BrewLife Video: Susan Parker

Get our take on what BrewLife brings to the table and why we’re all so passionate about working here.


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If you saw our original digital relevance rankings for the 2013 Austin City Limits Music Festival lineup, you’d know that we’re not only serious audiophiles, but we love to geek-out on predictive analytics too. I suppose that’s one of the benefits of working for  a S2aaS firm here in the live music capital of the world. Since our original ranking was run shortly after the ACL lineup release in May, we have seen quite a shakeup in the index.

At W2O, we believe that an individual or brand’s digital relevance is nothing more than word-of-mouth chatter translated into bits and bytes. Applying this model to the ACL lineup, we think we can predict buzz-worthy acts by monitoring their growth in online engagement. The bands I’ve listed below may not necessarily have the highest relevance scores, but they have enjoyed tremendous growth since May. This could be due to a number of factors including record releases, summer tours and festival performances, or maybe even tastemaker endorsements. Though it’s not a perfect science yet, we’d be surprised if there weren’t a few breakout stars in our list. Of the movers-and-shakers, here are my top 5 must-see’s:

1. Typhoon

2. JD McPherson

3. Wild Nothing

4. Wild Belle

5. Dana Falconberry


Check out our Spotify playlist and in case you missed it the first time, have some fun with the original W2O Ranks infographic below. You can play videos, engage with the artists, and share with your friends all from within the image itself. Hope to see you at Zilker Park!

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Tom_HaanTom is one of the original brains behind BrewLife’s formation. Now, as Managing Director, chief brand strategist and client lead, Tom loves what he does so much that he’s always plugged in. Always, except for one glorious week every year when he goes off the grid and runs a bar called the Sunrise Saloon at the Burning Man festival in Black Rock City, NV.

Prior to BrewLife, Tom worked at our sister company, WCG, and also alongside Paulo Simas and Matt Dong at ODA—a design and branding agency acquired by the W2O Group in 2009. He has an English degree from Princeton and MBA from UCLA Anderson School of Management.


 What hats do you wear at BrewLife?

Externally, I work directly with clients on their positioning and make sure that their brand strategy is aligned with the market opportunity. This often involves a bit of soul searching to get to the heart of what makes a client special and why this uniqueness matters to its audiences. A solid positioning strategy then serves as the foundation for every marketing tactic we develop for clients across all communication channels from digital to advertising to PR.

I am also involved in a fair amount of new business development, helping to present our capabilities and working with prospective clients to sort out their needs. Often a company will come to us asking for a specific tactic like a website, but when we peel back the onion we find they need to refine their overall strategy first. 

Internally, I play a pretty hands-on operational role in driving our resourcing and establishing our processes. BrewLife has only been up and running for a little over eight months, and so we’re still ironing out some of the infrastructure kinks to set ourselves up for future growth.


What keeps you coming to work every day?

When you boil it down, we really are in the personality business. We help clients find their voice and articulate their value to the world. I dig helping clients get to the core of what makes them stand out. Brand development really amounts to taking a journey to the heart to unearth what makes a company shine. This journey intrigues me and keeps me coming back for more.


Do you have a guiding philosophy? 

Well, one phrase I’ve come up with along the way is: “Going to work on Monday wishing it were Friday is no way to go through life.” One of the keys to having a fulfilling life is to love what you do. Find something that inspires you and pursue it with all you’ve got. Then it becomes less of a “job” and more of a way of life. I’m passionate about helping companies build their brands, and this keeps me fired regardless of what day it is.


 What stokes your creative fire? 


One particularly “unique” experience that I’ve been going back to for years is Burning Man. It’s an arts festival in the middle of the Nevada dessert that now attracts over 60,000 people. This year will be my 11th pilgrimage to the event, and I just love the atmosphere it creates. The barren dessert is the perfect canvas for a fabulous display of artistic ingenuity: Big art, small art, intellectual art, outrageous art, and totally interactive art. For me, each trip to Burning Man charges my creative spirit, and I return to the real world inspired to help others be true to themselves.


