This week we’re kicking off W2O Days at the University of Wisconsin–Madison (#UW2O)! Modeled after the success of our Syracuse University Social Commerce Days, this inaugural two-day event is focused on educating students about healthcare marketing and communications by connecting them with industry leaders and having some the best minds teach them . One of those minds includes Debra Pierce, Faculty Associate, School of Journalism and Mass Communications, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

In the Q&A below, she discusses her method for teaching journalism and mass communications, shares the one skill students need to have, and shares why she’s excited for #UW2O. Check out her interview.

You’ve been an instructor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications (aka the J-School) for quite some time.  Tell us about your approach to teaching journalism and mass communication in today’s environment.

Debra: I take a professional, hands on approach in the classroom. Students are put into agency teams, where they work together to solve real life business challenges from real clients. My hands on approach includes studying recent industry case examples and the latest trends in communications. I think this professional approach has paid off for our students upon graduation; employers tell us that our students are ready to hit the ground running and make real contributions to their businesses, right out of the gates.

As someone who has worked in agencies and in-house you’ve been on the front lines of many changes in the industry.  What do you think is the biggest change that you’re trying to share with your students?

Debra: AI has already had such a large impact on the communications industry, and it is going to continue to evolve. We study and discuss how AI has helped communications so far, and how we can positively augment it going forward.

What do you think is the most important skill students need coming out of school today?  

Debra: I think employers are seeking candidates who can multi-task across a wide variety of forms of communication. Multi-tasking requires being able to work on multiple projects at once and learning how to prioritize – and how to manage upwards regarding time constraints, if needed. As to the forms of communication, being able to effectively tell a story that provides a humanizing touch is important – and students need to so that across a wide variety of media – social, web, video, long form, etc.

Talk about the importance of joint programs that bring industry, and agencies like ours, and academia together.

Debra: It’s a win-win-win, really. Our students benefit because they can learn from the best in the industry, while W20 can get exposed to the next generation of communicators from a globally recognized program like ours. Our faculty are some of the top health communication researchers in the field, as well; they get the opportunity to showcase their research, and understand how their research can best be applied to the industry.

What are you looking forward to most about this week?

Debra: I can’t wait to see the excitement percolate throughout the department – it’s going to be contagious! We have several events set up where the W20 team and our students will be getting together – interviews, presentations, and networking, for example. Our students are thrilled to learn from some of the best in the industry!

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Next week we’re kicking off W2O Days at the University of Wisconsin–Madison (#UW2O)! Modeled after the success of our Syracuse University Social Commerce Days, this inaugural two-day event is focused on educating students about healthcare marketing and communications by connecting them with industry leaders. One of those leaders includes Amy Atwood, Head of Vaccine Communications at Takeda.

In the Q&A below, she unpacks her passion for healthcare communications, offers up career advice, and gives us a a preview of her keynote address for #UW2O. Check out her interview.

What fuels your passion around being a communications leader in the healthcare space?

Amy: Communicators are core in every field, but when you work in healthcare you can directly impact people’s lives. I’ve been a cancer patient and a caregiver so I’ve personally seen the importance of timely, clear, accurate information for all stakeholders. Through your relevant, truthful communications, you can help people take ownership of their own health. That’s what drives me – I feel like I am actually helping people.

What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the field of communications over the last 20+ years?

Amy: Oh so many changes! Most are due to the rapid changes in technology: we can bring our laptops home, we no longer carry beepers, we don’t have to read 10 newspapers every morning, cut out the relevant articles and paste them together to make a book of daily media coverage – and then fax it to the various offices! We also have our smart phones that place the world at our fingertips – and that leads us to possibly the biggest change over the last 20+ years: social media. It simply didn’t exist when I started in Corporate Communications! No Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat… The news cycle is now 24/7, instantaneous and every person has a voice. It’s much harder to own and shape your story.

You generously agreed to come and speak to some of the students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Tell us a little bit about your keynote?

