Reddit has more than 36 million user accounts and receives millions of daily interactions. It may not be mainstream enough for our parents however Reddit’s specialty is creating small communities through conversation threads across a variety of topics.

We are beginning to see celebrities, authors and public figures leverage Reddit’s platform with its “Ask Me Anything” thread, aka AMA. It is a useful tool for building transparency with a brand, and an opportunity to ask well, anything.

AMAs must be approached with caution, since although you don’t have to answer all the questions posed to you, those thought starters will still be put out for all to see on the web. Reddit users (or Redditors), as explained by our very own W2O Digital Prophet Allie Lee, are not easily deterred, and are determined. “When doing an AMA, or using Reddit in general, assume your audience is tech savvy, intuitive, has common sense and is knowledgeable about your industry/topic/subject. They can track your IP address, they can spot when a media representative is talking instead of the person the AMA is focused on, and they will delve into your past if they suspect something.”

As you can imagine, this can lead to some pretty tricky situations for someone in the public eye (anonymous AMAs can be held as well, usually on a very specific topic or experience.) Allie recommends going through the “Reddiquette” before any interaction on the site

They key to a good AMA is to let the Reddit users guide the conversation. They want a genuine, interesting, fun interaction, and forcing a brand’s agenda won’t get the desired response. Let’s look at some examples of how AMAs have been used to help (or hurt) some personal brands.

The Good: Using A Reddit AMA To Build Your Personal Brand

Sir Patrick Stewart participated in an AMA, boosting both his personal and professional brands, and at the same time promoting his new show Blunt Talk. The key here is that promotion of the show was not the main goal, but rather a fringe benefit. An AMA can be incredible self-brand builders, and he knew how to cater to his audience. Instead of redirecting every question back towards Blunt Talk, he answered questions like “How did it feel to carry the Olympic Torch?” and “Do you ever ride the subway in NYC?”

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The subtle way of working in Blunt Talk showed up very minimally, in his introductory post:

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The Ugly: Woody Harrelson AMA Debacle

Trying to navigate an AMA when you are promoting something, as many public figures will do, can go one of two ways. 1) You have fun with it and answers questions like “Which would you rather fight, a horse sized duck or a duck sized horse?,” or you can be impersonal and too focused on your own project, like Woody Harrelson was with Rampart back in 2012. Harrelson brought every answer back to the movie, i.e. not the purpose of an AMA. For example, one person brought up a story of Woody allegedly crashing a prom. The response?

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Reddit users were very quick to doll out backlash and reiterate the purpose of an AMA. The lesson: be prepared to be honest and expect the unexpected. Reddit can be notoriously harsh and in this case, incited a media storm outside of just the Reddit community. They even started a meme to mock the interaction.

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So what can we learn from these? Influencers use AMAs to connect with their audience, from Elon Musk, Bill Gates, to President Obama.

Have you ever participated in an AMA? Share your engagements and ideas below! Get upvoting people!

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We were wondering what the entertainment habits are for millennials vs. boomers, so we did our latest survey on this topic.  Here is what we discovered:

 Millennials really do like to exercise – One might think Millennials only relax via texting, social media, or playing video games if we play to stereotype, but Brittany has always vouched that they are not as reclined as we think. More than half of the Millennials we surveyed said they would rather spend time outside or exercising in order to relax.  The rest of Millennials, of course, were split up between going on social media, watching a movie, playing video games or doing something else that didn’t involve breaking a sweat.

The new play station is the phone – millennials used to have to wait to get home to play a game via their play station or Xbox or computer.  What an enormous drag on their time.  Now, games can be played anytime, anywhere on your phone.  It’s clear that millennials, who have grown up with phones and know all of the tricks of how a phone can really work (unlike the boomers) prefer to play mobile games.  Brittany will often play 2048 on her iPhone when waiting in line at the Smoothie Bar, for example.  Bob just gets a smoothie and is thrilled he did this vs getting a milk shake, which is what he really wants.

