I have always been a believer that hiring the right talent is key to an organization’s success.  After all, you are only as good as the people you have. It is the people who are the core of what we do and who will make the difference in the quality of our work.  At WCG, we hire only the best talent to ensure that we can continue to provide top quality solutions to our customers.

I am thrilled to announce that the WCG London office has just hired 3 new top talents to further strengthen our global team and further establish London as the global centre of excellence for WCG:

  • Malena Johannes joined us in October 2012 as Account Manager.  Malena brings diversified healthcare experience comprising a unique multi-disciplinary in-house perspective with agency experience. Prior to joining WCG, Malena completed a three-year corporative Bachelor programme in International Business Administration with Bayer Healthcare in both Germany and the United States. She also speaks fluent German and French.
  • Kate Varnum joined last month as Senior Account Manager from Ogilvy Healthworld, where she worked in both the London and Washington DC offices.  Kate has a broad range of healthcare communications experience with integrated US and European teams specialising in global product and corporate communications.
  • Martina Spranger joins this month as Account Manager from Burson Marsteller, Zurich. She holds a Ph.D. in Molecular Biology from the Institute of Molecular Systems Biology, ETH Zurich, and speaks German and French.


Not only are we adding to our global talent pool with exciting new hires – our existing team members are being recognized for their outstanding talent and contribution to the industry. Senior Account Manager Neha Wadhwa is a finalist for a prestigious ‘Golden Hedgehog’ award that recognises the brightest and most promising communicator under 30 years old working in an agency.

Having joined as managing director just 8 months ago, I am proud to take a step back and see how the team has evolved to meet our growing global business needs, which is greatly attributed to our strategy to hire the ‘best and brightest talent’ in the industry.

Some say the team is only as good as the man in charge. I believe the team is only as good as the talent it hires.  WCG London’s Global team is now stronger than ever.

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One of the most concerning business trends today is the increasing number of misleading facts or data that triggers the wrong managerial reaction.

Case in point: a large multi-national company conducts an all-employee survey and reports better-than-expected results even amid a year of layoffs, management changes and competitive pressures. Leadership feels confident in their approach and changes nothing. Within three months, several key executives leave, the union stages a walk- out, the stock plummets and key new product introductions are delayed.

What happened? The results documented in the survey were not accurate. Employees, knowing the future is uncertain if not shaky, chose to answer questions positively fearing for their jobs. Leadership, lacking curiosity and knowing the results went against what they were seeing daily in the workplace ignored reality.

The effect: a major talent drain within six months, delayed programs, and reduced revenue and share targets.

Case in Point: Sales of a new product are growing and both Marketing and Communications believe it is the result of their respective efforts.

As such, they each ask for additional funding to support the product citing the growing sales numbers. Both groups receive more money for programming just as sales begin to fall off.

What happened? The early spike in sales was actually caused by three other factors: an initial underpricing by sales to spur usage; a belief in the product’s claims that turned out to be less than promoted; and a movement away from another of the company’s products, which had not been predicted.

The additional monies spent on programming that actually did not influence sales were wasted and, worse, the product was pulled for further development while the cannibalized product suffered further sales erosion. In a nutshell, a major mess!

Case in Point: Feedback from a CEO Town Hall is very positive. The CEO and CCO are very pleased and walk away with the belief that both the venue and the CEO’s time are appropriate and well-spent.

Reality Check: Four months later the CEO is removed by the Board for “failure to deliver results based on an inability to engage both employees and investors in the company’s strategy and direction.”

What happened? Well, in this example, many things, but pointing back to the Town Hall meeting as a key indicator of trouble to come, two very key mistakes were made.

First, the venue and style of the meeting limited real interaction and feedback. It was all one-way with pre- screened “softball” questions conditioning employees to behave like audience members at a Broadway play – respectful and reactive.

Second, the critique itself did not probe for real knowledge extraction from the session – that is, what was the headline? Key thought? Additional questions that needed to be addressed by a manager or supervisor?

Instead it asked whether people were comfortable with the venue, could they read the slides, and did they feel the information was relevant and useful (without asking what the actual information was). Anyone paying attention would have seen that the CEO did not have an authentic relationship with the workforce and the messaging being used was neither relevant nor interesting to the workforce.

With the tsunami known as Big Data upon us, we must – as strategists and business leaders – constantly probe deeper and deeper to discern the true cause of events, constantly looking for gaps or trends. We cannot let pure data lead directly to action any more than we can allow a GPS system on our computers to substitute for actually driving to a destination to determine if it was the right route, mileage and time.