Amy: I love to hear other people’s stories and learn from them, so I will share my career journey in hopes it will spark some ideas and provide inspiration for their future. My career has been filled with many ups, downs and zig zags along the way, but what has remained consistent is always doing what I love and looking for the silver lining, even when there doesn’t appear to be one.

What inspired you to want to spend time with these amazing students?

Amy: When I was in school, I had barely heard about Corporate Communications. I want to bring it to life for them, share the realities and give them encouragement as they embark on their careers. They are our future colleagues!

What piece of advice would you give your 20-something self?

Amy: All your hard work will pay off. Keep working as hard as you can, being guided by your values and instincts, and don’t be afraid to speak up, especially to advocate for what you know is right.

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When I started the firm nearly 20 years ago, one of the first decisions I made was to codify the reasons WHY I was doing it. This set of principles became my values statementIncredibly, or maybe not so much, the values that drove me and our pioneers then, drive and unite us now.

Values have always been a motivating and essential element of a successful organization that last over time. However, if they are not reinforced and acted upon, values can become bathroom wall paper.

As we evolve and grow and become more dispersed geographically, our values take on new meaning and elevated importance. One of the commitments I make is to share these values with the firm regularly, introducing them to a whole new crop of pioneers so they can serve as both a beacon for our culture and a GPS for our destination.

The tie that binds us all.

Our values now encompass our vision and mission and reflect the current environment we operate in. I’d like to share what each of these values means and how, woven together, they create a picture of W2O and its philosophical upbringing and operating model. Our WHY, if you will. 

Vision: To make the world a healthier place through marketing communications. Purpose drives everything, and there is nothing more important than your health. It is here that what we do intersects with what society needs.

Mission: Build connections vital to our health as quickly as possible, using data and creativity. Communications and marketing done right build bridges, allowing for readier access to more precise, targeted solutions and expediting and facilitating knowledge exchange. It also defines the leaders.

Being the Best (not the Biggest): It was never my intention to pursue growth for growth’s sake. Rather, the goal was to become a true partner to clients, understanding their business and treating it like our own. And to create nirvana for people looking to innovate and unlock their inner entrepreneur and do their best, career-making work.

Being the Best means a commitment to delivering the highest quality work and results, but also taking risks to innovate with our clients to achieve something greater. To take a consultative approach to our work and to see the marketplace holistically. To apply best-in-class analytics and data insights to every plan and program.                                       

#Make it Happen: It all starts and ends with doing what you say you are going to do. Acting with purpose and committed intent. Being scrappy and failing fast. Breaking down silos and hierarchies. And, above all, delivering with surprise and delight.

 #ChooseHappiness:Love what you do. Get into a job and life you love, whether it’s here or somewhere else!

 #NoAssHoles: Treat each other with respect and expect to be treated the same. Work as one. None of us is entitled to anything. You earn it all by how you show up in the world, and you get what you give.

 #StayFluid:Be flexible. Adapt to every situation. Especially in our ever-changing macro environment.

#DealWithIt: Act like the deadline is now. Bring focused intent to every situation. If it was easy, we wouldn’t need you, so bring up the hard stuff and let’s solve it together ASAP.

#WhySuck: Never be afraid to learn. Always go the extra mile. Make an impact always. Don’t stop at good.

#ThinkGlobal: Healthcare is a global reality but is dealt with locally, so we must balance local with global implications. Think broadly, adapt and act locally.

#LetsHang: Reach out for help, listen to and learn from each other, and seek to collaborate in the best interest of clients and the work. Spend quality time together and treat each other like the family you always wanted. Be part of the solution. We are always #BetterTogether.

Our values are the belief system that underpin our entire business model. They are meant to illuminate how we think, how we conduct ourselves, and how we engage with each other and the world around us. They are authentic and sincere as much as they are functional.

After nearly 20 years in business, I can honestly say our values are as relevant now as a company with 800 employees and counting as they were when competitors referred to my firm as “Jim and the Marin Mommies.”

That’s because when they are the right ones, time is irrelevant and goes by really fast and is way more fun.


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

We’re hiring! Check out our Culture & Careers page.