“Game churning” is the new normal – It’s quite difficult to ask any millennial what their favorite game is, and that is because of the variety of games/apps available today. They tire of games quicker than in the past, since you can play more frequently.  There appears to be a fatigue factor with any game that is simply reached quicker when you play today due to this frequency.  Millennials don’t think twice about deleting the app or throwing out the game and picking up another one to play.  Game churn is real.  Popular games for Millennials, at least who we heard from, include Heads up, Candy Crush, FIFA, Madden, Call of Duty, 2048, Bubble Shooter, and Tinder (if you consider that a game).

Big screens still win – 63% of Millennials surveyed said that their favorite place to watch a movie is on their TV at home and 25% would rather visit a movie theatre. Back when the Boomers were growing up, that was the consensus as well…yet there wasn’t an option to show a movie on one’s iPhone, tablet, iPad, computer, etc. It is looking like big screens will continue to win when it comes to entertainment.  Gaming on a phone, sure.  Sitting down to watch a movie for 90 minutes?  The couch and a big screen will always be more fun.

Laughing is important…for every generation – When quickly asked, “What is your favorite genre of movies?” a typical reply is “Comedy, why?  Simple. No matter who you are, everyone always wants a good laugh! Millennials are all about the humor and positivity that comedic movies give off…and that’s no different than a Boomer’s opinion.

Four habits fill up our free time – If you give a Millennial 25 free minutes, they’re probably all going to be doing the same exact three or four things: sleeping, watching Netflix, checking up on social media, or working out. When we have an extra 25 minutes, we tend to either distract ourselves, do minor tasks, or sleep…which shows Boomer Bob what he has always been saying may be true. If you are distracted constantly via text, email, or other interruptions…we don’t bounce back well and we will do things of lesser importance.  He wonders if these 25 free minutes are really us dealing with the interferences of life or are we truly finding time to replenish our soul, so to speak.

Ubiquity of content leads to binge watching of TV Series – if you can watch your favorite content on any device anywhere you are, your habits change.  For Millennials, 85% prefer to watch episodes from a TV Show Series, rather than a single movie. The ability to watch anywhere, anytime plus Netflix and Amazon’s services leads to binge watching and binge watching favors television series.

Are you really paying attention? – It is becoming more prevalent for us to watch TV or a movie, while we are checking a second screen.  We asked Millennials what exactly they are doing on their second devices while simultaneously watching the TV. Most are on Instagram or Twitter, checking up on latest posts. The rest are split between Snapchat, texting, and even shopping online. Basically, no matter what is on the big screen, something is competing against it for our attention on the small screen.  Even Bob does it now and then.

Thanks for following our series.  Our next blog will be an interview with one of the world’s top experts in understanding children and entertainment, Ms. Nancy Zweirs.


Best, Brittany & Bob Pearson


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Jim Weiss (CEO and Chairman – W2O Group) and Cathy Baron Tamraz (CEO – Businesswire) kicked off this afternoon with a PreCommerce Talk about Business Wire, which is the leading global commercial news wire.

Here is a summary of highlights of their discussion.

Cathy talked about how Business Wire now uses Content Capsules to share visual content along with news.  She talked about the importance of Business Wire’s reputation, much in keeping with the philosophy of their owner, Berkshire Hathaway and, of course Warren Buffet.  It is clear that Cathy treats the news of its clients as a treasured asset to be protected at all costs.  Right on.

The press release, by the way, is now 101 years old, according to Cathy.  Jim asked if the news release is still as important as it has been in the past.  Cathy gave the example that Apple utilized Business Wire to introduce its new watch.  Great way to answer the question succintly.

Jim discussed how W2O is partnering with Business Wire via NextWorks, led by Tim Bahr.  Cathy said that Intel is using the capsule, as well as Xerox, Cigna and more.  The key is that people are staying on the site for more than five minutes on average, which is far more important than counting clicks.  This portable website allows people to consume content anywhere, anytime and get the full story without having to travel to other locations.

