As we start to come out of lockdown with our own “4th July” in the UK, I’ve been reflecting on the last three months. Unless you had a critical job to perform, you were to stay at home and only leave to get necessary groceries or exercise. While W2O had a work from home policy in place before the COVID-19 pandemic began, which allowed staff to work one day at home each week, transitioning to working full time at home hasn’t been easy.

Despite some of the twists and turns we’ve had to overcome, I’m incredibly proud of the way W2O’s EMEA team has continued to perform in these challenging times. We’ve continued to deliver outstanding work for our clients, hired 20 new employees, won awards for our creativity, and helped our local community.

Here are a few highlights:

Giving Back

At the start of the lockdown period, we assessed a few non-client partnerships where we could offer our expertise in healthcare and communications pro bono to help make the world a healthier place. We chose the following groups and have been working with them as follows:

  • The World Health Organization Emergencies Programme, managing meetings with 200+ clinicians and researchers triweekly to support them in knowledge-sharing and prioritising research to combat the virus.
  • The AGILE research platform, supporting a clinical team based out of the University of Liverpool in their efforts to accelerate the search for novel effective COVID-19 treatments.
  • The Royal Free London Trust, supporting their communications team with social media strategy and creative during the COVID-19 crisis.

Keeping Our Culture

Going from two physical offices in EMEA to over 150 home offices has proved challenging in remaining together and aligned. It’s not just face time, it’s celebrating the small victories and personal achievements and battling the loneliness that can occur.

Before lockdown, we had a weekly office-wide meeting, which still continues today, just over Zoom. This meeting allows us to connect, share positive news and introduce our new hires. Each week, a guest host shares something interesting or personal. We book-end this meeting with a virtual happy hour on Friday where we give thanks to those who have delivered fantastic work or gone the extra mile or just simply share our gratitude for our colleagues.

To keep us closer together while working from home, we introduced a weekly Culture Club challenge, which involves a fun task, from participating in a TikTok video to coming up with something witty or sharing what we’ve been up to. The goal is to do something a little silly that everyone can participate in and have a laugh together, which is so vital to helping stay mentally well.

Finally, we’ve had to re-work how we do introductions to ensure our new hires get enough face time with their new colleagues as they’re not able to simply walk around the office and introduce themselves.

Supporting One Another

We talk a lot at W2O about our long hallway, which runs from Zurich to San Francisco, and how we’re able to connect along the way. I’ve always been impressed by how W2O is able to create connectivity among offices. But nothing has shown that more than now, when all of our colleagues have come together during the pandemic. I’ve heard so many great examples of colleagues reaching out to each other and making sure everyone is doing okay, especially those who live far away from their home or who live alone.

One of my favourite ways W2O has adapted is a global initiative created by staff members that provides parents in the firm with a selection of activities and experiences for their children. What started as a small idea has grown into an initiative that helps parents address the challenge of educating children from home while allowing them to volunteer and spend some time helping out their own community!

It’s very easy for people to use the word unprecedented. It’s become a cliché. However, there’s no better word to describe what a turbulent year 2020 has been so far. Despite the difficulties, W2O EMEA has come together and become stronger, unified in helping our clients, our communities and each other.

I’ve never been prouder.

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages.

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In “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” renowned African American author Zora Neale-Hurston writes, “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”

Six months in, 2020 has proven to be the year of seismic questions that are poised to trigger significant change. The murder of George Floyd, coupled with the protests of the past few weeks and the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, have led to many urgent and important questions across all sectors of society, including corporate America. Over the last few weeks, corporations across the country have been pressed to address questions about racial and social inequity; their engagement and support of their communities; and their leadership approach in these turbulent times – all of which have influenced their overall relevance.

Through our W2O Relevance framework, we sought to understand the effect of corporate responses to recent events on corporate relevance, surface trends and share guidance for consideration. We analyzed social conversations on racial and social inequity, along with corporate responses and employee commentary to solidarity statements. We found one thing that’s abundantly clear: we are entering a new era of corporate citizenship. There is increased pressure and expectations that companies lead and engage on social issues from the inside out and in the communities around them. What’s more, employees and stakeholders are demanding swift, actionable changes, pointing to the need to focus on authenticity and inclusion. Our analysis shows that companies that  are rising to the challenge in open and honest ways are being rewarded with increased relevance.

