Rethinking the new normal for individuals, teams, organizations and systems in the era of pandemics

With COVID-19 being designated a pandemic by the World Health Organization, we are reminded of how transitory our lives are both at home and at work. As such, we are seeing both the private and public sectors leaning into their unique strengths, working vigorously to address this unprecedented public health challenge.

For organizations, this is the beginning of a new normal. A time when agility, adaptability, flexibility and collaboration are critical to business continuity and human health. It is certainly a time to reflect on and adhere to our mission and purpose to guide decisions.

At W2O – “making the world a healthier place through marketing communications” – is at the heart of our purpose. Given the information we know right now, we’re erring on the side of caution and safety for our employees while maintaining expectations for what we deliver to our clients. We’re leveraging technology to make it easier to work virtually with our colleagues and our clients. And we’re making sure people are well informed and kept up to date on the latest guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health authorities.

The goal right now is to flatten the curve, as stated by Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.  By flattening the curve, fewer people will be infected.  All of us in positions of influence, specifically communications, can support the dissemination of data and information that would help achieve this goal, which aligns with our mission. It starts with us.

Our policy at W2O consists of:

  1. The closing of our U.S. offices effective end of day Friday, March 13, for one week, implementing a work from home model for all staff – operating based on a “long hallway” approach, meaning we work without boundaries or barriers. In a digital world, this is actually a given. Our intention is to reassess each week and determine the right next step. To facilitate all of this, we have rapidly established an internal digital emergency hub and specialized client counsel and solutions task force with tech-enabled tools to support ongoing and up-to-date communications and continued execution of business as this situation continues to evolve.
  2. All managers are requested to conduct regular communication with their teams including morning and evening check-ins to ensure clarity and information sharing.
  3. All teams will be engaged with clients as usual, respecting their protocols.
  4. Knowledge is power and erring on the side of caution is prudent, particularly while more testing and information is being conducted and gathered.
  5. Compassion and empathy will guide our decisions.

Having spent a good deal of time earlier in my career working in the HIV/AIDS space, I learned the importance of avoiding the temptation to jump to conclusions and taking a fact-based approach. We’re never 100% safe but we’re safer with information. As I often say, leadership is communications.

We will get through this just like with other crises we’ve dealt with, including hurricanes, fires, floods, terrorism and financial market instability. Let’s stay in touch, albeit at a distance, and be disciplined, smart, cautious and focused.

By staying connected, adhering to the guidelines provided, and becoming adept at adapting, we can do our part to flatten the curve.


W2O’s additional COVID-19 coverage

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages

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With an even deeper focus on clients and solutions, operating seamlessly across functions and offices, sans ego, is well worth the growing pains.

 For decades, organizational structure dictated operating efficiencies and company culture directed behavior, attitude and activities. People worked in their respective areas or silos, connecting with colleagues only on an as-needed basis. Surprisingly, this system was the norm.

Fast forward to a digital age where connectivity is a given and real-time discussion dominates the workday, and organizational structure is no longer the architecture from which business operates. Rather, working across functions, offices, regions and departments has never been easier given technology and space layouts, not to mention attitudes and new behaviors. At W2O, we have been experimenting with various designs and formats as we’ve scaled to ensure that people can ideate, innovate and educate in a meaningful way for clients. The beginning of this journey is with a laser- like focus on our clients, specifically those with strong partnership ties. They are the ones that expect we provide a full array of talent, skills and capabilities to address their business situations.

As we elevate our business model and footprint, we continue to learn a number of lessons about ourselves and our ability to solve problems and optimize situations.

Don’t over fixate on technology focus on the people first. Organizations that operate seamlessly do so by designing around the Why. That said, people today can’t function without technology, so it’s time to embrace your inner tech-geek. We all spend ample time on our cell phones, apps and ordering on Amazon, so let’s not wait to transform digitally and technologically for our clients and ourselves.

Focus on clients or customers whether it’s the top 10, 15 or 30, operating confidently by providing counsel, advice and solutions to an ever-growing set of marketplace and competitive challenges is critical to growth as well as relevance. To do so, people must be able to work across the enterprise in a free-form manner.