In the Q&A, Cathy was asked “what about small companies who no one knows…what do they do?”  Cathy said you should not make the assumption that no one is watching….a release can be a great idea to get the word out for small businesses.  In fact, Business Wire built its business serving small companies that have grown up over the years, such as HP.  Jim added in that you can also identify the right influencers and keywords, so you help people find your story, which is important for any size company.  So if you are building a company out of your garage, Business Wire is an important part of your arsenal.

Jim ended with discussion of the concept of Storytizing…..and emphasized it is really about what others say about you, not what you say alone.  This speaks to the 1 and the 9 of the 1,9,90 model.  Empowering our audiences to tell our story is always the most powerful way to go.  Business Wire gets the word out….and great stories take it from there.  The fundamentals remain clear and simple.  The hard part is creating compelling content.  That’s on all of us.

Best, Bob

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We closed out the PreCommerce Summit with a far-reaching heck of a futurist discussion when David Kirkpatrick’s interviewed VJ Joshi.

David: What did you do after leaving HP?

VJ: I wanted to learn about Healthcare and startups. Working with startups in terms both consulting and some investment.

David: What are you most excited about?

VJ: Data insights and intelligence; genomics, nanotechnology and robotics. Those trends will change everything. Those are the boundaries where innovation is going to happen.

VJ Joshi interview with David Kirkpatrick

David: Where are the advances? What kind of things are possible?

VJ: There’s progress in Tool automation; also getting into better understanding our subconscious. How we see things, how we feel things; virtual reality and Oculus Rift/ virtual reality; another area of interest: changing the neural pathways; How to change behavior (drug addicts)? Change the way of thinking, create new neural pathways.

Learning a language in two months, maybe even two days. How we learn can be enhanced dramatically. Not science fiction, things will happen within 10 years.

Think about the Terminator point of view; seeing related information about people in real time, customized ads in retail products, etc.

Augmented Reality: If kids can play with 3D models, that’s a way to enhance education; Magic Leap technology blending technology in real experience.

David: How is this relevant to Marketing?

VJ: Technology could enable new ways to reach an audience in ways that are deeper than we think about now: How can I affect a potential customer’s thought process?

Worth worrying about manipulation?

I’m on the optimistic side of the equation. Think of VR in terms of military tactical preparation. Understand people are concerned with privacy. But there are many possibilities.

David: Know you’re working with companies re: implants. Can you talk about it?

VJ: Cochlear implants are one example; Eye implants to affect rods and cones to improve vision; Ex: Rabbits can’t see red, but they can with these implant’s; Ex: Seeing through fog; improving upon our natural capabilities.

Increasing life extension, improving quality of life are health areas worth focusing on.

David: Intersection of technology and humans… how does automation and robotics displace jobs?

VJ: I have a more positive view, am more optimistic; it is complementary. We will learn important skills faster; It will enable us to work on more important things; solve bigger problems.

David: How does education change?

VJ: It opens up lifelong learning, no more 8 years of going to school. Replacing certain jobs will allow people to focus on solving hard problems. People will get more specialized learning, they will focus more on niche areas.

David: Regarding your years at HP: What was the best learning?

VJ: Take risks on people; empower them to focus on innovation; when I took over printing in 2001: people said you can’t grow. VJ thought they could grow 6% that year and beyond. We had great people to figure out higher-end printing; faster printing, 3D printing, etc.

Tech landscape: So many companies paralyzed by fear from innovation coming from startups. Do you worry about it?

I do worry about it. Companies aren’t focused enough on true innovation. Research is tied too close to earnings and profits these days. Too focused on the near term, meeting quarterly revenue and profit numbers.

David: End of industries: Traditional models don’t apply; Uber and Airbnb are disrupting businesses they arent even in. Do you believe big businesses should think about that? Definitely.

Audience Q&A:

Are you saying William Gibson right?

In terms of possiibilities, yes. Check out a company called Nanovision; William Gibson’s vision won’t be accurate, but aspects will be there.

What do you think about Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus Rift?

