As a colleague and friend, I’ve witnessed firsthand how Jenn Gottlieb’s killer work ethic benefits our clients and organization as a whole. It is no surprise it was announced earlier this week that she has been inducted into PRWeek’s Hall of Femme. In honor of this incredible (and well-deserved) news, we decided to do a special episode of What2Know.

W2O has been in business for nearly 17 years, Jenn, has been here for 12. Serving as a Practice Leader of Healthcare, COO & Head of Client Services, and now President, she has been an integral part of our firm’s growth and evolution.

Jenn and I discuss the DNA of our firm, her partnership with CEO Jim Weiss, what it means to be a Hall of Femme Inductee, and her impressive knowledge of auto parts. Take a listen below.

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  How W2O is Attempting to Avoid the Proverbial ‘Race to the Middle’

We’re proud to be named among the top 10 U.S. agencies by PRWeek!

It certainly hasn’t been lost on anyone that the past few years have been extremely challenging for communications and marketing firms in terms of revenue growth and profitability. Holding companies, large independents, and mid-sized agencies alike are struggling to gain traction amid a new environment where data and analytics provide a more precise media spend, consumer choice of content and channel is ever-changing, and employees now dictate corporate strategy.  The byproduct of all this churn has been a race to the middle as firms have looked to reduce rather than invest while clients struggle to compete in today’s harsh business climate.

Last week, W2O, now in our 17th year, announced the 16th consecutive year of double-digit annual growth, in a market where major competitors retrenched, restructured, and restated their purpose citing myriad marketplace and client realities and rationale. The premise of this commentary is not to question nor comment on competitive moves.  Rather, it’s to offer a perspective on where the industry is heading and how firms like ours are operating in this tumultuous time to stay ahead of the curve.

From the moment I founded the firm, my strategic intent was to deliver results for my clients based on what they needed, not what I wanted.  Today, we are a firm that is neither fish nor fowl, so to speak. We’ve invested in data and analytics to generate insights in brand, relevance, marketing, and communications; digital; creative; and dimensional expertise in all the industries we operate in, primarily healthcare and technology, and where those sectors increasingly intersect.

And most importantly, we continue to invest in the only thing that really makes a difference over the longer term – A+ Talent.

Over this time we have taken many twists and turns as one can imagine. From an entrepreneurial mindset and specialty-based offering to a truly global, integrated entity with a mix of capabilities and skills wrapped in a consultative blanket and directed at solving business situations.

As I look over the last 17 years, there are four areas that have kept us fresh:

  1. One P&L – By far, the single most critical operational decision. One P&L keeps everyone – nearly 700 plus professionals – focused on the client vs. their parochial interests.
  2. Innovation – We were one of the first to invest in data and analytics and today out of 700 people over 125 are analysts, researchers, data scientists and the like. We develop our own proprietary models such as Inception (for Crisis and Issue Mitigation) and Relevance.  We build our own algorithms and are applying machine learning to our models and exploring how new AI tools can take us to another level and  address specific client and industry vulnerabilities and opportunities.  This keeps us and our clients ahead of the curve and able to see around corners.
  3. Creative Destruction – For us, it’s always best idea wins.   We encourage constructive disagreement and debate.  This fosters a culture of learning, preparedness, and professionalism.  It pushes us to be fast and agile. And the result is the best answer for clients.
  4. Talent Development – Not just acquiring the best talent but investing in training, diversity and university partnerships like the one we have with Syracuse University’s Newhouse School and the W2O Center for Social Commerce where we develop the next generation of professionals.

The one thing that pervades each area above is “investment.”   Not always an easy thing to master as you wrestle with a multitude of risk.   It’s a well-known belief that once a firm like ours hits the $100m mark, the “pivot” takes over.  You either bust through and keep growing or stagnate and possibly fall backwards, never to recover.

There is certainly much to be done. I’m the first to acknowledge that maintaining the growth trajectory we’ve experienced will be challenging and difficult.  It means we must be resilient, collaborative, committed, and open-minded.

