etc.)?
  3. Does the applicant’s personality match that of the existing culture?
  4. How will the company leverage the applicant’s expertise to help grow the current staff’s skill set?
  5. What will this applicant add to the team aside from their experience?

 

anita bose_It’s only an hour time difference from the East Coast but adjusting to Central Time was honestly a shock to my system. In the best possible way.

I’m a firm believer that doing the same thing in the same way for too long saps us of our energy and creativity. Having lived, breathed and worked in New York City for the last two (plus) decades, I knew I needed a jolt to the system. A few months ago, I finally made the big break and moved to the great Midwest. And, at the same time, I took on a new and challenging role at W2O Group.

A big change. Momentous. Seismic. I went to college and grad school in New York. I’d spent my entire adult life there. But that was exactly the point. Being in a new place unlocks your senses and forces you to observe things differently. Whether it’s a new city, a new apartment or a new office.

W2O’s Chicago office is very different than our 150-person stronghold in downtown Manhattan. Our small but mighty, tight-knit and fun-loving group is housed in very hip, West Loop offices in the old meat-packing district. At first I worried that being in a smaller office would be isolating. I was immediately surprised at how wrong I was. W2O has mastered the concept of virtual teams. Our staff readily and successfully works across time, space and organizational boundaries. We thrive on it. Granted, technology and effective systems make this possible. But it’s also a testament to how the company has grown and evolved over a short time – from a one-person consultancy to an integrated international operation with 12 offices and over 400 people.

We think of our colleagues as all working along a “long hallway” – creating, collaborating and handing off assignments and clients across geographies and time zones. And being in Central Time has its advantages. Yes, New York is an hour ahead which means we start work earlier to accommodate. But the mere two hour difference with the west coast allows for much more fluid collaboration with our Pacific Time clients and colleagues. W2O’s approach means that we match our clients with the best staff members who have the most relevant experience and appropriate skill set to service their business – not just geographic proximity. In an industry where identifying talent is always a struggle, this methodology allows us greater flexibility in developing strong cross-functional teams that can best address our clients’ most pressing needs.

In my short time here, I’ve already worked with rock star colleagues from every one of our offices, and with clients on both coasts and those based in Chicago.  Working along W2O’s “long hallway” has truly energized me. As has the much-needed jolt– both physical and psychological – of moving to Central Time.

(View the official release welcoming Anita to the W2O team here).

Cly 10

Being the “new kid” at W2O Group is equal parts exciting, scary, inspiring and eye-opening. And joining a new agency for the first time in five years has resurfaced a key idea for me – how the diversity in a group amplifies all of the individual talent within. I call this an agency’s “t-factor.”

In our industry, we’re constantly discussing the “talent pool” and how to bring on the best of the best. Whether in media relations (my area of expertise), digital, analytics, account management, etc. But the problem is that we tend to focus on roles in isolation, and not in relation to a broader ecosystem. We look at expertise and skill sets in solving a specific or immediate problem. And that can lead to homogeneity – in background and in thought.

That’s why I’m so happy to already see in my short time at W2O that our most talented colleagues come from completely different backgrounds and disciplines. Take this stellar earned media team – it’s an eclectic mix of smart and curious media specialists, former account executives and former journalists who’ve come over to the “other side”. This type of mix benefits our entire team and enables us to counsel clients in the most effective way possible. It helps create true empathy, since we’re evaluating decisions from all different vantage points.

Fifteen years ago this wouldn’t have been the case. Today it’s a different game – the talent pool is filled with specialists, generalists, tinkerers and everything in between. And that’s incredible for all of us. Growing, learning and shadowing others is not only encouraged, but expected here – how refreshing!

In the few short weeks since joining W2O Group, I’ve had the pleasure of working with a stellar mix of all-star colleagues with backgrounds as varied as could be – former C-suite execs, reporters, political advisors and even former clients. Selfishly, I know working with all these folks means I’ll be stretched, molded and taught by the best of the best in our industry. It’s a little daunting, but as a result, I know my personal t-factor will only increase.

Bottom line? Today’s talent pool must be diverse, varied and multidisciplinary – in both experience and thought. I’m thrilled to jump into that pool here at W2O Group.