Human behavior is a delicate animal that rarely follows a linear or logical path.

Accepting initial thinking or data on most areas impacting the organization without further investigation is not only naive but dangerous!

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With the arrival of Labor Day, it is clear that summer is over.  Another indicator on the change of season is the empty desks left behind by our departing summer interns.

This summer we had 12 interns that were working within our Analytics, Health Care, Corporate and IT Departments.  Their projects ranged from client facing work to research to data analysis to hands-on IT infrastructure work.

Interns have historically been a great feeder for talent for W2O Group with approximately 15 – 20% of them being retained or re-hired upon their graduation.

Joshua Kadden, our intern in our IT group wrote a great follow up letter to the CEO on his time with us:

Dear Jim,
I would like to give you credit for helping me have the most special, unique, productive and overall amazing experience that I could have possibly imagined.  At first I did not quite understand what WCG did and does because there is so much you guys do.  As the summer went on I realized that was what made WCG such a cool place to work.  There was so many different opportunities and so many different departments. To appeal to different interests.  I took advantage of this by reaching out and learning from the IT department, corporate strategy, finance and the social media people.  I don’t think there are many professors that could teach me what Benny, Gary, Paul and Tom had taught me.

Looking at business the way I look at sports teams is an important approach that I took away from my summer experience.  It doesn’t matter about individual players if there is no strong team and team cooperation.  

I learned this first hand working with the IT team.  This summer was an exciting one for the IT team in NY, most of which was out of their control, and yet despite the heat we took, Benny continued to deal with these problems in a admirable way constantly refusing to throw anyone under the bus.

Despite learning an infinite amount of information this summer, I think my favorite part of being part of the WCG team was the office environment and the rest of the employees.  These two things are what made my last days the most memorable.  During the Olympic Games I had met and spoken with employees I had never even seen.  I was sharing similar emotions with full grown men and women at the victory of flip-cup that I share with my friends at school.

As a result of this experience I feel far more educated, mature and directed and I owe that to you.  I hope that I will have another opportunity similar to this in my life.


One of the things that resonated from Josh’s letter is how WCG is getting it right with working with the Millenials.  In a recent contribution to Forbes, Matt Miller showed a great info-graphic that outlines findings from a study done at University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School.
Clearly, in Josh’s case we provided the collaboration and motivation needed as he worked cross functionally, and inclusively across the organization.  …and playing Flip Cup at the company’s Olympic Games celebration gave him a way to network with Baby-Boomers and continued to keep him engaged in the organization.  Who knew that a college drinking game could be a bridge between the generations that also strengthens employee engagement?
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As a social marketer by profession, I counsel on the virtues of Facebook to many different people and companies. As a parent, I’m now faced with my oldest child (age 12) pleading for his own Facebook account.

My wife and I have decided that the answer, for the foreseeable future, is no. There were arguments for (from him) and against (from us), but ultimately the decision is ours. Since we do our best to reason with our children, I knew I had to come armed with a good argument for our position. For the sake of others on the fence when it comes to social media usage for children, I figured I’d share some of the research and counsel in this post.

The simplest and most direct case against this is Facebook’s terms of use. They clearly state that you should not create a Facebook profile if you are under 13. However, a recent study from New York University showed that 55% of parents of 12-year-olds say their child has a Facebook account. What’s more, 76% of those parents said that they helped create the account for their children. So is this age restriction an arbitrary, self-imposed rule from Facebook? No. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) dictates that online services employ the 13-and-over age restriction. As simple as that argument is, that’s the one that seemed to resonate most with our son. He simply didn’t want to break the rules.

The next argument we considered was one of safety. Allowing social media access to those too young to properly deal with it opens them to possible exposure to any number of dangers: pornography, profanity, violence, and – most disturbing – cyber-bullying. The tragic deaths of Megan Meier and Ryan Halligan have taught us that bullying takes on a more dangerous and public tone when it happens online. In fact, this was the subject of this episode of Glee.

The final argument is one that is least tangible or evident. It’s the future. These children who create and use Facebook accounts are leaving a digital footprint of their lives – the good, the bad, and the ugly. This footprint will most likely be checked by prospective colleges and later, employers. A quarter of U.S. colleges and half of corporate HR departments currently do this, and that practice will only increase. With all due respect to my 12-year-old, he and his friends can be idiots (no offense to actual idiots), and that idiocy will be laid out like a résumé from hell a decade from now.

