Is your brand only skin deep?
We often think of corporate brand as a company’s public face — be it a logo, a product or an ad — something a person can touch or see. In reality, a brand is the sum of the entire organization — its values, operations, policies, decisions, operating principles, work environments and more. It’s about behaviors, not messages.
In our latest Common Sense for the C-Suite report, we explore the significance and complexity of branding in the age of influence. Give it a read, and let us know what you think.
A Personal Reflection After 15 Years in Business
As our firm turns 15-years old next month, I must say, this is a momentous time.
I started this all those years ago in a robe, in a loft, with one goal in mind: to become the best. I wanted to provide organizations with first class communications expertise – both in counseling and executing against a strategy to achieve critical business goals.
We were built on the premise to create an incredible health communications firm. But we, didn’t stop there, because, with us it is only about one thing: “Go. Ahead.”
When we sensed the shift to everything digital, we led the industry by establishing a unique analytics and insights. Our technology provided clients with data, insights and executional strategies to optimize the shift to Influence in brand-building, organizational excellence and customer experience.
We wanted to build beyond health. Our next step was tapping into technology and global brands’ verticals. We incorporated strategy, creative, corporate, planning and all things digital as capabilities. This evolution has allowed us to take advantage of how technology is catalyzing new and different models in every sector.
The key to all of our success lies with our people. They bring it every day for clients, and that is the only metric that matters.
Over the last several years, we have been approached by many organizations to either acquire or partner with us. We have met a lot of smart people and made many friends along the way.
Fast Forward to Now
2015 was a pivotal year for us as we approached the magical $100M revenue level. As we completed the year at $95MM in fee income and thought about how we maintain 15 more years of consistent growth, momentum and opportunity, we realized we had hit a new phase in our development.
Our goal has always been to find the right partner to help us advance through this exciting yet challenging stage in our life as a firm. To that end, we have re-capitalized the firm to allow us to enhance our capabilities, expand our footprint, accelerate and facilitate talent acquisition, and drive faster innovation. This is our priority so we can continue to partner with clients at an increasing scale and quality.
Mountaingate Capital, a Denver-based private equity firm formed by some of the partners of KRG Capital, is our new financial partner. Mountaingate invests in leading middle-market companies that demonstrate strong growth potential and that are led by management teams committed to a strategic vision to realize that growth. They support management in prioritizing, funding and executing on growth opportunities, including strategic acquisition and integration.
The principals of Mountaingate Capital have extensive experience investing in digital marketing and communications firms, having led investments in OLSON, a Minneapolis-based digital agency which grew to become one of the top five independent digital agencies in the U.S.; Ansira, a St. Louis- and Dallas-based leading data-driven results marketing agency; and Aspen Marketing, a Chicago-based leader in direct and digital marketing. In addition to marketing services opportunities, Mountaingate focuses on investments in specialty distribution, specialty manufacturing and business services.
Their investment will be used to fund our growth strategy, including potential acquisitions, extending our global footprint, creating new services and optimizing our client experience with a stronger infrastructure that can support healthy scaling.
As CEO, founder and owner, I often remind people that our goal remains to be the “best not the biggest.”
As such, a key reason we chose Mountaingate Capital versus so many other avenues that we explored, is because they share our commitment to client service and staff development, as well as the preservation of our unique culture, values and executional excellence.
While Mountaingate will not be involved in our day-to-day operations, they will be providing the financial and operational guidance plus foundation necessary to fulfill our goals at the highest possible quality as we scale.
As leaders, managers and associates, this means more opportunities for personal and professional growth including expanded responsibilities as the firm exceeds its growth targets. For clients, this allows us to invest in additional services and end-to-end solutions in areas critical to their sustained success. Our clients consistently share with us how our unique approach, methodology and models are re-defining marketing and communications in today’s social/digital era. This is our DNA.
It’s all about ideation, creating and building at scale, while maintaining our innovative leading-edge culture. We are creating a firm of tomorrow that is a centralized platform catalyzing an array of services and capabilities centered around transforming companies. This investment will accelerate our future growth opportunities and enable us to continue to be an industry leader delivering exceptional service and capabilities to our clients.
For W2O Group, it’s about acquiring new skills and further developing our thinking and capabilities to provide state of the art counsel, advice, and performance to clients attempting to succeed in a complex, ever-changing world.
Let me reiterate what this all means first and foremost for our amazing people who make it happen every day, and also for our clients who stand to greatly benefit as well.
It means career development potential that is exciting and wide open.
It means we are serious about our vision to be the BEST!
It means that we have secured the foundation for the future while retaining our independence, culture and optionality.
It means we are disrupting the status quo and defining the marketing and communications firm of the future today without the bureaucracy and idea bias.
It means there is much, much more to accomplish and much more to learn, to share, to dream, and to do. It means I get to lead, work and create something even more special and impactful with everyone for many years to come.