Each semester at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, thanks to the ongoing commitment and gift provided by Jim and Audra Weiss, a group of W2O Group industry professionals and invited executive guests travel to campus for a series of events to help bridge the gap between the classroom and the industry. Last week, I was fortunate enough to help produce a series of activities in collaboration with Lauryn Botterman, Maria Russell and the fall 2015 Social Commerce Days crew, including:

  • Jennifer GottliebGroup Panel Discussion Photo_Fall2015SCD SMALL
  • Gary Grates
  • Kieran Fagan
  • Ryan Flinn
  • Eileen O’Brien
  • Jennifer Kaplan (Jennifer Katz)
  • Blaire Clause
  • Alex Levine

A quick recap:

This semester we were invited to visit a record number of classrooms, spanning Research, Campaigns, Writing, Advertising, Ethics and more. Along with speaking to students and faculty in their classes, we hosted several networking events and continued our popular, immersive Analytics to Strategy Workshop, facilitated by Jennifer Kaplan and Blaire Clause and attended by over 50 students.

TheHergStudents_Fall2015SCD SMALLWe also expanded the usual keynote address into an executive panel featuring our own Jennifer Gottlieb, as well as Chris Preuss, SVP of marketing and communications at Delphi Automotive and Craig Rothenberg, former VP of corporate communications at Johnson & Johnson. Moderated by Gary Grates, the executives discussed the concept of gaining and sustaining relevance as the new reputation.

To cap things off, we honed in on crisis in today’s digital age, highlighting the work our ambassadors, Anna Hodge and Andrew Petro, executed over the summer in our New York office and showcasing our new digital tools and approaches in a professor session, led by Kieran Fagan.

We’ve been receiving overwhelming positive feedback from students and faculty alike. And digital conversation and engagement only increased from last semester’s events. Check out our Storify created by ambassador Anna Hodge, highlighting #SocCommDays interaction.

A few reflections from this semester’s team:

Eileen O’Brien: Why Writing Matters More Than Ever

“It may seem counter intuitive, but writing matters more than ever in our digital age,” according to my colleague, Ryan Flinn, director of earned media at W2O and former Bloomberg reporter. “It used to be a top down approach – journalists relied on access to CEOs, government officials and key opinion leaders in order to develop a story. A reporter made their name by breaking big news. In our new media environment, breaking news has become a commodity since everyone is a publisher.”

Ryan and I recently spoke before several classes at Syracuse University and the students were relieved to hear this as they worked their way through their writing classes. And the professors enjoyed this validation of their focus on writing skills. Ryan made the point that after news breaks (whether via Twitter or CNN) people are looking to learn what the news means and its potential impact. This is where smart writing comes in.

We also talked about the fact that reporters’ success is increasingly being tied to clicks and shares. The author (and their employer) are able to get feedback on whether the article was of interest. We debated with the students whether this resulted in “click bait” and whether it was good or bad for the industry. It’s interesting to note that with so many traditional newspapers laying off reporters, new media sites such as Vox and the Daily Beast are providing jobs for these journalists.

During class, we encouraged live tweeting and it was great to get real-time reaction from the students to see what was resonating with them.

Twitter

Blaire Clause:

I already knew that the Center for Social Commerce was an exceptional program, but it was energizing to see first-hand the impact that it has on campus.  I thoroughly enjoyed presenting some of our analytics models, case studies and speaking candidly about the day-to-day life at W2O. My (high) expectations were surpassed by the genuine curiosity and enthusiasm expressed by the students, especially around our analytics approach and how they apply to different business challenges. Aside from the full classrooms, the executive panel and workshop were packed with bright minds who asked thoughtful questions. Some of my favorite parts included getting to know some of them 1:1 through the networking session, and working with them as they eagerly accepted the client example/challenge we presented in the workshop. Jim and W2O Group have truly created something special for the students— it allows for them to enhance their education through exposure to real client examples, W2O’s models, and industry leaders.

Professional service firms, specifically those in marketing, PR, communications, consulting and digital, are finding it critical to recalibrate their value proposition in today’s social and digital reality.

Why?