Augmented reality and virtual reality are sexy topics. Already real applications happening in military; repairing jets, VJ: seeing the manual while you are working; Facebook and others are thinking about next-generation computing technology;

David: virtual and augmented reality distinction will go away… when Zuckerberg bought Oculus, he said he was buying it’s the next generation of computing; Microsoft HoloLens. Google is working on similar technology. Started with Google Glass.

What about location-based technology?

More advances on current technology… Won’t need maps when visiting new cities; Dynamic ads that are tailored to you as an individual.

What about natural language speech recognition? Google Hiring Ray Kurzweil

VJ: Yes, it is huge, but it is related to virtual reality machines. Lots of peripherals will emerge, just like the PC space.

Linguistics based approach vs. Programming language approach; Microsoft and Google are working on real-time language translation. Effectiveness will continue to improve.

The next economy were all these technologies converge is the Molecular Economy. That’s where we are heading;

Google Glass: Going into a store seeing personalized ads; Creates privacy issues.  Are you concerned about that?

Would you wear glasses if they allowed you to see through fog? Yes. Adding useful capability is key.

Technology is in the hearts and minds of the people who use it. In your view, what are the threats to innovation;

David: Security is an issues. Macro-point of communication; ICANN is really worried that countries won’t use it; different standards; the app economy mirrors that from a content perspective; but app development is siloed; that fragmentation is real; VJ: I hope we are still appreciate nature; the beauty of outdoor activity and the physical world we live in. I hope we don’t ever lose our appreciation of that.

David Kirkpatrick (CEO – Techonomy)

Bio: Founder, host and CEO of Techonomy, David Kirkpatrick is a journalist, commentator about technology, and author of the bestselling book “The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company that is Connecting the World,” published in 32 countries. He spent 25 years at Fortune, and founded and hosted its Brainstorm and Brainstorm Tech conferences. Inaddition to writing to Techonomy, he contributes to Forbes and Vanity Fair. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

David Kirkpatrick






VJ Joshi (Former EVP Imaging & Printing – HP)

Bio: VJ Joshi served as an Executive Vice President of Imaging and Printing Group at Hewlett-Packard Company from 2002 to 2012, and served as its Executive Vice President of Imaging and Personal Systems Group. He retired in 2012 after a 32-year career at Hewlett Packard Company. Since 1989, he held various management positions in Imaging and Printing Systems, such as Phogenix Imaging LLC and Immy Inc.. He has been a Director of Harris Corporation, Director at Yahoo! Inc., and serves as a member of Dean’s Advisory Council at the Rady School of Management at the University of California, San Diego.

Vyomesh Joshi






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In case you weren’t able to livestream our 5th Annual PreCommerce Summit here in Austin, here is a quick summary of Bob Pearson interviewing “The Facebook Effect” author David Kirkpatrick.  Below David shares his thoughts on his very first impression of Mark Zuckerberg, his thoughts on cyber security and what he thinks China is doing right in mobile, technology and social networking.

David shares his thoughts about Mark Zuckerberg.

David talks about the recent Sony hack and claims that no company is actually safe.

David discusses why China is far ahead when it comes to mobile, technology and social networking.

Bob Pearson (President – W2O Group)

Bob Pearson, President W2O GroupBio: Bob Pearson is the president of W2O Group. Before joining W2O Group, Bob was the vice president of communities and conversations at Dell Inc, where he was responsible for developing an industry-leading approach to the use of social media. Prior to Dell, Bob worked for Novartis Pharmaceuticals as Head of Global Corporate Communications and as Head of Global Pharma Communications, where he served on the Pharma Executive Committee. Before that he was the President of the Americans for GCI and was previously Vice President of Global Public Affairs & Media Relations at Phone Poulenc Rorer (now Sanofi Aventis). Bob is also an author, “Precommerce,” frequent speaker and blogger on social media, as well an instructor for Rutgers center for management and development and the Syracuse Center for Social Commerce.


David Kirkpatrick (CEO – Techonomy)

David KirkpatrickBio: Founder, host and CEO of Techonomy, David Kirkpatrick is a journalist, commentator about technology, and author of the bestselling book “The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company that is Connecting the World,” published in 32 countries. He spent 25 years at Fortune, and founded and hosted its Brainstorm and Brainstorm Tech conferences. Inaddition to writing to Techonomy, he contributes to Forbes and Vanity Fair. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.