For a copy of the full “Relevance in the Era of 
Social Change and Disruption” Analysis, click here.

Trends that had been simmering for the past few years have reached a critical inflection point through the convergence of COVID-19 and racial injustice.

W2O has tracked the relevance of 62 Fortune 500 healthcare companies’ racial and social equity efforts for the past two years. This data shows several emerging trends that have intensified with the events of 2020:

  • A growing focus and increased conversation on social equity, with a specific emphasis on diversity and inclusion (D&I)
  • A push for transparent communication and engagement on D&I and social equity issues
  • Mounting stakeholder expectations for action and measurable results

In the wake of the social unrest following the death of George Floyd, corporate America has found itself at a crossroads. While 36 of the top 50 Fortune companies responded to the event and the larger question around racial injustice, the data shows that platitudes weren’t enough. Companies that acted quickly and robustly not only bolstered their relevance, but their commitments went beyond the playbook. Those companies leaned into comprehensive social actions that not only aligned with their values, but were aimed at addressing some of the tenets/issues that have contributed to the systemic racism and social injustice that have plagued the United States for centuries.

2020 continues to be not only the year of questions, but the year of potential change. Companies can no longer go by the playbooks that they have always used. By living and breathing their values in partnership with their employees and communities, companies that are part of the corporate fabric of our society can serve as agents of change.

In the past few weeks, W2O has taken action and made new commitments to D&I. We have made a cash donation of $50,000 to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, two nonprofits working to address racial inequity. W2O has also created a matching program for employee donations and outlined steps for W2O and our industry to do more. We will continue to work toward change, and know we must do more.

Contributions to this content were made by Marianne Gollub, Kayla Rodriguez, Katy Hagert, Meredith Owe, Kendall Tich, Alan Chumley, and Daniel Steffen of W2O.

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages

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The letter below was shared by our Founder & CEO to members of The LAGRANT Foundation, calling on ourselves and our industry to immediately take action and sustain a commitment to inclusion and diversity. In addition to the steps outlined in the letter, W2O has made a cash donation of $50,000 to NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, two nonprofits working to address racial inequity. W2O is also implementing a matching program for employee donations, has taken several other actions in response to recent events, and will continue to work toward change.

Recent events show us that racial divisions in this country are as deep and troubling as ever in history. Last week, I shared my solidarity with W2O employees, standing with all our staff to say that racism and violence cannot be tolerated in any form.

Over the past few days, I have reflected more deeply on what more we can do, as it is clear to me that our industry has not done enough. Our businesses rely on creative and innovative people. We need inclusion and diversity if we are to change, grow and transform. We are not yet inclusive enough to spur the kind of diversity needed to thrive like we could.

We cannot sit idly and complacently by in this situation. I call on all of us, my firm included, to immediately take action and sustain a commitment to:

  • Inspire the next generation of people of color to work in our business. Standard recruiting from communications and journalism schools is not enough. We will cast a wider net and build more bridges with historically black universities, among others. W2O has a unique partnership with Syracuse University, and we are committed to replicating this work with other universities. This includes creating and implementing the right curriculum that will prepare our future workforce to hit the ground running the day we hire them.
  • Retain and advance diverse talent for the long term. We will take concrete actions to set diversity targets and share diversity metrics. We will hold leaders accountable and reward them when they make progress. We will make sure all employees feel respected and valued, and that they have an equal opportunity to grow and advance. We will make our allyship real, immediately increasing our commitment to mentorship and sponsorship to ensure people of color have a sustainable career trajectory.
  • Listen to Employee Resource Groups and employees of color. ERGs are a powerful community for companies to drive collaboration and co-creation in critical areas of growth and accountability. At W2O, our Diversity and Inclusion ERG, W2O Fusion, has never been more important than right now. This group of committed, passionate professionals has done as much, or more, than I and other leaders to ensure we’re making a positive impact during these challenging times.