Simply put, the lines are now all blurred.  The swim lanes no longer distinct.  The delineation of work and expertise between outside counsel and internal management not as clear.

This self-awareness moment for CEOs of such firms is causing a very important question to be raised.  One that strikes at the heart of a firm’s efficacy.  One that must be answered by everyone in the organization.

So, what is it that we do exactly?

At W2O Group, a network of complementary, progressive and multi-faceted digital, marketing, and communications counseling firms, of which I founded and now serve as Chairman and CEO, we are right in the middle of this new world and actively answering this important question.

The following is a brief overview of the discussion we are having internally:

“What is it that we do?”

Well, some may say we are an integrated communications or PR firm.  Others a creative or advertising shop.  Still others a social and digital agency. Possibly an analytics and insights organization.

Guess what?  You’re all right!

And you’re all wrong.

It’s certainly true that we as a firm provide all of these services and capabilities.  But at the end of the day our real value lies in something much bigger.  Something much more profound.

As the CEO of one our clients said recently, our value is to help organizations “maintain relevance in a distracted world.”

Think about it.  Living and working in a content rich, influence-oriented, attention deficit world where consumers snack on information and form knee-jerk opinions while employees turn off the volume better to watch what leaders do than listen to what they say, is taking a toll on organizational and brand relevance.

This is what keeps CEOs up at night and Boards from enjoying their weekends.  It is also what keeps W2O Group a central and important part of the marketing and communications mix for our clients.

What does it take to remain relevant today?

Here’s a start:

1)      Meaningful Purpose – Is what you do important and meaningful to the audiences you care about and the world in general?

2)      Adaptable Culture – Are your employees and your systems agile and empathetic to the environment?

3)      Nuanced Comprehension of Customers, Stakeholders – Are you incorporating data and insight into your thinking and programming to ensure precision?

4)      Personal Stories –  Do you communicate in a manner that drives interest and conversation that aids learning?    

So, the question is simply this:  How are you making our clients relevant in a distracted world?

Think about it.

I am…!

(Note:  Engaging in such a provocative discussion with staff is producing some incredible thinking and ideas.  Ultimately, clients determine value and bringing the discussion inside raises the bar on performance while solidifying efficacy)

Jim

Also posted on LinkedIn

Together with panelists Steven Overman, CMO at Eastman Kodak, Simon Shipley, Marketing and Innovation Manager at Intel, and Steve Milton, Consultant and Former Corporate Communications director at eBay, Bob Pearson investigates whether evolution is enough to stay relevant in the new digital economy.

There’s a clear need to embrace digital, but do we need to learn more about it before we start our digital agenda to ensure we do it right?

For Bob’s panelists digital is actually something that needs to be part of the mindset of an organization in order to be successful and impactful. Since the nature of the digital world is dynamic and not stable, we need to start acting, but also remain nimble to be able to respond to changes in the future.

Part of our digital transformation should also be a reevaluation of familiar questions: How do global brand behave in local markets? Do we position ourselves as the known and trusted international brand or do we adapt to local needs? Navigating between the waters of global and local has always been a challenge for companies, but when it comes to digital the core question actually diminishes – there is no local. However, we have to think through more tactical implications such as various languages, servers or how we handle e-commerce fulfillment. We are trying to behave in a unified way, but have to figure out how those things can actually be executed.

Another key question in digital is whether or not e-commerce is becoming channel and platform agnostic by integrating the ability to sell and buy into our social channels. It is actually not a question of if, but rather when we see this development, thinking about markets like China, where the integration of the marketplace into the social world is already reality.

So what can online marketing tech companies do to be more relevant and valuable? With a lot of change we need to have a scientist’s mindset, being curious, trying out new things and failing fast, which is not failure, but a way to gain new insights. Most importantly we need to listen of what people care about and can no longer assume we know.

We are living in a time where we are ‘always on’ with multiple devices providing us with information but also distracting us and exhausting our time. Technology has become a natural part of our daily life, where having different multiple online personas for work, life, and play is common. It has also become a source of angst.