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In case you missed it, earlier PRWeek announced the appointment of the healthcare communications veterans Lucie Harper and Kate Hawker as Global Practice Leaders of W2O. While we already have a lot of smart, experienced healthcare leaders at the firm, we need more as we continue to experience double digit growth at the firm. It is for this reason that we are so happy to welcome Lucie and Kate given their outstanding track record as healthcare marketing and communications professionals. Even more exciting is the fact that Lucie and Kate will be bolstering our already amazing UK team bringing the number of W2O-ers in our London office closer to 100 people.

When we welcome leaders like Kate and Lucie to W2O, we normally like to complement the press release we put out with a less formal blog interview. Being the good sports that they are, Lucie and Katie kindly agreed to discuss their journey into healthcare, what excites them about W2O, plus they share facts that no one knows about them. Here we go!

Aaron: Lucie/Kate, first of all, welcome. We are thrilled to have you both here. Let’s start at the beginning. Can you both share with us what initially piqued your interests in healthcare communications? 

Lucie: As we all know, healthcare is universal concern and as such, it’s relevant to everyone all over the world, it affects what we do and how we think. I love working an industry that has that importance so that’s why I’m here today.

Kate: I was fortunate enough to start my career by working on a game-changing UK campaign to destigmatize epilepsy. It was an amazing journey and ever since then, I’ve been hooked.

Aaron: This is a powerful statistic — collectively, you have over 55 years of experience in the industry. How will your expertise in the practice help foster W2O’s position as a leader in the space?

Lucie: The pace of change has been so enormous over the past 25 years and this will continue to accelerate. With this dramatic rate of change, I’d like to think my experience helps provide context as I look at what’s coming next and try to stay one step ahead of the competition. It’s also critical to share these same insights with members of the team that have less experience.

Kate: My past experience at other agencies gives me a good perspective on the different approaches to integrated marketing and communications in the healthcare space. To that end, I’ve also spent a lot of time learning from what works well and what doesn’t in terms of culture, client work, business development and employer branding. I also plan to bring the network I’ve amassed during my time in the industry to W2O, in terms of talent and contacts.

Aaron: What about your experiences in the healthcare industry have surprised you the most throughout your careers?

Lucie: The pace of change, it’s incredibly rapid. And now with the impact of tech-enabled health from companies like Amazon, Facebook, Salesforce and others, the pace of change is increasing incrementally.

Kate: I would have to say clients. You can never assume anything and it’s critical that you pay attention to detail. Clients are the lifeblood of an agency (or any business for that matter) and I’ve learned that you can never take your eye off the ball.

Aaron: what about W2O most piqued your interest before joining?

Lucie: I always felt that W2O was a very smart agency. Having the ability to work with smart people who I respect is one of the most important things to me. After spending my first week here, my expectations have all been met and then some.

Kate: Two words: relevance and analytics. W2O is a world class leader in both of these categories.

Aaron: You both will be working with Annalise Coady along with an awesome group of rock stars in London. What are you most looking forward to?

Lucie: Doing creative and ground-breaking work, that ultimately leads to us making a real difference for our clients. I know that W2O is already doing this so I should feel right at home in this regard.

Kate:  I’m looking forward to getting to pitch with them because I know they are amazing. I’m also excited about working with the analytics and social teams, what they bring to table is so impressive for our clients.

Aaron: What is one thing about you that people don’t know?

Lucie: I am rather good at accents.

Kate: I can recite Anglo Saxon poetry.

Aaron: Final fun question… you are stranded on a deserted island and can only take one album with you. Which would it be?

Lucie: Probably the 2019 Grammy Nominees Album.

Kate: Paul Simon’s Graceland.

Thank you Lucie and Kate for taking the time to answer these questions. I look forward to meeting you both and maybe you will indulge me in some Anglo Saxon poetry reading and a funny accent or two. Great choices on the albums by the way! But you knew that already. Welcome to W2O!

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

Want to chat? Drop us a line.