I am proud to have worked with some of the best people in the business to realize our vision to this point.
Here’s to continuing to Go.Ahead. . . . Together.
Our goal, every day, is to build a next generation firm that routinely exceeds the expectations of our clients.
We can measure our journey via campaigns, launches and problem solving of all types on a weekly basis. But at the same time, we often wonder if we can do better. Could we have been more insightful or more creative or more strategic? The answer is always the same. Yes, we can. And we will.
We feel fortunate to work with some of the most innovative client teams in the world. They push us, challenge us to create new models and constantly stay on our toes. We love that.
We are equally fortunate to work with some of the smartest and most dedicated people in our industry. We really enjoy working together.
And this gets us to the Holmes Report and how we know we are “growing up” as a firm.
W2O Group was started in 2001. In 2011, while we were named WCG, we were honored with the Global Healthcare Agency of the Year Award. We were humbled and realized that when you win an award like this, it means you have to try harder, work more efficiently and see where you can go next.
In 2012. 2013 and 2014, we were named Digital Agency of the Year for the Americas, as well as Specialist Agency of the Year in 2013. Again, we were honored and kept raising our own bar, leading to becoming a finalist for Global Digital Agency of the Year in 2015
Last night, the Holmes Report recognized our firm as the North America Mid-Size Agency of the Year. In 2016, we have now reached a new milestone and one we are very proud of and once again, humbled to be in the great company of the finalists for this award, all of whom have awesome companies.
A day later we wonder what’s next? And at this point, we know the answer.
Our clients tell us every day what their unmet needs are. We know what improvements and additions we need to make. So we will and the journey will continue.
Back in 2011, we didn’t realize that The Holmes Report, in many respects, would provide us with a barometer of our progress. We now understand it better and we’re going to work harder and smarter than ever to prove that we were a good choice. But, of course, our clients will answer that one, ultimately.
Congratulations to our teams, who are amazing and our clients, who are the best. This is all a direct reflection of our work together. Thank you.
Bob Pearson & Jennifer Gottlieb
An open letter to the W2O ecosystem:
As we enter our 15th year in business, it is becoming clearer to me just how essential achieving true “InteGREATness” is to our individual and collective future.
We had another outstanding year in 2015, growing revenues and improving profits, expanding our roster of clients, promoting and adding great talent, introducing new services and achieving great results.
“InteGREATness” is how I’m describing the real benefit of working, learning, sharing and growing across teams, offices, shared services and capabilities. It’s #LetsHang meets #WhySuck.
But it goes beyond collaboration. It’s deeper and more profound than Integration. It’s about viewing yourself as part of a greater whole. One that encompasses new and diverse capabilities and thinking and that exceeds anything you can achieve on your own.
My two biggest mantras – Becoming the Best (not the Biggest) and ensuring our clients are Relevant in a Distracted World continue to guide how we lead the firm. But an even more
critical element is coming into focus. It’s our ability to respect each other in a deeper manner, calling on individual expertise and unique viewpoints that color and shape our reality.
In a world of increasing distraction and distrust, authenticity and clear ideation, counsel and services not only break through but provide a sustainable connection.
So, how can we work every day to ensure “InteGREATness?”
It starts with The Client. You must see your value and work through The Client’s eyes. Are you solving a problem? Preventing one? Creating a new opportunity? Helping them get the job done well?
You can’t achieve “InteGREATness” internally without first recognizing the bigger, more important purpose to be gained, which is centered on The Client.
From there it becomes more personal. As I see it, there are actually four qualities of “InteGREATness”:
What’s Your POV and What Do You Bring to the Table?
You need to work on becoming an expert in a:
• Particular field (Healthcare, Technology, Consumer Packaged Goods, Energy, etc.)
• Particular category (Pharma, Biotech, Digital Health, Automotive, Food/Beverage, etc.)
• Particular specialty (Corporate, Design, Brand, Media/Engagement, Strategy, Content, etc.)
Who’s in Your Internal Network?
You need to establish an ever-increasing network of peers, colleagues, and subject matter experts that you interact with regularly. They should come from all parts of our firm and also outside the firm in the form of media, influencers, experts and thought leaders who can help our clients’ business too. Pick up the phone. Send an e-mail. Seek someone out in the office. Start a conversation and build from there.
Are you Self-Aware & Awake?
Know thyself! When you are confident and comfortable with your own strengths and shortcomings you are better able to draw on the people around you to gain new knowledge especially as it relates to uncovering ideas and solutions for clients.
Putting pride aside and checking your ego at the door, acknowledging mistakes or holes in your approach, truly listening for diverse voices and recognizing your solution or idea may not always be the best.
15 years ago I began this journey with a simple premise: to do great work while minimizing the nonsense and BS that often compromises excellent client service, not to mention the fun of working together as a team to do great things.