But make no mistake, we have no intention of rushing to the middle.

Given the vagaries of business today we are not sure exactly where the journey will take us.  We do know, however, we will be courageous, forthright, and prepared via analytics, insights, content, and execution to give our clients an unfair advantage in their business.

It’s a great time to be in our business – whatever that is!

We will always continue to “dream” like I did at the beginning…and place the right resources behind our dreams so they come to fruition.  And continue to give talented and creative people the entrepreneurial running room necessary to break through and evolve.  As technology and data continue to proliferate all we do, it’s still all about the people to me to ensure the healthiest and most desirable growth. 


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The traditional boundaries between PR and marketing are dissolving thanks to digital technology, and W2O Group is on the forefront of that transformation! But don’t take our word for it: W2O recently won 13 AVA Digital Awards, which recognize excellence by creative pros in all aspects of digital communication.

Our clients and their customers expect the same immediacy, personalization, and convenience found with on-demand services such as Amazon and Netflix. That’s why W2O builds unfair advantage for brands by following the right data to align audiences, craft narratives, activate experiences, and continually measure results.

“Back in 2001 when W2O was founded, digital wasn’t taken seriously,” smiles Adam Cossman, Chief Digital Officer. “Now it’s table stakes, and analytics is the key to succeed!”

Accolades for Exemplary Work Across PR and Marketing

The AVA Digital Awards is an international competition that focuses on the convergence of digital arts, technology, and data—and how proven strategy and deep analytics expertise combine with audio, video, mobile, and social to create winning work.

Of the 13 awards won by W2O, 6 were platinum and 5 were gold. The breadth of work spanned multiple verticals, with initiatives ranging from integrated branding and digital marketing to websites, eCommerce platforms, video, and animation.  Some of the winning projects were:

  • The LIVALO Virtual Reality Experience
  • The Kowa Unbranded Patient Education Campaign
  • The Neodyne Biosciences eCommerce Website Experience
  • The Pfizer Direct eCommerce Website Experience

All of us at W2O thank the AVA Digital Award judges, and our clients for the privilege of partnering with them. Recognition is important—but continuing to exceed even our own expectations is fundamental to who we are and why we do what we do.

Committed to providing the level of service and depth of understanding our clients expect—and creating the immediately impactful and responsive experiences our audiences demand—W2O knows the future is already here. 

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Last year at SXSW, we did a podcast together on the topic of Countering Hate.  We had both been thinking of ways to deal with disinformation and how to counter extremism through our work at the U.S. State Department.  For Haroon, his career has taken him from traveling with Richard Holbrooke to serving Secretaries of State Kerry and Tillerson to his current position as chief of strategy for the Broadcasting Board of Governors.  For Bob, his work teaching at the State Department on these topics and then going deep in analytics and human behavior in his job at W2O Group intensified his interest in reaching a broader group of people.

We realized a book was the best vehicle, so we can reach as many like-minded people in the world as quickly as possible to share our latest thinking and, more importantly, stimulate new ideas and insights on how we can counter hate.   We also decided on the title on the spot.

In the book, we share cutting edge thinking from professors we teach with at The Marketing College at State along with leaders in media, government and those who have unique views into the world of countering hate.   We learned ourselves by listening and sharing the views of the 20+ experts who made time for this important read.

Personally, we, like many of you, have already experienced too much extremism.  We have friends and loved ones who have died and we’ve all seen the impact of extremism when it is unlocked.  It is not acceptable.

Headed to the National Summit on Strategic Communications? Don’t miss Haroon and I’s discussion on Countering Hate.

We all start out the same, whether we are born in Detroit or Damascus.  But what happens next counts on all of us working together to help each generation of youth have the best chance possible to lead a normal life.

We hope reading Countering Hate inspires you to think of what you can do to make our world a safer place.  We outnumber the bad actors by a wide margin.  We just need to work more cohesively as a team to make our highest impact.