We will reinforce the importance of partnerships with groups such as The LAGRANT Foundation to champion these efforts. We will continue to work together to improve our profession across agencies and companies, with the broader goal of addressing systemic racism. That is one way we can change ourselves to change society.

Those in our profession know how to listen, learn and engage. We will rededicate ourselves to the important mission of this Foundation, which has done so much good for so many years.

In Solidarity and Action,

Jim Weiss
Founder & CEO, W2O
The LAGRANT Foundation Board Member

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Recently, PRovoke announced W2O as one of their North American Agencies of the Decade. To be recognized as one of seven agencies is an honor that our leadership and W2O teams do not take for granted.

We’ve come a long way as a firm. Our Founder & CEO, Jim Weiss, started the company in his condo to fill the unmet communications needs of biotech and healthcare clients in the Bay Area. Fast forward to today, with over 1,300 employees across 30 countries, we work with 24 of the top 25 pharma companies around the world. Our growth and success would not be possible without the partnership of our world-class clients; they push us to innovate, create, and creatively problem-solve in immeasurable ways.

“Moving into this next decade, it’s more clear than ever the critical role that healthcare plays across the economy. And indeed, no other agency in this space rivals W2O as the analytics-driven, digital-first leader and pioneer.” – Aarti Shah, Chief Product Officer & Executive Editor of PRovoke

As the world is dealing with a global health crisis, we understand that the work we do within healthcare is as important as it’s ever been. We look forward to continuing to push the envelope, pioneer, and partner with the brightest minds in health to make the world a healthier place through marketing communications.

W2O’s additional COVID-19 coverage

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages

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W2O is proud to join the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) New Drug Development Paradigms (NEWDIGS) LEAPS (Learning Ecosystems Accelerator for Patient-centered, Sustainable Innovation) Project. We’re excited to continue our mission of making the world a healthier place by partnering with an impressive cross-sector group of healthcare leaders in their efforts to develop a first-of-its-kind platform for identification of opportunities to improve treatment decision-making and patient outcomes.

Like many in the healthcare analytics world, we are often thinking about ways to mine our myriad real-world data sources for the holy grail – algorithms and predictive approaches that can improve patient outcomes. But as we sit on top of our mountain of big healthcare data with all the machine learning and artificial intelligence tools in our arsenal, several things become clear – the data is challenging, the possibilities in the data are vast, and the patient’s path to care is complicated.

In such a complex system, how do we define the problems and isolate the levers that can impact solutions in a scalable way?

This is where the LEAPS Project has taken a clear leadership position in its approach to driving meaningful change through data, and why we are thrilled to be a partner in this innovative collaboration.

In LEAP’s singular focus on driving impact, it has taken a patient-centered systems approach built on a foundation of collaborative and step-wise decision making to ensure the paths it is exploring are the right paths:

  • The LEAP Project has brought the right players to the table to define the challenges faced across the healthcare system.
  • It has created a structured approach to defining and executing against multiple datasets, focusing on hypothesis-driven testing to ensure the problems it seeks to solve for are 1) issues that have true impact and 2) are solvable through specific, measurable actions.
  • It is using an approach to democratize the end product to incentivize the best thinking and ensure that cross-sector innovation can be sustained and utilized throughout the healthcare system.

We are excited to provide our expertise in patient social listening as an input to LEAP, to bring forward the unique value of this organic, unfiltered perspective, and its ability to uncover the unique context, psychosocial hurdles, and quality of life impact that patients face.

In a patient-centered approach to improving outcomes, we’re proud to elevate the qualitative patient experience as a crucial input to understanding why certain pathways to treatment and care occur. These patient stories will serve as a strong foundation for further data mining in additional real-world datasets to pinpoint the actionable, achievable and impactful solutions to improving patient outcomes.

W2O’s additional COVID-19 coverage

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages

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W2O’s newest team member, Bryan Specht is this week’s guest on What2Know! He chats about his new role at W2O, the consumerization, and digitization of healthcare, and shares key lessons learned amid COVID-19. Take a listen below.

W2O’s additional COVID-19 coverage

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages

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W2O recently acquired Symplur to strengthen and scale data for smarter healthcare decision making. Our own Adam Cossman, Audun Utengen, and Seth Duncan discuss what this looks like for our clients, how we’ve partnered to combat COVID-19 and the power of social data within the industry. Take a listen below.