As we look ahead, keeping true to that belief means we need to work together at higher levels of interaction and involvement. I’m not asking you to be nicer to each other. I still want us pushing each other to become the best individually and collectively. But let’s do it with less pride, less ego and a little more trust, respect and camaraderie.
“InteGREATness” should not only be a new word but a new way of being at W2O Group!
Thank you for all you do for our clients and our firm … you truly are the best in the business!
Each year, more than 25,000 interactive experts visit Austin to hear about what’s next and reflect on what it means for their organizations. It’s very easy to get caught up in the buzz. Very hard to sort through it all and figure out what really matters. Basically, what is the trend underlying an innovation or what is the truth that we should live by as we lead our communications teams? Here are four key trends related to innovation and four pearls of wisdom from leading professionals that emerged at SXSW. Each is focused on how it will influence our work.
1. The importance of Meerkat. On its face, it’s simply an app that allows you to share video via Twitter. In reality, visual content is our favorite way to learn and it is driving many innovative models.
The Fortune 500 is doing a poor job of leading with video first, however. In fact, often it is just an add-on to our work. Big mistake.
We prefer to learn visually, technology is making it easier to do so and the marketplace is creating more visual solutions. Are we evolving our own use of video inside our companies?
2. Speed kills old models. We groan as we wait six to nine months for a campaign to be created, approved and released. The good news is that technology enables speed and when speed gains enough momentum, it destroys old models. We’re moving into the era of the agile campaign, where hours matter, not months. You can see it in how companies share news at SXSW. More important, communicators can develop libraries of content in advance of trends and then react within minutes when necessary. Speed + Right Content + Right Window = Results.
3. Data scientists are the new media planners. Customer behavior (earned and shared media) will influence greatly how we plan for paid media. We should always know what our customers actually do online before we develop a paid media plan. Earned media makes paid media smart.
For communicators, this is a gift from heaven. Will we be ready to take advantage of how analytics is reshaping the market? Do our communications teams have geeks on staff? We should.
4. Responsive experience trumps responsive design. We used to focus on ensuring the same website experience was shown in the same way via any device. This responsive design approach now is table stakes.
For our owned media, we need to ensure the right experience, not the same experience, is shown each time. With more than 50 percent of content consumed by mobile phone, we only get one chance to get it right. It’s critical for communicators to understand search habits, who visits their site and what that experience should be. We can’t just count site visits.
And here are some tips from senior executives patched into business communications:
1. Change is normal. “One thing I’ve learned about being a communications professional—especially in digital—is to be open and flexible to change. As you know, the digital landscape changes approximately every 6 months. You have to think about how you’re going to reach your customers on the platforms they use, it’s not the other way around.”
— Paul Buckman, Director, Online Communications, US Food and Drug Administration
2. Say hello to real KPIs. “It’s very easy to say that communicators need to be data-driven, but the real trend needs to be communicators focusing less on rear-view mirror measurement and more on what helps to inform the road ahead.
It’s great that the goals for a particular campaign were met, but how does that information help us plan the next campaign?
How does it help us hone the list of people we plan to engage with for the next quarter? How does it help us use the right sort of keywords in our copy? How does it help us achieve greater brand lift for the upcoming quarter? Rear-view mirror measurement doesn’t always help answer those questions, and the industry is still doing far too much of that sort of work.”
— Chuck Hemann, Manager, Analytics, Intel Corp.
3. New school ROI. “Too often we are caught up in vanity metrics like the number of views or clicks and likes and less interested in or able to explain the true business value related to our effort.
Did we create a piece of content that can be leveraged by marketing, sales or recruiting? Are we moving the needle on corporate reputation or adding value to the brand?
Whether it is positioning the company, selling product or recruiting new talent, communications professionals need to explain more succinctly what we are doing, why we are doing it and the value it brings.
Doing so allows us to tangibly show that our communications outcomes are creating true business results.”
— Michael Marinello, Head of Global Comm., Technology, Innovation & Sustainability, Bloomberg
4. Avoid content pollution. “We are on the cusp of a new horizon for communications professionals but are dangerously close to messing it up as a profession. The modern communicator needs to meld great content with the science of content distribution and the insights of big data.
We can no longer shout messages and hope they stick. Instead we need to be data modelers, big data and insight experts, digital channel pros and world-class storytellers who create content that cuts through the clutter, minimizes content pollution and is measureable by its impact.”
— Andrew Bowins, Senior VP, Corporate Reputation and Engagement, MasterCard
As we sort through the innovation as well as some hype, the message is pretty clear. We have the best opportunity in our lifetimes to evolve the communications profession. We also have the most urgency to do this now with intent, purpose and skill.
Bob Pearson is President of W20 Group and author of “Pre-Commerce: How Companies and Customers are Transforming Business Together” (John Wiley and Sons). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared in the March 16, 2015 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.