With an influx of new information and online digital platforms almost daily, the digital landscape is evolving and consumers are now more empowered than ever. Brands can no longer fully control their narrative and need to find and understand the people who are most relevant to their future determining how they consume and share information as well as how they listen to each other as individuals.

This rapidly changing world can sometimes feel both like a massive headache and an incredible opportunity for marketers and communicators. C-suite leaders must be able to adapt to these changes if their organizations are to survive. Staying nimble and being able to predict how the industry will evolve before it happens is all part of the job. What we see from working with our clients and helping them stay one step ahead of competition is that regardless of which industry you are in or who your audience is, we are all facing similar challenges when it comes to digitalization. Being so imbedded in our client businesses is what allows us to build the community where innovators and leaders can come together and share their best practices and learnings.

Breaking away from your everyday routine and meeting those who are walking in the same shoes as you, is a proven method to generate new ideas or new solutions. Following on the success of last year’s Social Intelligence Summit we are excited to host our second annual thought leadership event – PreCommerce Summit London 2015.

The event, coinciding with London’s Social Media Week, will bring together experts from across industries to discuss how we work, live and create in the digital world. We will be considering the impact and opportunities of the mobile generation and will provide perspectives and host panel discussions with key leaders, such as:

I’m hopeful you are able to attend this important forum. Don’t miss the last chance to register to attend the summit on the 14th of September in London via livestream or in person!

More information on the event and the speakers can be found here www.w2oevents.com.

Navigating the future takes more than just educated guesswork. It combines knowledge, adaptability and a willingness to garner new inputs from new sources.

The W2O Group Pre-Commerce London Summit is your personal GPS to succeeding in the future!

In Texas, we would say “Nancy Zwiers?  Yeah, she’s done a few things in her life”.  Typical Texas understatement, of course.  Nancy has held multiple executive positions for Mattel, the #1 toy company in the world; she led worldwide marketing for Mattel’s $2 billion Barbie doll brand; she re-launched Polly Pocket and grew the #1 Cabbage Patch brand.  And she has advised clients ranging from Disney to Hasbro to Spin Master about the area of kids and play.  Yeah, Nancy knows a few things.

So we thought this Millennials Unplugged should be an interview with Nancy to learn more about youth marketing and what it all means.  Here’s excerpts from our talk.

Q: You were selling over 100 million Barbie’s a year, inventing new Barbie’s and learned a lot about what matters.  What did you learn about how we think as kids? 

A: I like to say that we had big data before there was big data—with so many transactions, we were able to see patterns that others missed that helped us develop our understanding of “Core play patterns.” These play patterns are amazingly consistent across time, geography, and culture.  We have concluded that play comes from the inside out.  It is a biological drive.  If you tap into these core play patterns, you are more likely to be successful in engaging kids.

 Q: That’s fascinating.  We always think we are so unique.  Why are we actually so similar?

A: Play is nature’s way to ensure we learn what we need to learn to survive.

For example, the original play pattern is “exploration & discovery,” which starts at birth—or maybe even before.  It’s innate in us and it drives us to explore our environment.  As we grow up, that same play pattern is fueled by curiosity and the little thrill that goes with each new discovery. 

Q: Very cool.  What are some examples we can relate to?

A: Reading flows from this play pattern.  Our desire to travel is a form of exploration & discovery.  Scientists feel like they are playing as they are driven to explore their scientific fields.  We want to learn in order to survive and we play to discover and learn.  The second play pattern we all share is “challenge & mastery,” which is at the heart of sports and most game play.  It drives us outside of our comfort zone to help us grow.

Q: How is entertainment viewed compared to play?

A: Entertainment flows the opposite direction of play.  It comes from the outside in.  That said, the new “discoverability” of entertainment content is a manifestation of exploration & discovery.  Further, the more entertainment is interactive, the more the lines are blurred between entertainment and play. 

Q: We realize it’s hard to ask you what your favorite toy has been…..but we will……

A: My favorite toy of all time is Barbie.  And the most innovative Barbie dolls are the ones that I like the most.  We created the first radio-controlled Barbie (Dance n Twirl Barbie), Becky the first “differently abled” friend for Barbie, the first mass customized doll (University Barbie) and even Barbie’s baby sister, Kelly, so we could facilitate the nurturing core play pattern.