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Advancing women’s equality will add $12 trillion to global growth by 2025, according to McKinsey & Company. Yet, despite the overwhelming data showing that women have begun entering the workforce in large numbers in many countries, women’s progress in leadership is still stunted.

Gender parity is not only the right thing to do, it ultimately affects the bottom line: diversity in the field will improve employee retention, revenue growth and corporate reputation. So, how can healthcare companies increase gender parity and the enhanced corporate performance that comes with it?

Join us for a webinar on Thursday, September 12th at 2:00pm ET where Angela Gillespie, President of W2Owcg, and I will discuss what it takes to change the current state of gender parity in healthcare.

Can’t make the live webinar? Register today and we’ll send you an on-demand recording after the event.

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Building the World’s Greatest Internship requires collaboration and creativity.

On this week’s episode, Paulo Simas, Chief Creative Officer of W2O and Trevor Hubbard, CEO & Executive Creative Director of Butchershop, discuss partnering to build the ideal internship.

Plus, we chat about Portuguese, La Croix, and I bet you can’t guess one of Trevor’s former jobs. This episode was a lot of fun, 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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Discovering what it really takes to “own” your future

Much has been written about entrepreneurs and their indelible mark made on business and history. As someone who created and built a firm, I’ve often thought about – as we’ve scaled the organization – how I can nurture and cultivate the drive and spirit of entrepreneurialism that ignites value creation and growth. The answer hasn’t always been clear or even coherent over the years, but I’ve certainly begun to see a pattern emerge. In effect, what should an entrepreneur look for in talent that signifies an entrepreneurial bent that should be recognized and developed?

Of course, any organization must possess a cacophony of voices and attitudes to succeed. But in today’s incredibly volatile marketplace, which demands a high level of curiosity, quality and analysis, increasing the number of people who think, act and share like owners or entrepreneurs is a priority.

After much observation and years of experience, I’ve discovered that the number one characteristic of an entrepreneur’s entrepreneur rests with one crucial technique: Decision-making. Making decisions decisively and deliberating to produce results.

If there is one thing that entrepreneurs such as myself act on without much debate, it is making decisions. No committees, little debate, strong facts and confidence in making it all work.

Entrepreneurs all share a common mindset. At W2O, that mindset is shaped by the following:

Be the Best – Everything starts with showing up for clients the best we can. Every interaction, deliverable, meeting and idea must deliver results.

Analytics – The core of our firm is based on precision insights off of in-depth analysis. Entrepreneurs capture information to inform decisions.

Agility – Moving with speed, determination and confidence and accelerating decision-make so the firm can move ahead is essential.

Collaboration  Entrepreneurs are often misjudged as being loners in terms of their thoughts. In reality, entrepreneurs relish multiple inputs and ideas to ensure the best approach.

Relentless Optimism  An entrepreneur’s entrepreneur only sees the opportunity and the potential ahead.

Purpose – As with anything worth pursuing, believing in a core purpose or reason to be is essential. At our firm, our mission is to make the world a healthier place through marketing communications.

Picking up Paper  One of the most impressionable experiences in my career was when I found myself picking up paper from the floor at work after a number of colleagues ignored it. This continued through the formative years at W2O and continues today. This became a metaphor for how to act like an owner. There is no task beneath us.

No Walls  Making things happen, which is the mark of a successful entrepreneur, is tantamount to moving seamlessly throughout the organization to deliver results for  clients.

There is something about an entrepreneur that is fundamentally different from anybody else. We play by different rules and never operate in boxes. Our goal is clear: make decisions so the business can move and innovate quickly and with confidence.

As an entrepreneur, I’ve found that this has served me and the firm well as we’ve grown and evolved. Finding that next generation of entrepreneurs working alongside our talented people will determine our forward trajectory.

In summary, we can never forget that performance always counts. Regardless whether you are an entrepreneurial thinker or a highly productive professional, behavior makes it happen.

The entrepreneur’s entrepreneur is actually someone with a heightened sense of responsibility and accountability.


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

Want to chat? Drop us a line.