For more information on our SXW2O events and speakers, please visit our website:

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As many of you know, we are fast approaching SXSW Interactive. As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, we will have our 5th Annual PreCommerce Summit on the Thursday before SXSW (March 12). Leading up to that event, I’ve asked a number of our speakers to do brief Q&A blog posts. The questions vary depending on the speaker but you will start to see a common theme emerge.

Scheduled contributors include:

There will be several others that we add to the mix but as you can see, we will work hard to make your brain hurt leading up to our events.

If there are any of our speakers in particular that you would like to see an interview with, just let me know in the comments section or tweet me at @aaronstrout.

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Welcome to another Going. Ahead. With Gage interview! I had the privilege of interviewing Gary Grates, principal at W2O Group overseeing the Corporate and Strategy offering across our network, who shared insights on being a leader and the key characteristics for being successful in today’s changing environment.

I hope you all gain some valuable insights and enjoy the read!

What are you doing to ensure that W2O Group is at the cutting edge?

I think the biggest thing that I or anyone can do, is to make sure we are differentiated and innovative in how we approach and solve opportunities and challenges.   The key is to constantly question what we are doing in the context of what clients need. Every single day in every single situation we should question whether or not we are truly solving anything – are our models helping our clients see the world in a way they didn’t before, helping them build influence, conveying their story more clearly, helping employees have a stronger line of sight between their job and the market place, and pushing clients to shift mindset and behaviors in order to succeed.  You need to wake up every day and question if these things are happening.  The key question we ask:  “What am I chasing?”

The exciting part of what we do is that we are building business, attracting iconic brands, engaging in challenging assignments and creating a strong position in the market place. In order for us to maintain the momentum we must ensure that our work exceeds expectations.  And to do that, we must comprehend how we got here by looking around and saying that’s not good enough, so we stay here by continuously saying: “that’s not good enough.”

Gary Grates2

How do you notice when it’s working?

It’s actually pretty straightforward.  First and foremost, it begins with establishing a relationship with client based on being a “partner”.  It’s making sure that we are as smart about the situation as possible by understanding the clients business completely, including their strategy, vulnerabilities, and prospects.  This begins with our team which must be a student of business, but also a student of life, and by that I mean that we have to understand human interaction and technology with how we relate to each other.

For example, when I was at General Motors, Cadillac achieved a rebirth after years of languishing.  To begin that process, the CMO stated that the only business goal that year was to get people to “say Cadillac again” when discussing luxury cars.

Why? Because people hadn’t talked about it in 25 years.  To do that, PR, communications and marketing worked together to achieve “brand harmony.”

On a tactical level, the company commissioned the Led Zeppelin song (“Rock and Roll” as in “it’s been  a long time since I rock and rolled…”), to be the anthem for the Cadillac renaissance.  The song, ads and newly designed portfolio all clicked raising the brand’s profile and persona for a new generation of buyer.

The take-away is that the company did not make selling 100,000 Cadillacs that year the goal.  It completely understood that before people bought again they first needed to believe!  Believe in Cadillac as a concept, as a brand, as a lifestyle.

From this example, I realized that as a communications partner our opportunity is to drive relevance for a brand, organization, product or service.  To move people into believing.

The real test is working every day and listening to what works and what doesn’t.  If not, it’s what Jim always says, “Fail Fast” and move on.

In a few words, describe the work your team is involved with?

Everything we work on is essentially around reputation.  How an organization is perceived from an employee, customer, influencer, investor, etc., perspective. .

At its core, reputation is about trust.

From a practical standpoint, we engage in a number of assignments including M&A integration/assimilation; Change Management; Internal Communications; Executive Positioning; Labor-Management Relations; Strategy Dissemination;  Crisis and Issue Management; Corporate Reputation.

Thinking of your most successful current employees, what characteristics do they share?

Number 1: Curiosity is the single most important characteristic for success in any field.  Curiosity means an insatiable thirst for knowledge.