W2O’s additional COVID-19 coverage

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages

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

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Is the Way Out Around the Corner?

COVID-19 began as a global crisis with country leaders dictating the terms of engagement, but it is now becoming a local leadership priority. Putting all politics aside, here in the United States, governors and mayors have taken center stage establishing protocols and policies for their states, counties, and cities. Governor Cuomo in New York, Governor Newsom in California, Governor Whitmer in Michigan and Governor DeWine in Ohio have all become media staples via daily briefings where they are seen confidently orchestrating the operations of their respective states during this tumultuous time.

They are dictating the situation and gaining trust among their constituents in the process. This is a natural evolution for several reasons:

  1. Think Global: Act Local: This oft-used phrase (and a W2O value) has never been more meaningful than today. Local economies must survive for the global economy to return. Businesses and institutions – small, medium and large – are critical to the country’s macro-financial stability.
  2. Customized solutions must be based on facts and data in a particular area:  Decisions should be made by taking into account local variables, including density of population, medical capabilities and capacities, and physical environment. While COVID-19 is a global pandemic, local response needs to be calibrated based on conditions close to home. Interstate collaboration is already underway in the western and eastern parts of the country, where states with similar conditions are collaborating to ensure the greatest impact.
  3. In disaster scenarios like this, local leaders tend to be trusted more: COVID-19 has literally shut down the world amid fears of the spread of a virus we are still learning about. In such a case, once global leaders have issued specific edicts, local leaders take the reins and provide a beacon of hope and a way out based on their situation and what is right for their residents.

The Same “Why?”   

Federal, state and local governments all have the same rationale in leading the response during this crisis. There is nothing more important than your health: physical, mental and financial.

Ensuring the population is both healthy and prosperous is at the forefront of purposeful leadership at all levels of government. However, the ability to ignite the economic engine and healthcare systems in a prudent and efficient manner rests with state and local institutions. It is through this prism that local leadership is viewed as leading more than a process, but a crusade. Communications is neither scripted nor memorized. Messages have to be real, genuine and rooted in good data, while at the same time coming straight from the heart. Facts are mixed with emotion and vice versa. Policy and communications become intertwined. People are brought into the story. And while every decision is not always applauded, each one is respected.

As the search for COVID-19 vaccines and treatments continues with biopharmaceutical organizations working tirelessly along with the entire healthcare system and first responders on round-the-clock shifts, the megaphone has begun to shift in terms of who is quelling the fears and addressing the needs of an entire world, nation, country, region, states, and city. This is now firmly in the hands of local leaders.

While the corporate platitudes of “we are all in this together” often ring hollow, we are all responsible for inspiring hope, improving infrastructure, maintaining activity, and protecting health. We the people have answered this call and begun to flatten the curve, and now we have to apply that same fortitude to get us all back to a more normal life and productivity. This requires key safety precautions we have come to adopt – wearing a mask in public, washing our hands frequently and not touching our faces, along with regular diagnostic testing and contact surveillance.

As marketers and communicators, it is important to note the shifts and changes taking place around us almost daily. We have to continue to #StayFluid and #ThinkGlobally and #ActLocal on behalf of our clients and ourselves.

The key is to stay optimistic while remaining realistic and always following the facts and data as that is what will truly allow us to get our accustomed freedom of movement back.

Be safe. Stay healthy.


W2O’s additional COVID-19 coverage

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages.

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If there is ever a time for new thinking, new attitudes and new approaches, now would be it

 Dealing with a crisis of the magnitude and scope of COVID-19 forces a new set of behaviors and principles. Managing a multitude of organizational responses during this time, the one take-away that sticks out is that there is no “playbook” or guide from which to draw lessons or best practices.

Today is about New! And “New” directed at both mitigating the situational aspects of the crisis and getting back to basics or moving closer to the core of the business. It’s about rediscovering the value of the organization, eliminating bureaucracy, and encouraging dialogue, discussion and debate on the right topics that drive the business.