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We recently announced that Barbara Pinto, former network news reporter, has joined W2O as Practice Leader of Executive Communications. As a senior communications executive, veteran television journalist, and anchor at some of the world’s leading news outlets, Barbara has significant expertise that she will bring to our clients.

I had the opportunity to pick Barbara’s brain and learn about her career journey, passion for journalism, and vision for expanding and strengthening our Executive Communications practice. Check out our interview below.

What initially piqued your interest in journalism?

I’ve always loved the power of a good story. As a kid, I was the one buried in a book – oblivious to all else. I’m also rabidly curious – my family would say “nosy.” Combine that with a love of words and writing, a keen sense of adventure and not-so-hot grades in math, and journalism was the perfect fit. It’s a front-row-seat to everything, and a great way to learn something new every day.

One of your first journalism jobs was with WFSB-TV in Hartford, Connecticut. How did you land that opportunity? 

I had always wanted to be a foreign correspondent and landed my first journalism job on the Foreign News Desk at the Associated Press. My office was just a few floors above NBC News at 30 Rock, and it was a thrill to work in the same building as NBC News, TODAY and SNL and occasionally catch a glimpse of famous folks in the elevator. At that time, you had to pass a current events test and grammar test to land the position. I was there all of two weeks when my mother, who had been diagnosed with cancer, experienced a pretty significant setback, so I quit my job and moved back home to upstate New York to help care for her. I found a job at a small radio station doing “morning drive” news, which allowed me to care for my mom during the day. The job involved reporting, writing and anchoring local news and reading the school lunch menu – it was “pizza and milk” every Friday. This was a pivotal stage of life in so many ways –as a daughter, caregiver and patient advocate. It also sparked my deep interest in healthcare and medicine.

You have worked for several of the major networks including ABC, PBS and CNBC. With the media landscape changing so dramatically, what does the future look like for major networks?

I wish I knew! The person who can answer that question will rule the news universe. For years, the networks were considered dinosaurs lumbering toward the tar pits. I’m not so sure that’s the case. We’re seeing them morph into content production machines that feed digital, broadcast and OTT (Over The Top) channels, and that transformation is ongoing. This provides a great opportunity for us and our clients as the demand for news and relevant content – by channel –expands.

While you were at PBS, you co-hosted a show called “In the Loop.” Tell us what that experience was like, especially leading up to the 2016 presidential election.

“In the Loop” was a terrific project. My former ABC News Nightline colleague Chris Bury and I helped develop and launch the show. We designed it to be a hybrid of all of the things we loved about journalism – investigative work, politics and quirky feature pieces on something unique to Chicago that folks might not know. It was great to moderate civil and respectful conversations between people of all political persuasions to try to generate understanding and elevate the public discourse.

You have now been coaching/training executives for high-level media opportunities for almost 10 years. What has surprised you the most during this process?

I’m always pleasantly surprised by C-Suite executives at the highest level who are brilliant, yet coachable, and who realize the importance of our work in helping sharpen their performance. It’s wonderful to build those trusted relationships and watch people develop and grow their skills. It’s always a thrill to watch someone “ace” a presentation or interview, knowing how much hard work went into making it happen.

You will be working with fellow rock stars Mike Huckman and Patrick Ryan on the Executive Communications team. What are you most looking forward to?

Mike and I worked together as correspondents at CNBC, and Patrick is a fellow CNBC alum. I’m excited to work alongside them in this new role. I look forward to collaborating with and learning from both of them as we expand and strengthen the practice.

You mention in your Twitter bio that you are a “world traveler.” Where is the coolest place you have ever visited and why?

My favorite place is always somewhere I haven’t been yet! One of the most unusual was an island off the coast of Zanzibar with nothing on it but 12 straw huts, some sand crabs and cute miniature deer roaming around. It was basically a sandy dot in the middle of turquoise sea. We had to carry our bags overhead and wade through waist-high water to get there, since the shoreline was too shallow for boats. As a New York City girl, the thought of a place with no doors or windows was a bit unsettling at first, but it ended up being one of the most peaceful, beautiful and restful trips ever.