In my own experience, I came to W2O Group to get scared again.  To be challenged.  To seek out new methods and models.  It’s what keeps you motivated and confident.

It’s what makes you invaluable to clients and staff.Be Curious

One of the things I also get involved with is teaching at Syracuse University (the alma mater to Jim, Jenn G, and a host of other firm staff) and as such, what I look for in students is the curiosity quotient. Are they digging deeper?  What are they asking to get smarter?

Number 2:  The other essential characteristic is one’s ability to articulate a Point-of-View including writing, speaking, debating, etc.  You have to be able to articulate, make an argument, stress a point, and tell a story. If not, you can’t succeed.

How do you empower your employees to do their best possible work?

Two things:  Trust and Support.

Trust their judgment, knowledge, intent, etc. to do the right things.

Support them whenever and wherever necessary.

What’s truly valued by a client is perspective and experience.  Ensuring that you capture instinct, with perspective and experience through trust and support is important.

How do you encourage creative/innovative thinking within your organization?

The only things you can do are to encourage it, model it and reinforce it.

This starts with collaboration on the team. We share and engage each other on what people are doing on accounts, and we write numerous articles and blog posts on various topics reflecting our work.   We basically translate real time learnings and lessons into thought leadership as a seamless way of learning, growing, and developing.

Encouragement also means bringing in new thinking and identifying opportunities   for new people within the firm.  For example, Jackie Stahl worked on a change management assignment for GSK in Belgium this year and brought new insights and thinking to the table.  From there, she shared the experience conducting a Break to Educate session and corresponding blog post.

Doing so has motivated others to leverage experiences with colleagues and get involved in different types of work.

What is the most difficult leadership decision you’ve had to make in the recent past?

Probably the most difficult decision was to advise a client that a prospective strategy they were about to embark on was not going to work.  This was after much time and effort by the company to develop the approach and plan and gain buy-in internally.

Fortunately, the client appreciated the candor and manner in which we argued against the decision and accepted our counsel.  The new strategy is being implemented as we speak and is already getting the results expected.

What did you learn from that experience?

To always go with your POV and to be honest in your arguments.  You won’t always win but you will garner your client’s respect.

You’ve got to be very honest with yourself and confident in your judgment.

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For any of you that have seen our Live from Stubbs video podcast series, you are familiar with our format. Our guests include CMOs, book authors, innovators and other movers and shakers in digital. We ask them about business, music and BBQ. Our original vision for the show was to also include musicians as part of the series. Well, that day has finally arrived and we are honored that legend in the making, Lord Huron, was our special guest.

BUT… this time around, we decided to focus on the music in the video formats and kept the interview in text format for you all to read. We do have video of the original if you would like us to share it with you privately but in the meantime, we hope you’ll enjoy the interview and more importantly, four songs that the band played for a small audience at historic music venue, Stubbs BBQ here in the live music capitol of the world, Austin, TX.

Aaron Strout: Hello, welcome to a very special edition of Live from Stubbs, we are here at Stubbs at the inside stage today and were really excited to be here with the band, Lord Huron. We have Ben Schneider who is the lead singer, founder of the band and guitarist. We also have Mark Barry who is the percussionist and producer and then I am joined by special guest today, Jim Rudden, CMO of Austin-based Spredfast. I am Aaron Strout of W2O Group and we’re going to have fun today talking to these guys about their music, some BBQ, and what they’re doing these days to engage their fans.

Jim Rudden: I’d actually like to start with the art… I read online that a good way to think about Lord Huron is as a visual art project supported by music. Would you agree with that characterization or how do you all think about it?

Ben Schneider: If you want to enjoy the music, that’s cool. But there are all these other elements that you can kind of dig deeper and get into if you’re so inclined. Beyond music, there’s art to look at, there’s videos to watch, there’s other ways to engage and live inside universe if you can.

Aaron: Mark, you joined the band about three years ago. What did you think when this guy said… ”Here’s my vision”

Mark Barry: We grew up together in Michigan and I’ve always known him to be such a creative guy and he put the first EP together and played it for me while I was in Nashville. I thought it was crazy amazing so I called him up on the phone.