What would you be doing if not this?

I’ve got three kids (ages 9, 7, and 5), and the more I’ve volunteered to help in their classrooms, the more I can picture myself teaching school and coaching sports. 


What’s fueling you today?

My go-to kick-starter these days is a granola bar and a banana smoothie. 


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Despite Edelman’s recent announcement that the PR firm is going to stick with what they’re best at (PR / Earned Media), there is no doubt that most agencies are converging their offerings, crossing swim lanes and aiming for the “integrated” value proposition. As a smaller firm (425 employees is relatively small in the agency world), W2O Group has been able to pivot and grow in this direction more quickly than others. Rather than hearing, “Oh, you’re the PR firm,” or “You guys are the digital agency,” we’re frequently hearing, “Where do you guys fit? Who are your competitors?” For us, this is a great place to be.

As we made the transition from a PR heritage, there is a critical but often overlooked mind shift that accompanied this change. This is the mind shift from people asking, “Can I Do It?” to instead asking, “Who Is the Best Person to Do It?”

Traditional public relations is inherently a “jack of all trades” or generalist discipline. Although things have evolved and become increasingly specialized in recent years, traditional PR firm staffing charts really showcase only one kind of talent – “Account” people. These people may be better or worse in different areas, but for the most part are responsible for planning, monitoring, writing, executing, client service, measurement, etc. In this sort of agency structure, people are rewarded for “wearing many hats” and being able to get things done on their own. In a nutshell, when a project comes in, they learn to first ask, “Can I Do It?” and if the answer is no, then look for help elsewhere.

Advertising and digital agencies, on the other hand, are inherently specialized in their staffing mix. You’d never find a copywriter also doing the measurement report or executing a media buy, and digital agencies are required to work more collaboratively given the diversity of technical skills that are required. In these constructs, people are rewarded for efficiency in their tasks, fitting into the supply chain, and knowing their role. When a project comes in, they learn to ask, “Is it My Job?”

Over the last 5 years, W2O Group has transitioned from a PR firm into an integrated marketing leader in the digital world. Perhaps the most important learning has been defining the middle ground between the generalist approach of PR agencies and the supply chain approach of Advertising agencies. Successful integration requires a different staff mix and approach to the business than either legacy model. Three things stand out as being critical:

  1. Having the right structure – if PR firms are a soccer team (anybody can score, defend, etc.) and Ad agencies are a basketball team (the Creative all-star with a team of supporting role players), the successful integrated marketing firm is a football team with a strong quarterback and a wide variety of players who are all excellent in their positions.
  2. Having the right people – not everybody wants to be integrated or specialize in their position, and lots of people would prefer to pad their own stats rather than let somebody else carry the ball when it’s the right play call.
  3. Having the right mentality – there are two mission critical perspectives.  The first is to always start by asking, “Who is the Best Person to Do It?” and the second is to approach every conversation by first assuming your colleague wants to do the right thing.

It took us a while to first understand, then plan, and finally institutionalize these three success factors at W2O Group.  And, as some people opted out for more traditional jobs, we learned that it wasn’t what everybody wants.  But, as the fastest growing agency of our size for several years now, we’re pretty confident it’s what clients want, and where the market is going.

One thing Richard Edelman nailed in his AdAge interview – the marketing mix is going to be jostled over the next decade, and Paid Media will no longer eat like a King while Earned, Shared, and Owned fight over scraps from the table.  We believe clients will need integrated partners to navigate this transition, much like Edelman believes they will need agencies who are good in their traditional disciplines.


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When Randy Scott, CEO of InVitae and former CEO/Founder of Genomic Health, asked us to provide communications and strategic support for his bold vision of aggregating all of the world’s genetic tests into a single assay with better quality, faster turnaround and a lower price than most single-gene assays today, I thought: InVitae epitomizes the type of client BrewLife stands for! They represent a revolutionary technology platform and an emerging company with a big story that will change the future of medicine in a complex marketplace.   