It’s not the structure but the system – making it easier for people to find each other and work together transcends the artificial boundaries associated with structure.

Connection starts with awareness  a basic lesson for us as we grow is making everyone aware of the talent and skills in the firm. It seems simple but it’s actually challenging as you scale.

Silos or pillars are really invisible  regardless of the organizational design, people must view how they work as unencumbered. This begins with their managers and how they operate with colleagues and peers.

Scale actually enhances innovation  instinct would tell you otherwise but scale can result in higher levels of innovation as diverse thinking and inclusiveness rain down on the business.

Promoting results based on seamless actions triggers replication  letting people know how simple and powerful working across lines is creates the right feelings for such effort.

Growth is an incredibly powerful engine for any organization and its employees. The challenge is maintaining the quality and experience necessary to retain clients, customers and staff. With growth comes complexity. With complexity comes frustration and myopic thinking. On an organizational level, making it easy for people to span across the enterprise is essential to success. For individuals, making yourself smart about the people and the capabilities, taking new risks, pushing your way to different areas, and insinuating yourself in different discussions forces new outcomes.

For me, leading W2O remains much the same as when I started it. Involvement, engagement, curiosity, inquiry and recognition. And while I’ve had to modify my approach and perspective, my focus on client satisfaction and staff enhancement has never wavered.

It has been and will always be about #BecomingTheBest.


Interested in learning more about W2O? Check out our About or Healthcare pages.

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Honoring the Legendary Harold Burson 

Harold Burson, the man who literally created the modern PR industry, passed away today, thus ending an era where communications came to be a critical element of organizational and societal thinking. Burson was the go-to person for presidents of corporations and presidents of the United States and maintained a low-key persona and behind the scenes approach.  His counsel and advice especially during crises always balanced legal with logic taking into consideration the human equation.

I had the pleasure of meeting him a number of times during my career. Always gracious and always attentive to my life and interests, he provided incredible perspective on priorities both personal and professional. The number one thing he shared with me was the importance of ‘Family.’  As you grow in your career or business, travel is inevitable. With that in mind, keeping your family at the center while respecting the larger community you influence such as being a mentor, leading your team, and growing your staff must not be ignored.

Another area we shared was healthcare. Burson respected healthcare, the core of W2O, having built a strong international practice and reinforced this with me every time we met. Further, the people and places he saw including the Nuremberg trials and the history of WWII were always topics of discussion during our intermittent meetings.

But more importantly, he did everything to ensure business operated with integrity seeing PR as a means to connect context, reflection, and decision-making that improved the greater good.

Harold Burson was a monumental figure not just in our profession but in the evolution of our society and our country. There will never be another Harold Burson. All of us who have benefited from his wisdom over his lifetime are better as people and practitioners.

May he RIP!


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As we enter a new decade and I reflect on my goals as an individual, business leader, mother, wife, daughter and entrepreneur, I’ve decided to take a career break to focus my time and energy on my family. Over the next six weeks, I will be transitioning from an executive role to an advisory role with W2O.

For more than 25 years, I’ve worked tirelessly at my career and, ultimately, building a business in healthcare communications. I am proud to have shown my kids what a working mom can accomplish. As such, deciding to take a career break has been a hard and emotional decision for me.

I am so honored by what we’ve accomplished as a team the last three plus years as part of W2O (and the prior 12+ years as the founder of what is now W2O pure) and believe strongly in the potential of what is to come. I also really enjoy my work and the people and clients I have the privilege of working with every day, and I am truly grateful for the partnership and collaboration. That said, I am incredibly proud to be a mom, and as I look at all I have accomplished professionally and the small window of time I have remaining with our two high schoolers at home before they head to college (and the reality of embarking on the college process), I want to participate more fully in this crucial next chapter for them. I am so fortunate to have business partners and colleagues at W2O that support me in making this significant transition.