It’s about new ideas, new thinking, new focus and new pathways. It requires a fresh look at everything, zero-based assessment and planning. It means forcing ideation through circumstance and redirecting people’s attention to areas that accelerate progress and create impact. It takes creating a contemporary picture to prepare an organization to develop a new way to do things based on what’s happening now.

Here is what we are learning from this process in real time:

  1. Purpose is the Northstar–The path to achieving organizational success on a sustained basis goes in only one direction – purpose! Crisis tends to refocus a company’s purpose starting from the inside, reminding everyone what is important. It’s all about The Why.
  2. Ambiguity is the norm – As leaders and managersoperating in this environmentwhere there are no signs or guideposts to draw upon, tests our capabilities and perseverance to move forward. It’s about being adept at navigating in a cloud of uncertainty.
  3. Analytics displaces assumption– Incorporating data and insight into decision-making, from people’s behaviors, interests and concerns to patient or customer perspectives, greatly improves guidance and direction for communications and strategy.
  4. Empathy must accompany facts– In this time, traditional techniques no longer work. Dealing with emotion, fear, uncertainty, hope and promise is as or more important than operating in facts.
  5. Nurturing new networks and alliances– Engaging with new people, groups and different values during a major crisis expands one’s aperture if not one’s confidence and knowledge.
  6. Codifying actions embellishes decisions – This is the time for a new playbook, so consciously documenting, reiterating and sharing what is being done creates a new paradigm.
  7. Communications tone, cadence and channel is mission critical – Getting this formula right is never more essential than now. Stakeholders are seeking consistency, clarity, reliability, access and realistic results.
  8. Freedom to face fear and fail This is a time to explore new things. To investigate,  incubate,  inform and try again if it doesn’t work. Difficult times demand courageous thinking.

It’s easier to talk about changing your routine and purposefully reimagine work than it is to actually do it. COVID-19 has unveiled a world of unforeseen consequences regarding our personal and professional lives. As leaders, it’s about creating a new playbook amid an unprecedented reality with the focus on stabilizing people’s lives.

We are all in this together so let’s stay safe and healthy!


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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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Recently, W2O acquired Arcus Medica, to not only accelerate, but deepen our scientific and medical communications offering. Now, nearly a month after we’ve joined forces, I had the opportunity to sit down with Mary Seideman, Co-Founder of W2O arcus.

We chat about how Arcus came to be, how our additional acquisition of ISO will help W2O make the world a healthier place through marketing communications, plus Mary shares some surprising albums she’d like to take with her on a deserted island.

Aaron Strout: There is a famous saying that understanding the past is the key to the future.” To that end, tell us how you and your cofounders came to found Arcus.

Mary Seideman: Jon, Stan and I all have scientific and/or clinical backgrounds with in-house pharma experience. About seven years ago, all three of us were struck by the speed at which science is advancing. The breakthrough technologies that we hoped for 20 years ago, such as harnessing the immune system to fight cancer or gene therapy, are here today. So we started Arcus to provide a better product than what we were seeing in-house. We believe that understanding the science is critical to understanding how a drug can meet an unmet need. When we talk about new drugs, we always look to the past. Why was this drug developed? What science was used in order to design a better therapy? What are the unmet needs of a disease that can be addressed by this therapy? Communicating this scientific story to healthcare professionals (HCPs) and patients so they can understand potential or existing clinical benefits of new therapies is more important than ever.

AS: How is Arcus different from other scientific and medical communication agencies?

MS: As I mentioned, all three founders have clinical and or scientific backgrounds, in addition to pharma experience. Jon has a Ph.D. from Cornell and had a long career as a bench scientist in industry, including at Centecor, and was an executive editor at Elsevier. Stan has a Pharm.D. and an M.B.A., and has experience in the field on sales and medical affairs teams, with recent experience as a senior product manager at Genentech. I trained as a pediatric oncologist and have an M.D. and a Ph.D., and in addition to years of bench experience in academics, I have held leadership roles in Medical Affairs and clinical development. We’re able to provide a true bench-to-bedside perspective on drug development, from both academic and industry viewpoints. I think that’s unique and a key factor in what makes us great strategic partners across the product lifecycle.