Q: What’s the importance of nurturing as it relates to toys? 

A: Girls, especially, are irresistibly drawn to nurturing play—whether a baby doll or a pet.  Girls are also drawn to toys that let them explore what beauty means to them—think fashion dolls and arts & crafts. Frozen’s famous star Elsa personifies girls’ beauty fantasies.

Q:  What happens when we grow up? 

A: Our behaviors change but the drive behind them stays the same, so instead of Chutes and Ladders or Candyland, now we play with X Box or Minecraft.  You know, boomers didn’t have as many opportunities to play with a wide range of toys.  We only had a few TV channels*, but we were ok with that.  Now, kids and millennials have a wide range of toys and they see play as digital or physical.  Plus, they have an expectation that we can personalize our play experiences.  Customization and interactivity are the big things.

Q: When we think of the movies, what is happening when we love a character?

A: We find that you need an aspirational lead character that is also relatable.  Aspirational means “I want to be like her/him.” and relatable is “He/she is like me.”  These are the characters we most want to play out fantasies with. The real life Princess Diana illustrates this.  She was actually a princess, she was beautiful AND she had flaws.  Having a weakness makes us love characters more.  Think of Superman and kryptonite.   One quick note:  In the key imaginative play years of children from 3-6 years old, they will often fantasize with a toy/character that often reflects gender stereotypes.  Many adults think this should change but it is part of an overall process of developing one’s identity. 

Q: What is the future of the toy industry?

A: 3D printing will have a big impact on the toy industry…..digital (and physical arts) and crafts will grow…..kids are getting more focused on wanting to express themselves more……the need to differentiate from our peers is growing….customization and personalizing experience is important.  The Internet of Things will have powers we never realized.  Imagine a new 3D view master with augmented reality or having Siri-like interaction with dolls?  Or learning how a child is using a toy and then suggesting what else they may like based on sensors in the toy itself, sending back data to headquarters that is meaningful. 

Q: Nancy, what was your favorite toy growing up?

A: It was my microscope.  I loved it.  I still remember what my hair looked like under the microscope.

Thank you Nancy, this was fantastic.  Very insightful!

Brittany Pearson (millennial) and Bob Pearson (boomer)

*Bob’s favorite Saturday shows were Speed Racer and Jonny Quest. 

As a marketing analyst, my day is governed by digital media. My nights are equally dictated, as I am guilty of sleeping next to my phone, just like 83% of other Millennials. Tech-dependant as we are, I’d expect this “generation of digital natives” to be very fond of online experiences. In fact, according to statista, 85% of UK 16 to 34-year-olds used Facebook in 2014. Can we infer from these numbers alone that digital experiences are always the preferred choice by us Millennials? As you might have guessed, I intend to make it a tad more difficult by contrasting some digital vs. offline experiences:

Education: While traditional education has undeniable benefits such as direct peer and teacher interaction, over 6.7 million students were taking a minimum of one online course in 2011 – an increase of more than half a million year-on-year. Online education will enable people from poorer families or rural areas receive valuable skills. Interestingly, print reading is highest among 18 to 29 year old US students, according to a Pew study, as the text book layout benefits comprehension and distractions and skimming are less likely.

Work: Similar to traditional education, being physically present at work has huge benefits, such as your boss knowing what you are up to. However, home offices will be an important factor in juggling work and family, as a survey in the Microsoft whitepaper points out. Further benefits of home office are a less stressful environment, a quieter atmosphere, commute elimination and increased environmental sustainability.

Dating & Friendships: Dating apps allow us to roam potential partners whenever and wherever we want. Some portals such as EHarmony and OkCupid ask personal questions that supposedly match you to people with similar opinions and interests. Therefore, online dating is a form of offline speed dating, as you don’t have to waste precious minutes getting to know someone to figure out later that their love for cats doesn’t match your allergies. Digital, in this case, gives you a wider range of opportunities, while you will most likely want to meet your online encounter in real life before getting married. Regarding friendship building, technology also works as a facilitator. According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, 57% of US teens have met a new friend online, with 30% having made more than five. Due to their love for video games, boys are more likely than girls to make online friends.