Final fun question… you are stranded on a deserted island and can only take one album with you. Which would it be and why?

Right now, I’m whipsawing between Lizzo, The Samples, The Chainsmokers and Maren Morris and Brandi Carlile’s latest collaboration. I’m hoping the deserted island has Wi-Fi so  I can bring them all along on Spotify!

Thank you, Barbara, for your time, I think I can speak for the W2O team when we say we’re looking forward to partnering with you to #BeTheBest.

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With technology reshaping everything, achieving the desired state can often be difficult; the power of a considered mindset

Healthcare. Education. Autos. Energy. Insurance. You name it. These and every other industry segment are being transformed by technology. As with everything that is new, expectations are high that a completely different system and experience will result in greater results.

In Education, for example, the consensus today is that we are not preparing students to succeed in a new global reality. Flexibility, tech savvy, translating data to insight, decision-making, communicating in a digital world, and collaborating are the key skills critical for future success. Getting there involves a complete deconstruction of the current model.

For Autos, it will be important to upend the current fossil fuel-based system with electric vehicles, hybrids and autonomous vehicles that will forever change the driving experience and ownership dynamics, based on economic efficiency and sustainable impact.

In Healthcare, a connected ecosystem of physician, patient, caregiver, pharmacist and insurance provider, fueled by medical records, is the goal. In such a world, preventive care and regenerative medicine is the norm, extending life with medication and warding off disease instead of just treating it. An open, transparent healthcare system with the patient at the center and information flowing freely but confidentially among health professionals with the focus on preventing disease and controlling costs through the use of medical devices, new treatments and customized cures is the future we all seek.

But with that vision comes the stark reality that the journey will be neither smooth nor complete.

With every new evolution in business, there is a tendency to overestimate the value and underestimate the journey. This is where it’s critical to grasp the power of progress in evolving to a future state. As communicators and marketers in a digital world, we must view the new forces driving change and manage expectations along the way while engaging people in creating a new paradigm. Just envisioning the bold vision will only perpetuate a hardened perspective around what is “new,” mitigating the opportunity to fail and learn. Original beliefs and thinking are often barriers to real breakthroughs and more highly receptive processes.

Getting to what’s next in any of these industry segments while avoiding the “new” trap will require the following approaches:

1. Compartmentalizing the Future State – To ensure the new reality you are working toward is digested and people are prepared to change, invest, learn and deal with the risks and challenges ahead, it is important to carve out specific elements along the journey. Doing so provides a chance to look ahead – but not too far – and truly assimilate the future ahead.

2 .Putting Mindset Before Action – Critical to gaining a new reality is a shift in thinking. Thinking evolves over time, prodded by the right content and ability to interact with others.

3. Assimilating Learning – Capturing lessons and recognizing their value is at the core of creating something new. As healthcare evolves, specifically placing the patient at the center, organizations are looking to apply new knowledge to the design, development, infrastructure and system that has been created over the last several years. Both positive and negative experiences will influence the future.

4. Maintaining Perspective Change or ”new” takes time. While the quest to get to a better future drives us to solve the biggest problems in each industry segment, the allure of “new” can also become a barrier to progress without perspective. Perspective brings people along the journey by explaining and exploring the unknowable and applying collective thinking to the next phase of the effort.

5. Becoming a Digital Disrupter– While the digital reality we now find ourselves in is streamlining our personal and professional lives, it is also establishing new expectations and balance of power, which must be respected and applied to develop completely new systems and relationships.

We find ourselves in an incredible place. Every single industry segment is being rewritten. Every single challenge is being addressed. Knowledge can either be a bridge or a barrier. Getting to a new reality and new purpose is incredibly enticing. But perspective, mindset and communications will be the difference. As marketers and communicators, we have the authority to lead, guide, adapt and direct people through the journey to ensure the new system sticks.

It’s an exhilarating future…but only if we ensure the “new” becomes a reality (and not a dream)!


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

Want to chat? Drop us a line.

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