Ben: Yeah, he was session musician in Nashville and luckily had a pretty flexible schedule.  I had been offered a couple of shows but didn’t know any musicians in Los Angeles really because I wasn’t in that world; I was more in the art side of things, at first. So he was the only guy I knew to call… the only one I knew that had the skill to help me get this thing going. He helped me get the band together and found some really great musicians right off the bat, thanks to him, and we’ve been at it ever since.

Jim: I want to go back to the experience you mentioned. You know Aaron and I come from a digital media/ social media world so we’re fascinated by some of the things you guys are doing. In particular, the post cards, can you talk a little bit about the genesis of that idea and how it’s played out… maybe what’s next there.

Ben: Yeah, you know a lot of people started to lament the loss of physical copies of music. You know a lot of people think that’s gone because nobody buys albums anymore in that way. The reality of it is now there’s a whole other sort of playing field we can use which is the internet. For me, it’s just another way to expand the universe that we’re trying to create. Every little bit of content that we can get out there and express our point of view and our aesthetic and hopefully get people excited about it… we take that opportunity.

Aaron: You’ve opened for Dave Matthews Band, you’re opening for Alt-J now, you were on the Leno Show, and we heard that your song was on the show Nashville’s premiere the other night. This has got to feel pretty exciting. How do you guys take that in? What do you make of it and how do you keep grounded in all this coolness?

Ben: We’re just moving so fast that its hard to really gauge. All that stuff you’re talking about is great but we don’t even think about it that much because we just keep going.

Mark: Since we’ve been playing music together since we were 12 or 13, it’s what we’ve always wanted to do and now it’s happening…so we’re just riding with it.

Jim: So have you evolved a specific song-writing process?

Ben: We’re still sorting it out to be honest, since it started with just me, I tend to be the one that starts all the songs and gets them sort of into shape at first and then I share it with the guys. Mark helps me arrange stuff and all the guys contribute different parts so it’s really just a work in progress. We did that one record and before that it was just me doing the EPs by myself so we’re kind of just letting it grow naturally and be what it wants to be. There’s no set prescription for how any of it works, at this point.

Aaron: That’s cool. Inevitable there’s always a favorite song and then there’s the song that you really feel passionate about. Is there a song that you guys have written recently that either may be popular or not that really speaks to you?

Ben: A song like “She Lit a Fire” which wasn’t a single at first but we noticed people at shows were really responding to it. That was a cool feeling. That was one of the first times where I saw someone singing the lyrics in the audience. That’s a surreal feeling- first time you see that it’s very odd.

Aaron: What do you guys listen to? What’s on your iPhone or your MP3 player these days?

Ben: There are definitely some common influences for us. I think all of us are pretty big Paul Simon fans… you know the classic American stuff like Bob Dylan. Everyone listens to a lot of country and we let that all in but world music is big too. I know Miguel is really into Indian music and I’m into African and Middle Eastern stuff. I think what’s been cool about this project in particular is I haven’t allowed myself to deny any of my even somewhat guilty pleasures. I just let all of the stuff that I like influence the music so I think that’s been one of the reasons why its been success. We’ve just accepted all of that, not trying to be cool or anything just try to make music that we like.

Aaron: Well and I think you’re being somewhat timeless if you’re able to do that, right. You’re not pinned to a particular “oh this is what was hot in 2013”…

Ben: Hopefully not. And we occasionally get lumped in certain genres that are happening right now that in some ways I see the connection and some ways I think wow “we seem totally different from that” in my mind. In an ideal world, people are listening to music without any pre-conceived notions at all but I understand those things help us. I’m sure they’ve hurt us in some ways but getting anyone to listen to the music is really all we want people to do.

Jim: We’re here at Stubb’s BBQ, one of the capitols of BBQ in Austin, TX. You guys have been out on tour there’s St. Louis BBQ, then there’s Memphis BBQ, then there’s Texas BBQ…. do you have any favorites?