Family: Most of us can speak from experience that being around your family in person is superior to a Skype call, where the video quality is sub-par. Nonetheless, apps and platforms allow us to reach out more often and share little, yet important moments as well.

The endless list of things we do online includes mobile banking (enabling female farmers in Africa build their own businesses) or sharing hobbies, such as cooking, sports, art and photography. Due to Instagram filters, everyone can now be a “photographer” and we can share our successful or not-so-successful cooking experiences with the entire world. We can also share calories burnt after our first mile or half-marathon and make our Facebook friends envious. Most of all, we can find people who share rare hobbies such as a fondness for pigeons. It’s much easier to find like-minded people online or strangers to talk to confidentially. Privacy goes both ways online: you can be anonymous and share fears and thoughts, but at the same time, you can gossip and insult others without being identified. Negative factors seem to increase online where it is also much easier to voice your opinion to a greater audience. The latest incidence being the refugee crisis in Europe, where a lot of celebrities voice themselves supportively online, but allow fans with negative sentiments to comment and reach this wide audience as well.

As it turns out, the digital landscape is widely complex. Deciding on what experiences are more enjoyable online is further hindered by factors such as your audience’s background, preferences and motivations. As the recent Economist article “Myths about Millennials” points out, “individual differences are always bigger than generational differences.” One should not make assumptions about a group of people just because they were born in the same time period.

Generally speaking, however, digital is always better. Not because we replace real experiences with digital ones, but because digital adds options to our means of communication. Every communication tool in history has had its pros and cons, but the tools have been improving over time. Improvement meaning enhancing communication, bringing us closer together. We started with smoke clouds and can now communicate with people on several continents at once and in colour. We want to share information and experiences – sad moments, achievements and joy. Yes, there are still many improvements to be made, technically and personally (be it privacy issues or us constantly looking down on our phones while walking in the streets). Ultimately, communication is what we’re all about and digital communication is a further added benefit along the way – and not just for Millennials.

After this peek into the facets of digital, I want to invite you to join W2O Group’s PreCommerce Summit that is part of London’s Social Media Week, to further expand your knowledge. Hear industry experts talk about marketing’s future and share your opinion on whether digital is always better. You can RSVP here: http://w2oevents.com/

In the past six years, I can count on one hand — one finger, actually — the number of times I’ve attended a conference and not been an active participant in the Twitter conversation onsite. It was 2009, my laptop was at the office, and I did not yet have a smartphone. You can bet that was the last time I traveled without multiple devices, a smartphone being one of them.

As a millennial — yes, one of those — I began my career at a time when Twitter was only for the tech elite, Facebook was still “The Facebook,” and LinkedIn was a glorified resume. Now, similar to how no one can remember a time when anything got done without email, I can no longer fathom — nor want to — a world where social media wasn’t a driving force behind how business gets done, and done well.

In my past life as a healthcare conference producer, social media wasn’t yet the widely adopted medium for communication and collaboration that it is today. Speaking faculties and conference agendas were created from research and whatever publications and articles were available online, and events were publicized via mass email campaigns and cold calling. Just a few years later, the landscape had already changed drastically.

In my next role as an editorial content producer at a technology publisher, hashtags were the new sources for news stories, LinkedIn was the first point of contact, and QR codes were all the rage. To stay timely, topical and relevant was to keep up with the rate of change in social media adoption and use. Today, that thinking still holds true. Only now, the cost of not participating is something that individuals and brands alike can no longer afford.

We’ve all heard that “content is king,” and from a content generation perspective, Twitter is one of the most valuable — and all too often, underrated — sources. If someone had told me back when I was putting together conference agendas that there would soon be a channel that would provide, in real-time, insights on the topics and trends that your target audience cares most about, I might have traded an arm or leg for access. Now, that information is just a screen tap away.

But the wealth of benefits that Twitter provides goes well beyond social intelligence — topic and audience targeting, influencer analysis, idea generation and the like. While it’s true that the incredibly rich data that Twitter provides — when paired with the right analytics, active listening tools and analysis in place — creates an unmatched opportunity for social optimization and ROI-inducing initiatives, to me, the most valuable aspect of the channel has been the relationships that is has allowed me to cultivate. And for that, I could not be more appreciative.