Today, one year later, we are sharing our thinking on this topic at a SXSW panel (see video below), appropriately titled “Countering Hate: Understanding & Stopping Extremism”, along with Fred Burton of Stratfor and Dr. Victoria Romero of Next Century.

We look forward to your insights and ideas.  May we all join together to listen, learn and act to make our world a safer place.

Best, Bob Pearson & Haroon K. Ullah

Note:  We are donating the proceeds of Countering Hate to a new group for Military Veterans called  Thank you in advance for supporting our Veterans for each book you purchase.

In addition, you can visit us at for more information.

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As the Syracuse Newhouse School and W2O Group celebrate a five-year milestone, it’s important to look back and trace the markers that propelled us forward

Last week, I, along with a group of W2O staff, and Syracuse University students, professors, and administrators spent time learning, sharing, and delving into the digital and social world in which we now live. Helping us in this discovery was Alberto Canal from IBM, who talked about how AI is reshaping careers.

The W2O Group/Newhouse Center for Social Commerce was formed by myself and my wife, Audra, to ensure students – the next generation of professionals – are equipped to operate successfully in a digital/social reality and serve as a vehicle for innovative educational techniques, new research, and recruitment.

Over the last five years, we have all experienced change at warp speed.  Just think a mere five years ago, Venmo, Workplace by Facebook, Uber, Lyft, Fitbit, Bitcoin and Blockchain were not really in our vocabulary.  Further, digital storytelling, social listening, social purpose, big data, and behavioral research were being just formed in or consciousness.

What does this tell us?

Simply put, the world of business is ever-changing.  Fueled by technology and inspired by ideation, changing the present to conform to a new future state is the speed of evolution.  It is both exhilarating and challenging at the same time.  Yet through it all is the realization that with every new app, platform, product, service, and innovation, we step closer to the future.  And with that we are better able to navigate the opportunities it presents.

The W2O Group/Newhouse Center for Social Commerce is about the intersection of technology, digital and social change, disruptive innovation, and relevance.  Since it was formed:

We’ve certainly charted an impressive path with our friends at Syracuse University and the Newhouse School.  To those of you who have been a part of the Center and will be going forward, Audra and I say thank you!

But the journey has just begun.  Now we turn our attention to the next five years and the forces creating new markets and new ways to connect and collaborate.

I can’t wait!


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We’re proud to be named among the top 40 UK agencies by PRWeek UK!

Today it was announced our President of EMEA, Annalise Coady, is being featured in PRWeekUK’s, UK Power Book! I’ve had the pleasure of being her colleague for years and I cannot think of a more deserving recipient. She is an incredible leader, well-versed in our industry, and brings a client-centric approach to every aspect of her work.

I was able to hop on the phone with Annalise to pick her brain about the current landscape of the marketing and communications’ industry, what makes our firm unique, and her personal goals for our European efforts this year. Take a listen below.


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This week, Jennifer Gottlieb was named President of W2O Group, signaling the 17 year-old firm’s next phase of its evolution and growth.  In this discussion, Founder and CEO Jim Weiss and Gottlieb discuss the business, the firm’s direction, and her new role.

Question: How would you both describe the state of the profession today?

Jim Weiss:  In a word, Transformative.  Technology has effectively enveloped every single industry and business. As such, it has shifted power and authority away from the enterprise and into the hands of the consumer, customer, and employee. With that, a host of challenges and opportunities have arisen regarding opinion formation, trust, relevance, and engagement.

Jenn Gottlieb:  Agreed.  And this new found democratization of information where anyone anytime can access information places organizations and brands in the spotlight 24/7.  This means a constant awareness of your narrative or story and how it plays out over your policies, products, programming, pricing, and development.

Question: So, where does this impact W2O Group?

Jenn Gottlieb:   Everywhere.  It means we must be focused on our clients at an even higher level than ever.  For us, it’s always been about the clients. It means we must look around at the other side of the picture.  Determining what is not happening and deciding why and what to do.  Today, it’s not about you see but what’s not in front of you.