SF_officeSince we officially opened the BrewLife doors during the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in January, we’ve been attracting new clients like InVitae non-stop, sharing our secret sauce and experience with them. We are now working with emerging companies and brands such as Esperion, SOTIO, Singulex, Teleflex, Loxo Oncology, PetGenius, AliveCor, iRhythm, Coravin and Sequenta, to mention a few—all drawn to our combination of Ph.D.’s, MBAs, former in-house communications executives, and cutting edge creative and digital experts.

At BrewLife we are passionate about our clients, teasing out their story, what makes them special and, more importantly, why it matters. Through our immersive process, we have developed stories for clients going through successful IPOs, preparing for commercial launches, creating a new brand and identity, as well as guiding CEOs through binary milestones. Having spent most of my life in-house at very visible companies, I know what value proposition clients are looking for. Our promise to current and future clients is to apply the right people with the right skill set to help reach their business objectives. 

Since we launched our new company within the W2O Group family, we’ve been enjoying a fun and collaborative office space, mirroring the entrepreneurial spirit of our clients. We are in high growth mode and expect to hire more of the best to serve our clients both strategically and creatively.

Come visit us soon. And stay tuned for more success stories from BrewLife!

Paul Laland

 Paul Laland, Managing Director

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Since the debut and launch of Video on Instagram on June 20th, there has been much chatter about whether or not it will be the death of Vine, an app that was launched by Twitter in January 2013. Vine allows users to easily create 6-second looping videos and has become one of the biggest app market growth stories in recent history.

With Vine’s engagement levels through the roof, it was only a matter of time before Facebook, Twitter’s biggest adversary, noticed the massive growth and jumped on the opportunity as well. Video has become the fastest growing ad format worldwide. Sarah Wood, co-founder of video tech company Unruly suggests, “Vine and other platforms, most recently Instagram, are leading a revolution in social video sharing.”

As far as one replacing the other though, Vine and Instagram videos are two separate entities. Each app’s users have developed their own culture within the apps. Vine is much more oriented towards design thinking—the Vines are clearly thought out, crafted and constructed, and include some sort of mini concept in the short repeating video. With only 6 seconds, users are compelled to think critically and more creatively, especially with the looping aspect.

Brands love Vine because, unlike Instagram, Vine videos can be embedded anywhere and shared on any website. This allows brands to reach their audiences where they live, in more personal ways than before, and eliminates clicks for viewers. (In recent weeks some crude online tools have become available that will take your Instagram url and spit out a chunk of code.)

Video on Instagram on the other hand, is constructed for consumption and more artistically oriented, weighing more on the experimental and picturesque side, essentially a picture that you would normally take but now it moves. The videos on Instagram of course aren’t just pretty skyscapes with moving clouds—brands have jumped on creating their own advertising via Instagram.




View Instagram video >


But Video on Instagram is still in such an infant stage, we are yet to see what style and voice the user community will define for it. When asked about the 15-second choice vs. Vines’ 6-second cap, Kevin Systrom, CEO of Instagram replied that 15 seconds was “an artistic choice” and “I don’t think we designed it with any advertising in mind, we started with the user”. Although he did state that “We’re perfectly happy with how businesses are engaging with Instagram, which is organically.”

There are obviously overlapping aspects of the two apps, but each serve separate purposes and have their own voices as defined by the community of users.

I find Instagram to be a more intimate and personal space shared with my friends, and I continue to appreciate still pictures; those carefully manicured moments of your life that we showcase on Instagram. Adding video erodes that as Jenna Wortham for The New York Times writes “video is imperfect and we want to show our perfections.”

Vine is a place to scroll different interesting little videos that are insanely creative but do not necessarily have the personal connection that Instagram does. It’s as if Vine turns everyone into video editor, like in film school; straight from the can to the projector. The trendy videos are self-consciously constructed and not necessarily about that person’s personal self.