While conferences and networking events might have previously been where industry colleagues would be introduced to one another for the first time, now, these onsite interactions are simply an extension of the relationships that began through a series of 140 character posts. The number of times I’ve approached — okay, ran toward — industry colleagues with whom I’ve connected on Twitter first, and recognized solely from their profile picture, is a bit embarrassing. But the amazing opportunities, incredible learning experiences, professional connections, and friends, that I have made, simply because we were engaged via the social medium first, makes it all worthwhile.

Case in point being earlier this year, at W2O’s #HITsmCIO event at HIMSS’15 in Chicago, where provider innovation, information and technology chiefs gathered together to discuss the proliferation of social media in healthcare. UPMC’s chief innovation officer, Rasu Shrestha, M.D., one of the Twittersphere’s most active — an quite frankly, awesome — digital health leaders, shared that when it comes to hospital and health system use of social media, “it’s less of a question about whether you should do it; it’s can you afford not to.” I would have never gotten the opportunity to meet, know, and most importantly, learn from, Dr. Shrestha in the same capacity if not for Twitter, where his perspective perfectly echoes what we advise our clients, friends, and ourselves, regarding social media engagement.

For House of Cards fans, during one of his infamous first-person narratives to the camera, Frank Underwood noted that “imagination is its own form of courage.” For anyone who has yet to take the leap or see the value in social media from a personal perspective, I’m here to tell you that it’s worth it. Imagine yourself interacting with and learning from individuals you had previously only read about, fostering relationships with an unmatched network of thought leaders, and carving out a voice for yourself in the space. It might take a bit of courage to put yourself out there, but just imagine the possibilities.

And for those brands who have yet to harness the power of social engagement and intelligence — from healthcare and digital health, to technology and pharma, through B2B startups to well-established B2C staples — the time to imagine how these social channels can drive opportunity and incredible value for your business is now. Remember, it takes imagination — and courage — to see innovation and opportunity where others cannot, and social media engagement is no exception.

For more information on how social commerce and SoMe intelligence is driving change, enabling opportunity and creating a competitive advantage across the marketing and communications landscape, be sure to follow #PreCommerce on Twitter for updates and notable information from W2O’s EMEA annual PreCommerce Summit, taking place in London on September 14, 2015.

Please see here for more information on the event. In the area? Come join us – registration is free!

Determining the impact of a fresh manuscript delivered to inquisitive audiences is an elusive pursuit, and difficult to quantify. Traditional methods consider the impact factor of the journal in which the work is published, or the number of times the findings are cited by others. The former serves to imply value by association, while the latter proceeds slowly, over time.

albert photoNew metrics are emerging, however, as rapid and telling indicators of impact at the level of the manuscript itself. Modern criteria such as downloads and shares are becoming increasingly relevant in today’s digital environment.

Thus far, the generally accepted moniker for these emerging measures is Altmetrics; often misinterpreted as “alternative metrics,” the term is actually speaking to “article-level metrics” that explore the activity surrounding a single manuscript, in lots of different places, in real time.

Publishers today can track how often an article is downloaded, or bookmarked as particularly worthy. Discussions of a manuscript on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and Wikipedia can be similarly tracked. Indices that might have held only passing interest a few years ago are now finding increasing significance. For example, high “tweetations” for a manuscript may serve to increase an author’s “twimpact factor.”1

Suffice it to say that specific nomenclature within the field of altmetrics is a work in progress. Nevertheless, a study of more than 1.3 million scientific papers found that 22% of all publications received at least one tweet. A fairly intuitive secondary finding was that shorter titles, and shorter documents in general, attained a higher degree of visibility.2

It also makes sense that this study found social science and biomedical papers were far more likely to be shared than papers concerning, say, mathematics. This finding, however, also leads to an important limitation; altmetrics cannot be used as a comparison of impact across different fields of science.2,3 A mediocre paper in a popular field may receive far more attention than a first-rate paper in some more arcane branch of study.