Jim Weiss:  Let me give you a couple of amazing, yet sober stats. Over the last two years, W2O has grown by 50% in people and 50% in revenue (organically and through acquisition).  This growth continues to shape the design and value proposition of the firm resulting in a broader leadership model.  Secondly, given as we said that business is ever changing fueled by technology, new expectations, and innovation, we must remain at the forefront of such change and deliver against our promise to provide “Unfair Advantage” through analytics and insight in programming for communications and marketing excellence.  Jenn’s appointment signals our keeping ahead of the curve in this regard.

Question:  That’s a great segue. Can you talk a bit about Jenn’s role?

Jim Weiss: We are all very excited about Jenn’s new role.  She has responsibility and oversight for three of our operating companies — W2O wcg, W2O twist and W2O pure – enabling me to expedite scaling and focus on continued growth, both in the U.S. and EMEA, and further integrate and build out W2O sentient and W2O marketeching, its dual operating and specialized services firms focused on analytics, digital, creative, content distribution and PESO analytics and media.  She will also continue her Client Service role ensuring we are addressing our client’s evolving needs in a digital time.

With the firm’s growth, this move is part of our planned succession strategy for healthy scaling and creating entrepreneurial running room for talent throughout the firm.  Jenn has been an integral force over the past 12 years, helping the company grow from approximately 25 people in two offices to its current size across the U.S. and Europe.  She has served in a number of leadership roles at W2O, most recently as Chief Operating Officer and Head of Client Service.  Previously, she led W2O wcg and W2O twist.

Jenn Gottlieb: I look at my role in terms of three specific areas:  First, it’s about client service against a backdrop of change.  This business is about one thing: delivering for clients. Second, it about talent.  Developing and growing our staff to further their careers and build their confidence and expertise.  And third,  supporting Jim as he continues to ensure high growth and development including geographic expansion, especially within Europe and Asia, M&A, and most importantly deeper integration of our analytics and digital offerings into all of our client work.  This includes working with our outstanding Leadership Team as we evolve and build the firm based on excellence and our “Be The Best!” mantra.

Jim Weiss: Jenn’s promotion signals the opportunity to scale many of our tremendous leaders, all of whom have great potential to continue to innovate and collaborate with our clients and help them evolve their marketing and communications approaches through analytics, insights, and digital best practices.

Question:  Ok, one last question.  Can you share a few things about each other that would be of interest?

Jenn Gottlieb: Where do I begin?  I guess it started in the early 90’s when I was a senior at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School, and the head of the department was preparing us to go out in the world of Public Relations and she kept talking about this guy, Jim Weiss, who was already ‘making it happen’ at his first agency job and that he was a great example of what they like to see the first year out and we should consider calling him to network.  Well I didn’t call him but I did land an agency job right out of school only to run into this ‘make it happen’ guy, Jim Weiss, several years later as my client.  Having known Jim professionally for 25 years – from being the AE on that account to his day-to-day business partner today – I can tell you that nobody is as passionate, driven, inspiring, and committed than Jim. He and I have worked so closely that we literally know what each other are thinking on a daily, if not hourly, basis.  We both come from humble beginnings with tremendous a work ethic that started on paper routes and waitressing and we carry that into how we work and how we set expectations within the firm.   Drive, tenacity, grit, gut, passion, fun….they all define Jim and the list could go on and on.  Jim has been one of the most influential and impactful people in my life and I couldn’t imagine ‘making it happen’ with anyone else as we continue to build for the future!