Since June 20th, Vine shares on Twitter have fallen while Instagram shares steadily increased but only time will tell how much ground Vine will lose. And whether users will decide if the two can live in harmony.

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One of the many things we pride ourselves on at W2O is not only our ability to communicate externally, but internally as well.  We do everything we can to keep each office abreast on internal happenings. Whether it’s new hires, new business, kudos, etc., we want our whole company to know about it and thus, take an active role in making sure these messages are reached to all employees.

Distance and location may geographically divide each office, but the hallway between is always open. A perfect example of this was made by the Los Angeles office which, in little over a year, grew from only 5 people to 19!  With video engagement across the digital space exponentially rising, the LA office decided to forgo the standard interoffice email and send this out, so that their co-workers can place faces to the names, and have fun in the process. Enjoy!


Place a face to the name as you meet the team that is W2O Group’s LA Office. It only takes 90 seconds!

– Melanie Weiss and Scott Kramer

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When I was in journalism school in New York, in the 1990s, one of my classes took a field trip to Bloomberg News, then an upstart wire service. After our tour, we had a q-and-a session Bloomberg’s editor in chief, Matt Winkler. The first question to Winkler was a good one: what was Bloomberg’s best scoop in its young history. Winkler’s response was immediate: one of his reporters was the first to report that tobacco companies were in settlement talks with state attorneys general. As I remember Winkler’s tale, the reporter had literally tracked down top attorneys general in the woods, hurried back and filed the story on a Saturday night. It was hours before the competition matched the news, a major feather for Bloomberg.

“But wait,” my classmate interjected. Who, exactly, was reading the Bloomberg wire at 11 p.m. on a Saturday night? Or, to be cliched about it, if a story breaks in a forest and there is no one to read it, does it really matter?

The famously tempestuous Winkler’s face reddened. “You’d better believe Ted Turner is watching our wire on a Saturday night.” Pause. “Or he pays someone to watch us!”

Winkler’s point was simple: important people read what Bloomberg had to say. Readers paid tens of thousands of dollars to be in the know, and Bloomberg was 100 percent dedicated to serving that small group. They didn’t need a million eyeballs. All they needed was the attention of Ted Turner and a handful of other moguls, execs and investors. And for those folks, the tobacco scoop justified the cost of the content.

I’ve been thinking back to that early interaction with Winkler lately as the evidence has piled up that the future of the newspaper industry will be funded on the back of digital subscribers: those who have anted up (or will ane up) to be let through a paywall. The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellent in Journalism says that 450 daily newspapers in the United States have a paywall in place. And Newspaper Association of America said that digital-only subscription revenue jumped 275 percent last year. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a business model.**

This has major implications for how we can examine influence online. There’s still an assumption that the valuable content is the content that’s shared (for an in-depth look at the future of viral news, check out the New York profile of BuzzFeed), but creating viral isn’t the only way to success. The other path, the Bloomberg-esque path, is to create content that’s so valuable that people will pay for it. The knee-jerk reaction used to be that, in a world of nearly infinite information sources, no content was worth actual cash money when there were free alternatives. But that thinking is out the window, disproved by the 640,000 New York Times digital subscribers, the 1.3 million Wall Street Journal digital subscribers, and the thousands of readers at smaller papers who are also voting with their pocketbooks. (Heck, the Rutland (VT) Herald has 5,200 digital subscribers. Not bad for town with a population of 4,954.)

This is good news. It frees newspapers, somewhat, from the tendency to serve up stories that are “viral” or “shareable,” which is altogether different from what is influential, in the traditional sense of the word. As I write this, the most-shared Buzzfeed post is a series of photos of a baby surrounded by bulldog puppies. The New York Times’ most-blogged content over the past week, in contrast, was a preview of President Obama’s budget. People who follow the Buzzfeed trends are likely to be popular with their friends on Facebook, but are going to have a limited impact on society. Those who are reading paid content, on the other hand, those are the people who will be busy moving the world.