We have a powerhouse team in place; there is no need to hire from outside to replace me, and we can and will continue to promote from within to further strengthen our approach for clients. We have an exceptional team leading Integrated Communications, starting with Mary Corcoran, who will now assume the role of Acting Group President for all Integrated Communications. Mary will have strong support from the amazing leaders we have throughout the communications organization. This includes: Elyse Margolis who is leading W2O wcg; Michele Schimmel who is leading W2O twist; Mary Claire Duch who is leading W2O pure; Lucie Harper, Louise Strong, Christian Arndt, and Kate Hawker who are leading in EMEA; Madeleine Malia who leads our largest client partnership; Mike Nelson who leads our GroWest initiative; and Dan Carter who is leading our presence in Boston and our emerging digital health practice. And so many others growing other exciting and essential parts of our business, including investor relations and corporate strategy.

Beyond the amazing team and client work, I am also thankful to be part of a firm committed to working parents. At W2O, we promote a culture that values both work and life outside of the W2O walls. Through trailblazing people-first initiatives, we aim to ensure that our staff have a voice in shaping their individual careers and building unfair advantage for themselves, their families and our clients. I look forward to continuing to have a voice in shaping W2O as an advisor, resource and advocate for the firm.

I can’t thank my colleagues at W2O enough for their partnership, especially Jim Weiss, Jenn Gottlieb, Richard Neave, Kevin Johnson and Adam Cossman. I have the utmost confidence in the W2O vision and people. #W2Oproud!

With gratitude and appreciation,


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Few marketing communications disciplines have undergone as dramatic a transformation over the last 10 years as paid media. A decade ago, the most dominant form of media was linear television, with brands and agencies alike focused on advertising on cable and local television. Now, much of the content we consume is distributed via programmatic media and over-the-top (OTT) media services. Not only have the types of media changed dramatically, so have the technology and regulations. According to the latest Marketing Technology Landscape Supergraphic, 7,040 different technology solutions are available now for brands and agencies to buy. Ten years ago, we could never have imagined a world governed by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the EU and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), which are fundamentally changing the way paid media is executed.

With great change, though, comes great opportunity. Paid media has never been riper for disruption. Increasingly, the conversation is shifting from “how much do we spend with the major networks in a given year” to “how do we leverage data and technology to reach our key audiences and deliver value back to the business?” This conversation shift is why W2O has rooted our paid media capabilities in being transparent, results-oriented, channel agnostic, global and agile so we can respond to changing market dynamics. These are all differentiators that clients want from a paid media agency partner.

The new conversation advertisers are having about paid media requires a different type of leader – one who understands the old model and how it’s broken and can adapt to the changing environment. At W2O, that leader is Jake Vander Linden, who recently joined the firm after spending the last 20 years at various media agencies. He brings a fresh perspective to building the right paid media activation model for W2O’s clients. We asked him to share his perspective.

Tell us about your background in paid media.  

I have an atypical background for W2O, which is great because this is a place that welcomes different backgrounds. I’ve spent most of my career at big holding company media agencies supporting clients in the consumer-packaged goods, automotive, travel and luxury, and beer and spirits industries.

I spent nearly eight years working in Asia – in the Philippines, China and Singapore – and then in Berlin before returning to New York about five years ago. I have provided communications planning as well as strategy and agency and account leadership. In everything I’ve done, I’ve enjoyed building things, whether opening a new office or building a team for a new client win. I love pitching new business and have been part of some remarkable new client opportunities.

I most enjoy, and have been most successful at, stitching together various capabilities or parts of an organization to make the product bigger than the sum of its parts – such as analytics and media or content partnerships.

What trends in paid media activation should W2O’s clients be paying attention to?

One of the biggest trends – and this is by no means a “new” trend – is personalization at scale. As an industry, we’ve been building the infrastructure to handle identifying and messaging to the right consumer, at the right time, and in the right way for a while now but it’s not really been applied as a lead strategy. Rather, it’s been a nice element below traditional media like TV. And that’s been easy to defend – most measurement tools, especially for CPG – are biased toward big, blunt force instruments like television.

At W2O, we have a unique opportunity for our clients to build a very addressable and response-oriented paid media system on top of our robust analytics framework. This type of innovation  can have a sizable impact on a communications plan.