AS: How will the acquisition of ISO help W2O make the world a healthier place through marketing communications?

MS: Adding talent is always a plus for any team! The addition of ISO really establishes W2O Scientific Communications in the EU, where we already have such a strong PR/corporate communications presence. ISO will not only support the existing comms offerings, but allow us to create a significant global Scientific Communications footprint in the EU. Understanding the specific needs of EU affiliates will enable W2O to support companies in getting their drugs to the right patients at an international level.

AS: What do you think it means to be “results-driven”?

MS: It means we help our clients achieve 100% of their goals, 100% of the time. We work as strategic partners to provide them with the best solutions, based on our team’s understanding of the science, clinical practice and HCPs in their disease area. We always want the best results for our clients and that’s what we drive for with every project, big and small. There is no such thing as a cookie-cutter project for us. We make sure that every deliverable has been tailored to the exact needs of each client, to their specific drug, disease, audience and phase of the lifecycle.

AS: What intrigued you about joining forces with W2O?

MS: After all our years in the industry, both in-house and from an agency perspective, we wanted to partner with a team that is driven to create value for clients through data, creativity and innovation. From our first meeting with Jim Weiss, W2O’s founder, we felt there was a chemistry and a respect for science that would allow us to be an integral part of that process. Our experience with W2O has been remarkable because everyone is an expert in his or her field, deeply engaged and truly innovative. So for people who love to learn and to innovate, W2O is the ideal place to work. Equally important, there is a true team spirit that permeates everything we do.

AS: What is your approach to learning and staying up to speed?

MS: Our team is always learning something new. People come to us because we are experts in our field. I do a lot of reading – basic science papers, clinical peer-reviewed publications. I also learn a lot from our team, by design. The W2O Arcus team is a group of lifelong learners – that’s one of the critical personality traits we look for, regardless of the role. We do a deep dive and generate the relevant framework and facts to make strategic decisions. We made a decision early on that we would favor intellect over experience in hiring, and that decision has paid off in spades.

I also keep abreast of the industry through our extensive KOL network. W2O Arcus has relationships with hundreds of KOLs across a number of disease states, and we often call upon these scientific, clinical and/or translational experts to keep us on the forefront of clinical decision-making and scientific breakthroughs. You can read about a topic for days, but speaking to an expert who sees patients, day in and day out, gives you an entirely different, real-life perspective. Being able to access a global expert in oncology, neurology or a multitude of other disease areas is  an incredibly interesting and rewarding part of my role.

 AS: What is a movie quote that has inspired you in business and your personal life?

MS: In my professional life, I’m motivated by something Tom Hanks says in A League of Their Own, “There’s no crying in baseball!” Over my lifetime, I’ve been lucky to train and work with some of the most amazing scientists and clinicians in the world – people who have solved some of the most difficult medical and scientific problems of our time. So I think there’s no complaining in baseball or at work. If we think hard enough, if we have the right people in the room, we can solve anything.

One of my favorite characters from a movie is Elle Woods from Legally Blonde. For all the twists in her case. she solved it by explaining the science of a home perm. I loved that.

AS: If you were stranded on a desert island and could only listen to one album for the rest of your life, what would it be?

MS: Jon, my husband, introduced me to The National when we first started dating, and I still think their album Boxer is one of the best, and it always reminds me of a wonderful time in my life. But I would also gladly listen to a Post Malone or Pink greatest hits album.

AS: Mary, thank you for your time, we look forward to partnering together to disrupt the medical communications space for our clients!

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

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I’ve done over 120 What2Know episodes and it’s been a real treat to pick the brains of some the world’s brightest, most unique, and unequivocally innovative people. I love interviewing others, learning who they are as professionals, but more so, learning who they are as people.

This week’s episode was a unique pleasure because, I went from interviewer to interviewee, I hopped on the other side of the mic to share more about who I am. I had the pleasure of being interviewed by my friend, Lisa Kalfus, VP of Marketing at Wente Family Estates. During our time, I share my unique journey into the marketing and communications world, Lisa and I reflect on work W2O has done in partnership with Wente, plus I share my admiration of Queen Cleopatra. Lastly, I talk about two books that really left an impact on me. 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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