Jim Weiss:  Jenn fits virtually every position in our firm – leader, client relationship manager, counselor, AE, marketer, and recruiter. She is one of the originals still standing from essentially the beginning, she has just about seen it all here.  She never says never and never says die – the embodiment of our cornerstone #MakeItHappen value.  Nothing really gets her down.  She brings people together, connects the dots and makes clients feel like the gold they are. We’ve faced our toughest challenges together and learned so much together.  We are the institutional memory of this place – a left and right brain in harmony.  She has grown to become a real leader beyond her and many people’s wildest dreams but it’s no surprise to me.  People are listening and following.  She is our conscience and our conscientious AE and fearless leader of clients and service par excellence.  Truly and deeply, without her, this place would not be what it is today, and what it will be in the future!

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Of all the things to think about as we begin a new year, one thought rises above the rest.

We need to keep it real and we need to keep it fun.  Yes, fun. If you aren’t loving it and having some fun, then you won’t do well for yourself, your team or your clients. It’s harder to win consistently unless you are having fun playing this game.

W2O Group had a break-out year in 2017 achieving outstanding performance. We exceeded our revenue target and improved in key areas of efficiency, profit margin and service. We are consistently getting better at how we allocate resources, manage services and develop talent.

We have work to do to further optimize these metrics, but every single one of you should be extremely proud of what you are doing to ensure we “Become the Best!”

As we look back on the achievements of 2017, we must now turn our attention to what’s ahead.  That’s the nature of business and certainly life. What makes our work so fulfilling and worthwhile is that there is no exact formula to produce magic. Solving complex business situations involves methodologies, data/analytics, insights, strategy, passion, experience, collaboration and sometimes a leap of faith, trusting your gut instincts.

If it was “Paint by Numbers,” then anyone could do it. It’s not.

I encourage you to celebrate the work we do for our client partners – as well as how we work together.  We need to recognize and share our magic, not necessarily to promote ourselves, but to learn from what’s working well and to instill an attitude across the firm of what success looks and feels like.

This leads me to a key thought that should shape all we do in 2018:  Keeping the “Why” ahead of the “What.”

We can never let the things we do replace the reasons we do them – insight, purpose, efficacy and results.

It’s always about the conditions and situation in which we involve ourselves. It’s about how we care for our client partners and the promises we make and, above all, how we respect and treat each other internally in the process of delivering on those promises. The more fun we have doing it with both with our clients and with each other, the better the results in my experience.

It’s too easy to default to the products, services, capabilities and models as a foundation for ascribing value. Are they important?  Yes. Do they differentiate us?  Yes. But, do they define us? Absolutely not!

This is something we must work on diligently all year to keep our north star intact.

As we go forward, let’s look at what we did learn this past year:

1. Technology “giveth” but can also “taketh” away – What I mean is that technology provides an ability to become smarter about purchase habits, behaviors, interests, opinion formation and predictive tendencies. By the same token, it can also disguise itself, confusing the truth and skewing reality. It’s imperative we pressure test everything we think we learn and everything we do, so that the integrity of the work is maintained.

2. Being Innovative comes with a cost – We continue to invest in our capabilities and in so doing disrupt the status quo. However, innovation cannot be optimized if our clients and our own teams are not engaged and getting their hands dirty in the insight and requisite benefits in programming and execution that it engenders. In 2018, it’s critical that we work with our clients to better translate data to insight to action. In so doing, move from intuitive-based solutions to precise communications throughout the marketing and digital spectrum.

3. Insight Integration is not a theme – Rather, it’s how we conduct our work.  Period.  Every client engagement. Every strategy formulation. Every program development. Every execution. Every measurement framework. All will be influenced and informed by insights generated from data/analytics.

I can assure you that 2018 will be every much what we experienced last year and probably more.  While there are no guarantees in our lives or our work, there are a few things you can expect at W2O:

Learning & Development – We are investing in myriad training/development efforts on your behalf to better grasp everything from understanding our models, methodologies, and approaches, strategy development, program planning, manager effectiveness, consultative techniques and financial acumen. Keep asking for it and participate vigorously.

Diversification & Integration – We are continuing our efforts to strengthen integration of people, processes, capabilities in our work. This gives us the best chance at success in the marketplace. And gives you an opportunity to learn new skills and techniques that will enrich your career and professional standing.