Additionally, we have lived in an epoch of continuous fragmentation for years, and there are many incidental trends that create new opportunities to connect with audiences and build relevance – from podcasting to voice search and sonic marketing to technologies in digital health.

Increasingly, paid media is serving as a silo buster. Communicators and marketers alike are buying different forms of media. How do you see paid media serving as an integral part of the overall paid, earned, shared and owned media ecosystem?

Paid media can’t exist only to amplify content. It’s often one of the larger line items in a marketing budget and creates the biggest opportunities for an audience to see a brand or message. Specialization is important, but the reality is that audiences don’t consider silos when they are experiencing a brand or product or service.

I think it is particularly attenuated in healthcare. The information we deploy has much more gravity to peoples’ lives as it is used to inform important decisions so it’s imperative that we are linked up and consistent.

At W2O, paid and earned/social integrate closely, and we make sure our processes, briefing documents and reporting are consistent. I think we’ll see more patient-centricity even if our audience is a healthcare provider, and a deeper strategic understanding of the audience journey in communications as a way to prioritize and build plans across paid, owned, earned and shared media.

Paid media activation has become a very tech/data driven discipline. What is the interplay between technology and data, and the need to balance the opportunity to creatively explore reaching our core audiences?

There are a couple different ways to think about the tension between creativity and technology. Many articles have been published in the trade press about how we’ve lost our way as an industry by prioritizing creating versions of banners rather than focusing on creativity. From my experience, the demise of the Big Idea has been greatly exaggerated. I can’t think of a recent experience that didn’t prioritize content over distribution. And that’s fine as long as the idea is media agnostic and we have the flexibility to execute in a way that reflects what we know about the audience.

To reiterate what I said before about the audience journey, for many of our clients, we need to understand the practical nature of how audiences are making decisions and what content our PESO plans need to deliver. A lot of what we do begins with search, but we also need to make sure insights from our data analysis inform the creative idea upfront, so the creative outputs are that much richer.

What similarities and differences have you seen in paid media activation between the U.S. and other markets? 

The biggest difference is the speed of innovation. The U.S. is a very cautious market whereas many ex-U.S. markets, particularly in Southeast Asia, are very quick to identify opportunities to test and scale. Some of it is cultural, but it’s important to remember that the size of the U.S. means that mistakes can be very costly.

Overall, all media are local. Local customs, insights and language skills must be prioritized and leveraged. Relationships are fundamentally important when activating anywhere.

What’s a fun fact about you that you’d like people to know?

I’m an identical twin.

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

Want to chat? Drop us a line.

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A peek into the new year to inform and challenge thinking, resources, risk

In many ways, 2019 was the year that so many things seemed to come together in our profession. Greater realization of the impact and opportunity of digital. Adapting the use of data and analytics in decision-making. Getting better at content and context in telling an organization’s story. Dealing with complexity and connectivity in a 24/7 world. Experimenting with increasing confidence. Measuring success with result indicators tied to business goals.

Grasping this new reality of communications and marketing has resulted in more efficient and productive use of resources, a more clear path to brand efficacy, and higher degree of trust between and among key stakeholders. As we approach 2020 (sounds like a sci-fi reference), there are a number of trends and possibilities in our sights. While no one can pretend they are Nostradamus, I’d like to offer a few thoughts for the coming year that challenge the status quo:

  1. Ethical AI – It is now more important than ever, as technology evolves, that privacy, access, transparency and usage of information be incorporated into AI models and systems to achieve trust.
  2. Healthcare begins shifting to prevention – Investment, innovation and behavioral change will result in new relationships between and among companies, physicians and patients. This means seeing pharma companies through new eyes and vice versa.  
  3. Culture predicts strategy – The focus of communications and marketing will shift from strategy formation and deployment to culture assimilation and improvement to determine strategic intent.
  4. Mobile drives leadership – Mobile technology will enhance leadership in multiple ways, including as a platform that projects key information in a personal way; a feedback mechanism; and a contextual format to enhance learning.
  5. Employees are your next innovation– In a digital world, employees take on a more active role in the operations of the business. As such, employees are viewed as contributing to the success and future intent of the business.   
  6. Data is knowledge; insight is differentiation – In 2020, data and analytics are table stakes providing information to the user. The real value add though is insight. Insight results in differentiating the organization in the marketplace.
  7. Science as story In the healthcare field, translating science into a story that one can relate to will be critical in breaking through to key audiences.
  8. Forecasting influence to predict behavior – The state of analysis is now at a point where influence can be tracked or led to behavior and performance.
  9. Relevance portends growth – In a social/digital reality, if you’re not relevant, you’re not viable. Relevance today is about engagement with stakeholders.   
  10. Unfair competitive advantage rests with agility, clarity – 2020 will further the understanding that brands of all sizes need to be quick, with a clear narrative and organizational designs that pivot with changes in the marketplace
  11. Purpose outperforms reason – Survey after survey indicates that a large majority of employees are disconnected from the business. They understand the strategy and can justify being there but feel lost in its application. We will see organizations rethinking their reason for existing and translating it to specific customer needs in 2020.
  12. Big data gets bigger and smaller – The ability to synthesize large amounts of data is only getting more profound. Ironically, breaking down data into usable information such as insights is growing, making decisions more precise and timely.

Deciphering the upcoming year is in many ways a game of chance. We certainly know all the pieces circling around us but forming a picture of what’s ahead is a bit more challenging. One thing we do know: the progress and lessons that led us here form the basis for where we go next. In that regard, all roads lead to becoming more connected, more informed, and more confident.

Interested in learning more about W2O? Check out our About or Healthcare pages.

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This is the time of year where much is written and said about what’s ahead in the new year. Prognostications abound detailing trends, truths and tribulations. Rather than looking ahead, though, it often makes sense to reflect on what we learned over the past year and glean  important lessons that we can carry forward.

In that spirit, here are the key things I learned in 2019:

  1. Digital means an appreciation for connectivity– With all the fuss around digital transformation, the core idea centers on universal connectivity. With everything and everyone connected, data quickly translates into insight, creating value for brands and customers alike. Connectivity provides deeper and more lasting interactions based on information and behavior.
  2. Relevance is all about engagement– In a social/digital reality, relevance is the new reputation. Relevance is based on engagement with stakeholders via digital, social, traditional and face-to-face interaction. The level of engagement determines the ultimate relevance to audiences essential to the organization.
  3. Communications is effective when arguments are enlightened –Raising the level and the depth of interactions both internally and externally signals a more intellectual and respectful discussion, resulting in greater trust. When communications is effective, it ensures that people are confident, clear and properly informed.
  4. Strategy is a day one occurrence –The truth is that strategy works initially, and then real- time analysis and assessment dictates what comes next. Preparing for what’s next in strategy is no different than a football player who makes in-game changes once he/she understands what the competition is doing.
  5. Management is about focusing on the little things first –Knowing people’s strengths and respecting their concerns is important to directing resources and implementing initiatives. Managers who understand their reports beyond the job can better impact how they contribute to the business.
  6. Leadership must be sustained by action –A true leader must be able to act and decide. When a leader declares a new strategy or direction, he/she must execute actions and decisions that reinforce the go-forward plan.
  7. Bad strategy at the beginning sabotages the entire effort– When goals or objectives are substituted for strategy, which usually happens at the outset of a plan, program or initiative, the entire effort is sabotaged as critical issues are ignored.

At this time of year, taking a deep breath to collect your thoughts and discern insights from your actions is extremely helpful to succeeding in the year ahead. The lessons I’ve recapped above are meant to trigger your thinking, and they may even align with your own experiences.

Either way, here’s to a happy, healthy holiday season and a productive, successful new year!


Interested in learning more about W2O? Check out our About or Healthcare pages.

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Oh, the places we can go . . .

In business, as in sports, the mantra is “next person up,” especially if there is a change during the course of the game. And the game is always changing in a growing organization.

Everyone is accountable for performing in new and different roles at any given time. In sports, it usually entails someone stepping up if there is an injury. In business, it’s more about adapting to new circumstances as the organization evolves amid competitive shifts, exponential growth or contraction, or outside forces such as new management and/or M&A and integration.