(Of course, paywalls are porous and, of course, nearly all web content remains free. But in an era where quick decisions and in-depth information are increasingly prized, those who find workarounds to search for information will be at a disadvantage to those who have it delivered, fresh and unrestricted, to the device of their choice.)

The rise of paid online content and, more important, the rise of an influencer class that is consuming this information, has the potential to re-shape online authority, putting power back in the hands of those with the credit cards. In 1997, when the Bloomberg settlement story broke, the most influential people in the tobacco world were the ones who paid thousands of dollars to have a Bloomberg Terminal on their desks. Today, as in 1997, if you want to be an influencer, you’re going to have to pay for it.

** I’m ignoring the fact that the growth in subscription revenue doesn’t come close to offsetting the still-plummeting advertising revenue. There will clearly be more pain in the years to come. But it’s also clear that subscription dollars are likely to be a stable source of revenue for the foreseeable future. 

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During my Microsoft days, it was sacrilegious for me to own or support anything produced by Google. They were the arch-rival, the antithesis of establishment, and the pesky yet incredibly agile innovator. These days I fancy myself as an impartial tech enthusiast and avid believer in free market forces, and like my fellow Austinites I can barely contain my excitement over Google Fiber’s expansion into the heart of Texas. From this marketer’s perspective, the rising tech-tide will lift all boats.

Infrastructure costs/timing/regulations aside, let’s assume the Google Fiber announcement signals a not-too-distant future expansion of affordable broadband to the masses (Google or any other ISP). Consumers and brands alike should have plenty of reasons to rejoice. I’ve explored only a few of the reasons below, but as always I’ll welcome your feedback.


1.  The entrance of new broadband technology puts pressure on established ISP’s, which drives down cost, boosts service quality, and ultimately drives more rapid innovation

  • Benefit: affordable and flexible internet, cable, and wireless plans
  • Caution: the hidden cost is privacy, Google now knows EVERYTHING about you

2.  Ubiquitous connectivity leads to the genesis and availability of value-added on-demand services and applications

  • Benefit: a fully-connected and “always-on” home, internet in every device in every room and on every street corner, startup paradise
  • Caution: “with great power comes great responsibility” – once again buh-bye to privacy

3.  Enhanced digital access leads to greater interactive and connected experiences for events, products, and services

  • Benefit: adding a social “surround sound” to your favorite shows, concerts, and shopping experiences
  • Caution: human social interactions regress exclusively to six second loops and 140 characters


1.  Expansive broadband will enable rich, high-fidelity media options, ultimately enhancing commercial experiences and customer touchpoints

  • Benefit: videos, banners, and ad placements won’t be device or bandwidth dependent, technologies such as augmented reality can flourish
  • Caution: brand saturation and customer intrusion, focus on consistent/relevant vehicles and messages

2.  Increased interactivity –> bigger data

  • Benefit: digitized dialogue can lead to loads of data, which can be distilled into insights revealing unmet customer needs, market opportunities, and competitive activity
  • Caution: data and insights are not synonymous, and organizations can drown in irrelevant datapoints

3.  Organizations can separate themselves from competitors with the adoption of digital collaboration tools, which will be critical for partnerships, employee and team dynamics, and customer connection

  • Benefit: no longer will you be constrained geographically for access to talent or customers, face-to-face interactions can literally happen anywhere, any time, on any device
  • Caution: as Marissa Mayer discovered, remote-connectivity may actually depress productivity, and sometimes there’s no substitute for the good ol’ fashioned water cooler

Google’s investment in Austin perpetuates our reputation as one of the most innovative, vibrant, and exciting cities for commerce and entertainment. We have a unique combination of academic thought supported by The University of Texas, and an active, diverse, and growing population of progressive thinkers, resulting in rapid startup incubation and corporate growth. You couldn’t design a better petri dish for invention and investment. South by Southwest, Austin City Limits, and Formula One may be the most recognizable symbols of our city’s distinctive culture. But those of us living here know that beyond all of the bells and whistles, it’s really just a damn cool place to be.

(Check out the video here)

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