Ben: I’ll take it any way I can get it to be honest. I do like Texas BBQ… every now and then I feel like a dry rub or St. Louis stuff too… but I think Texas is my favorite.

Aaron: Want to thank you guys both for being here today. We have Mark Berry and Ben Schneider of the band Lord Huron, we have Jim Rudden who’s the CMO of Spredfast, Aaron Strout of W2O Group. This has been a blast and I look forward to keeping an eye on you guys.

If you would like to watch the entire four song set, check it out here. Special thanks go out to my colleague, Michael Westgate, for getting Lord Huron to agree to do the interview with us and local video production company extraordinaire, UPG. They are awesome.

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A few times a year, there are certain publications that do annual directories (and sometimes rankings) of key players in the areas our company cares about — marketing, healthcare, technology, PR, etc. Here at W2O Group, those outlets include the likes of AdAge, PRWeek, Holmes Report, O’Dwyers and MM&M among many others. To that end, while we don’t get too hung up on where we are ranked, we do like to take a step back and “smell the roses” as our CEO and Chairman, Jim Weiss mentions in one of his answers below.

In light of the recent MM&M listings where the editors provided a review of their top 100 agencies (we are on page 184), I sat down with Jim and to ask him a few questions about the past, present and future of our firm:

  • [Aaron] Jim – we’re in our 12th year of being in business. Rewinding back to your early days of just a few of you working out of a single office in NYC, did you ever imagine that you’d be leading a nearly 400 person agency with 7 offices in the U.S. and London?
    [Jim] Well, it was actually only a few folks in San Francisco not New York City when we started over a decade ago — New York only came online as an office around 2005 or so in the second bedroom of Hala Mirza’s New York apartment — and no, I actually envisioned 350 people or so.  So, we are now beyond what I had imagined it to be and will now be working off a next 5-year strategic plan which doesn’t look all that different from the one from the prior 5 years. 
  • [Aaron] What is the one thing that gets you up every day in the morning?
    [Jim] My family and the promise of a new day.
  • [Aaron] What’s the one thing that keeps you up at night?
    [Jim] Real Housewives & MadMen episodes. But in all seriousness… it’s usually about feeling I or we are falling behind in some way vs. Going and staying ahead.  I have a great fear of becoming obsolete or irrelevant.
  • [Aaron] From whom do you get your inspiration?
    [Jim] Anyone who gives it their all all the time usually against the odds or expectations.
  • [Aaron] Seeing where W2O Group falls in the rankings or learning that we’ve made it onto the listing of the top 100 agencies in publications like MM&M every year serves as reminder of the progress you’ve made. Do you use these opportunities as motivation?
    [Jim] Actually the listings/rankings are a “stop and smell the roses” opportunity for all of us to step back and see the bigger picture accomplishments versus day to day minutiae and fire drills.  I am fortunate to sit in a place where I get to see the whole organization and the many ways we have gone ahead, especially in the last few years, where the change and accomplishment has accelerated and compounded more rapidly and markedly than ever before.
  • [Aaron] You’ve talked a lot about building the agency of the future that focuses on delivering “next practices” to clients. What’s next in this evolution for the firm?
    [Jim] Combining the power of our data-driven insights with automated marketing in the cloud with our human expertise and talents as the way the world does business changes.  I feel our business purpose going forward is to help corporations, organizations and brands evolve the way they do business and relate to customers and constituents in the modern digital age driven by mobile and online media.  Integration and collaboration are now the keys to our future with the same goal of becoming the best in the industry at what we do.  We will do this by hiring the best people, doing the best work and working with the best clients as well as through education, thought leadership, flawless execution, co-innovation with our clients and taking calculated informed risks where we fail and learn fast.
There you have it. Inspiring words from Jim Weiss, leader of W2O Group (parent of WCG, Twist and Brewlife). Lots more to come over the coming weeks. We hope you’ll join us in our brief “smelling of the roses.”

You can acces PDFs here of our listing on MM&M and Jim’s recent write up on PRWeek’s Power list.

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