In my experience creating and growing my business from 1 to 1,000 employees and beyond, the ability for people to accept new and different roles as things constantly evolve is often the difference between sustaining growth or overseeing its demise. This is the most profound aspect of leadership – preparing the business and its talent to rise up to new challenges and opportunities seamlessly and continually.

The reality every CEO and leader must face is the changing nature of the workforce, competitive set, technology and marketplace dynamics. Do we have the right staff? Do we have the right skills? Are people ready for the challenge? Can they lead? Getting to the correct answers means ensuring people have what it takes to be accountable, courageous and balanced.

For me, it’s all about finding people who “make it happen!”

Many people believe they are ready for new roles. The difficult management challenge is either giving them a chance to grow or recognizing that doing so could harm the business. In preparing the business for people to step up and act like an owner, I’ve found a practical formula that centers around four specific elements – confidence, clarity, recognition and support. Each one provides the right balance of technical and psychological stimulus for people to assimilate new roles or responsibilities.

  • Confidence – Can they handle the challenge? Do they know enough to succeed? Do they have the right EQ? Who is the team that’s needed to work with them? Providing people with the right mix of tools and attitude to bolster their focus is important to raising performance amid transformation.
  • Clarity – Change is usually about dealing with ambiguity. But leadership must be clear on what’s expected and the performance level that’s needed. From here, individuals can chart their own path as to how to get there. Clarity in that regard reinforces confidence.
  • Recognition – When people are stepping up, letting them hear how well they are doing is important, including when they are not succeeding. Encouraging and guiding talent to exceed performance targets as a company evolves and grows enables scale to take place.
  • Support – Teamwork in business requires a coordinated effort so that as people step up there is an infrastructure to drive results. To win, everyone must step up and surround each other with information, resources and expertise. It’s truly gotta be a #OneTeamOneDream approach.

Pushing oneself to achieve greater levels of knowledge, intelligence and collaboration is critical to scaling, expansion and growth. As W2O matures and more people have a stake in its overall future, stepping up to take on more responsibility, accept more accountability, and worry about what I call the “small stuff” become the building blocks for creating the perpetually positive future.

For people who take on such roles, five characteristics of behavior will result in long-term mutual benefits to our clients, our colleagues and the company:

  • Jump in the Pool – Anything in life worth doing means doing it with all your heart and soul. No toe-dipping. Just jump!
  • Listen vs. Talk – The business world is filled with blowhards. The true winners are the ones who listen.
  • Pick up the Trash – As an entrepreneur, I often share with the firm how I still walk the offices and pick up paper on the floor. Why? It’s my responsibility to make sure the firm is pristine and professional in all aspects. It’s also a metaphor for ownership and accountability.
  • Why?– The truth is never on the surface. It rests somewhere below. Be curious. Ask expansive questions. Do research. Test assumptions. Look for gaps.
  • Dance More – Collaboration is all about connectivity. It’s akin to dancing. Picking a partner(s) and finding the right steps against the rhythm of the business. Picking up knowledge, emotional support, energy. No business can survive without a culture that emphasizes working together.

Starting and growing a business takes a little bit of smarts, some luck, great timing, and, of course, lots of great talent and teamwork. When people take on new roles and rise to the occasion, a business grows and the organization thrives, opening itself up to the next group of leaders and opportunities. Setting this dynamic in motion and ensuring the support and enthusiasm it fosters ensures the behavior and attitude necessary to achieve organizational capacity.

So, are you ready to step up? And Ascend with me?

On a personal level, I’ve never been more excited and encouraged to see our firm take on a new design for future success and evolutionary growth. It all comes down to more great people taking on new and different personas directing their colleagues, peers and clients to incredible places. Oh, the places they will go!


Interested in learning more about W2O? Check out our About or Healthcare pages.

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WSJ Women in the Workplace is an event that brings together business leaders to have a real conversation about how managers, executives and companies can be better at building inclusive workplaces.

Brooke Bullen, Group Director of W2O, Abby Hayes, Managing Director of W2O and Jennifer Shaugnessy, Managing Director of W2O, share key learnings from the event on this week’s episode of What2Know. Take a listen below.

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

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

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