Opportunities to Grow & Advance – We are scaling very quickly and with such growth comes new and interesting opportunities for career advancement and growth. This is what keeps W2O Group an incredible place to build your career.

So, please reach out to your colleagues, managers and leaders, and acknowledge the great year we just had thanking them for their efforts.

And then, embrace the year ahead and the expectations before us with a renewed sense of purpose, respect, diversification, integration, curiosity and learning. Let’s defend and maintain our no-assholes, no politics or game-playing culture. Let’s be direct with and responsive to one another and continue results-oriented discussions and constructive debates that focus on results vs. activities. Finalize your personal quarterly goals with your manager based on our overall business goals, because if you don’t know where you are going, you can’t get there.

Think bigger, better and bolder.  And for the love of the game, have some fun!

Please accept my sincere wishes for a healthy, happy and productive 2018!  And see you all along the long hallway soon.



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Most of us start our careers off before we actually build the tools to be successful in our jobs. My experience is a good example of starting out green, and, at times, unprepared for day-to-day duties in the PR and Marketing world. However, it is also one of learning quickly and working smart to taste success and satisfaction early. The following tips and examples won’t necessarily guarantee raises or promotions, but should help any early-stage career PR professional lay a foundation to achieve highly, while still having a smile on their face as they rise through the ranks.

1. Put Your Best Foot Forward

Not long ago, one of my supervisors gave me some invaluable career advice. She said, “Focus on making your boss look as good as humanly possible”. Even if we still need to learn the basics of our job functions when we start a new position, volunteering to jump in not only helps our bosses and teams, but also helps us grow faster in our careers.

During my earliest days at W2O as an intern, I learned how to take efficient, direct, and well-formatted notes. My first notes, however, were completely inefficient, indirect, and ill-formatted. It took multiple one-on-one meetings with my manager to work out the kinks of how to take notes. Since fine-tuning my approach, I now feel confident taking notes during every meeting I attend, so others, like my boss, won’t have to. This helps her and our whole team stay organized and aware of next steps on projects we are delivering.

2. Get Involved with Company Culture

A great way to gain exposure with your boss and senior leaders in any company is to immerse yourself in the office culture. In 2016, I planned a Pi Day pie baking contest for my office. Not only was that event delicious, it also brought people from different departments together. Everyone from executives to associates enjoyed the event, and gave me props for planning it. Furthermore, putting on a successful event allowed me to teach one of my peers how to plan the 2017 iteration. She did a tremendous job with it, and it felt good to help her get the same exposure I was going for the previous year.

3. Keep Track of Your Accomplishments

When I’m not planning bake-offs, I am leading projects for different global and technology brands. Let’s be clear: the PR and Marketing agency world is a client services industry. It’s important to be involved in office events, but it’s even more important to make sure the clients you represent are happy with what you produce on their behalf. After all, that’s what keeps the lights on in our offices!

It’s especially useful for someone just starting off their career, to keep track of positive feedback you receive from your clients. That’s why I have a folder in my email entitled “Positive Client Feedback”. It’s as simple as that. Moving glowing emails from my inbox to that folder is a small, but extremely motivating, pleasure. It inspires me to continue to learn and, in turn, set myself to earn raises and promotions.

4. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for What You Want

I don’t just let that positive client feedback folder collect dust. I use it as leverage when discussing my career with my manager. It’s easy to make a case for raises and promotions when you put your best foot forward, get involved in company culture, and document your accomplishments. Whenever my boss wants to know how things are going, I can show her a list of how I’ve grown and what I’ve achieved recently, backed up by my positive client feedback folder. It’s true, it can be daunting proposing a raise or a promotion. That said, I’ve found it always gets easier each time I do it, provided I have the evidence to prove that I am ready for the next step in my career.

In two and a half years at this company, these steps and strategies have helped me grow, and, more importantly, have allowed me to enjoy my W2O journey tremendously.

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