Because of findings like this, it is important to note that altmetrics serve as an emerging standard of audience engagement, and do not necessarily reflect the true impact, or even the quality, of the science itself. In some instances, quite the opposite. Seminal literature from bygone days will receive scant recognition in this arena, while exceptionally high marks will be awarded to the bustling conversations (and schadenfreude) that inevitably swirl around a retracted manuscript.

Many are also quick to point out that the system can be gamed with relative ease. Artificially inflated likes and tweets are readily available to those who might wish to accumulate them by any means possible.

The growth of altmetrics seems likely, the applications less clear. Funding agencies are starting to take note, however, and some academians are starting to incorporate altmetrics scores into their performance reviews.3 As noted by altmetrics.org, scholars are moving their work onto the web in growing numbers, essentially self-publishing by way of scholarly blogs or other forms of social sharing. This conjures up a strange new world in which peer-review is essentially crowdsourced, and impact may be assessed in real time by hundreds or even thousands of conversations that can all be tracked.4

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For a company like W2O, steeped in communications and hard data, there is certainly value in capturing and quantifying the buzz around a given piece of media beyond the halls of the research community. Determining what that buzz actually means, and how to best extract its value, are the next steps as we follow the evolution of this burgeoning measure of impact.

References:
1. Eysenbach G. J Med Internet Res. 2011;13:e123.
2. Haustein S, et al. PLoS One. 2015;10:e0120495.
3. Kwok R. Nature. 2013;500:491-3.
4. Priem J, et al. (2010) Altmetrics: A manifesto. http://altmetrics.org/manifesto.

Eileen OBrien Blog Post
Nash Grier and one of his 31M fans

If reality TV has redefined the concept of celebrity, social media has taken it to a whole new level. A recent survey found that 8 out of the 10 celebrities that matter most to teens are YouTube personalities – the other two were Taylor Swift and Bruno Mars. Many of these “celebrities” don’t even have a discernable talent, such as singing or dancing, and (like the Kardashians) they are famous for being themselves. But tweens and teens are responding to their genuineness and the ability to potentially connect with them via social media channels.

Many of these social sensations look like the kid bagging your groceries. In fact, if that kid bagging your groceries is Alex From Target then he is “famous” and you can talk to his agent about a product endorsement fee. Variety calls them Famechangers: “Teens’ emotional attachment to YouTube stars is as much as seven times greater than that toward a traditional celebrity; and YouTube stars are perceived as 17 times more engaging, and 11 times more extraordinary, than mainstream stars.”

I witnessed this firsthand at DigiFest in New York City where about 1,000 screaming fans paid to see these personalities in real life. I talked to 17-year-old Nash Grier who has more than 31M followers aggregated across different social channels. Grier explained the dynamic, “It feels like a family – every single one of my followers, we kind of have a relationship. I always try to find some time in the day to tweet some people back to see their support and love.” I guess the definition of the word relationship is different when you are talking about 31M followers, but both the fans and personalities appear to earnestly believe this.

Grier prefers to call himself a “content creator” and notes that only adults distinguish between media and social media. He was very polite, and smiled and posed for multiple photos with all the young girls that tentatively, and sometimes tearfully, approached him. My colleague, Angel Hakim, wrote also wrote about this topic, Influencers vs. Creators: How the Landscape is Changing.

What constitutes authenticity?

These social media celebs call themselves brands and, very astutely, understand the value of their audience to potential sponsors. However, they don’t perceive themselves as spokespeople or advertisers. “I’m really mad at commercials because they are so whack,” said Grier. “I feel like kids are just fed all this stuff and they are supposed to buy it. There should be some content behind it. There should be an incentive to make them want something.”

The idea of native advertising and using content – or celebrities – to sell products isn’t new or unique to this age strata. However, I find the constant reference to authenticity among this group ironic. “One old piece of slang that has not survived is ‘selling out.’ …Frontline asked a group of teenagers what the phrase meant to them. Nothing, they replied. Yesterday’s sellouts, mocked for their contracts, are today’s brand ambassadors, admired for their hustle,” wrote Amanda Hess in The New York Times.

It will be interesting to see how this evolves as today’s tweens/teens and YouTube personalities grow up. What do you think?