All this adds up to him waiting for – and griping about – a Facebook account that must wait for now. And I suppose I should present his counter-argument … that timeless classic, “But all my friends have it.


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There continues to be a significant amount of chatter about Steve Jobs’ new biography.  People are reading his book hoping to learn what Steve’s secret to success was so they can emulate him.  I would recommend that Steve’s book come with a large warning label that informs users about the risk associated with copying all of Steve’s behaviors.  Something like “Use at your own risk, this product is not meant to be used as a roadmap for success.”

Some may disagree with me, especially those leaders who are looking for a way to justify their bad behavior.   Those who use “passionate” to describe themselves, I have to ask you if that really is a code word for tyrant?  Those who say they are being “direct and honest” when they tell someone they are stupid, isn’t that really just sugar coating what they are really up to, which is just being rude?    I have found that leaders, who behave badly, fool themselves into thinking they are justified in their actions because they believe they are brilliant.  It is time for leaders to stop drinking their own Kool-Aid and to start to understand people will out-perform for a leader who inspires rather than creates fear.  So who are these inspirational leaders?  Just look around you, every organization is filled with them.   They are not necessarily the people with the biggest personalities but those leaders who are quietly inspiring and building great teams of individuals that are getting the work done.

An important lesson to be learned from Steve Jobs’ biography is that he was successful despite his bad behavior, not because of it.

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Internal agency structure as a USP is just a canard

An article recently published in PR Week trotted out once again the old canard of the inherent benefits for clients associated with their agencies’ internal structure, specifically that those agencies who dispense with the ‘old’ hierarchies and embrace a ‘no titles’ structure will blaze a trail of enhanced client service.

It’s a nice idea, but unfortunately in most cases it is just a solution searching for a problem. I have worked in several agencies during my career to date, and have experienced both the ‘hierarchical’ and ‘no titles’ set-ups. Was there any difference between agencies in the quality of our client service that could be directly attributed to how we were structured internally? Not at all.

The stated aim of getting rid of titles is basically to ensure that only the most relevant agency personnel work on a particular piece of business, no matter which function they are part of, where they are physically located or their level of experience. Makes perfect sense, of course, but this is perfectly possible within a normal agency structure.

In most cases, failure to give a particular client the services of the best possible team is the fault of senior management, not the agency structure. An enlightened leadership team will always make sure that clients’ needs are met, not letting internal rivalries and fiefdoms or separate agency offices’ P&Ls get in the way.

The next time that you are selecting an agency (or interviewing to join one), ask yourself the following question: do you want to work with an agency that ranks its own internal structure (or lack of) of equal (or greater) importance than what it can do for you?

If the answer is no, then you know whom to call… 😉

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Earlier this year, the executive search firm Heyman Associates Inc. published a roundtable discussion on hiring in public relations. It included my colleague, Bob Pearson, who added an important and iconoclastic voice to what would have otherwise been a seminar on the conventional wisdom of hiring.

But “conventional wisdom” doesn’t cut it anymore, and – as an HR Leader – I cringed at some of the advice being offered, especially to firms looking for out-of-the-box hires. Most of the roundtable participants, while praising the idea of acquiring new and different talents, suggested that there was a point at which candidates were too experienced or had worked at a non-agency to make a successful transition.

From my point of view, that perspective is old school: hiring someone interested in making a career transition has little to do with the fact they come from a different industry or were too experienced and everything to do with culture and the skills they can bring.  A prospective hire who has spent years thriving in a certain culture will immediately click if they’re thrown into a similar culture. A candidate with less experience will fail if they’re thrown into an environment where they feel out of step. These successes and failures have nothing to do with timeline or industry.

Of course, I’m secretly excited that so many of my peers elsewhere in the agency world have a narrow view. They are missing a huge opportunity, and it means that there is less competition for those, like WCG, interested in breaking past industry norms. The attributes needed to thrive at WCG aren’t forged only at an agency. We want those with corporate experience, media experience, with non-traditional backgrounds.

We’re interested in two things: the skill set an individual can bring to our business and how well they work in our self-starting, drive-don’t-be-driven culture. Everything beyond that is static. When artificial distinctions based on timelines are made, the blinders go on. This is dangerous. Hiring can be a high-risk proposition: we can’t afford not to see everything.

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