Nearly thirteen years ago, our CEO and chairman, Jim Weiss, opened up a small healthcare PR agency in San Francisco called WeissComm Partners. The employees were a mix of former clients and colleagues and the focus was on helping a few customers better communicate with their key stakeholders. At the time, Jim envisioned that the company would eventually grow to 350 employees or more and would ultimately diversify beyond just PR healthcare. Little did he know how right he would be.

Fast forward to present day and the firm has grown from a half a dozen to over 400 employees across seven different offices including London. The company did $62 million in revenue in 2012 and has grown at a annual compounded rate of 40% over the last several years. In addition to its strong health care base, the firm now enjoys a broad base of clients including Intel, Verizon, Procter & Gamble, Hersheys, Michaels Stores, Kraft, Warner Brothers among many others. The agency’s service offerings have also grown well beyond just PR and now include a heavy focus on analytics, digital, media and engagement and corporate strategy.

In keeping with all these changes, the company’s name has also evolved. In 2009, the name changed from WeissComm Partners to WCG. In 2012, a parent company was created called W2O Group with WCG, Twist Marketing and Brew Life (that latter of which are newly created agencies) sitting underneath. You’ll notice in each case, the “W” or “w” has been carried through to represent our CEO and Chairman’s last name.

Over the last few years, W2O has been fortunate to not only experience rapid growth but has also been the recipient of a number of awards including digital and healthcare agency of the year. We’re also excited that Jim Weiss, the “W” in W2O Group has been named to PRWeek’s 2013 Power 50 list. In celebration of that fact, I’m asking my fellow W2O-ers to share a sentence or two in the comments below on their favorite thing or memory (remember this is a public forum) of Jim Weiss or their time at W2O Group.

Are you with me?

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As a young design professional in London, I can give you an extensive list of companies and organisations that graphic design students would really like to work for after graduation. You could even have a look at mine if you want.  You won’t find many differences among our lists, what you will find is one big similarity: none of them are usually in healthcare. Why? Because with all the ‘cool stuff’ around in marketing, healthcare isn’t associated with graphic design and creativity. But the truth is, working in healthcare requires a unique type of creativity at the intersection of compliance with brand strategy, creative integrity and regulatory stringency.  Sure, it might not sound like the trendiest sector to work in to a recent design grad, but in many cases it requires more creative drive, input and support than the traditional ‘cool’ industries.

Working with a ‘good looking’ brand is somewhat easy. Just take a look around. Billboard posters for cars, beers and deodorants, magazine ads for bags, shoes and watches, TV ads for phones, sofas and holiday packages; the list goes on. You can make pretty much make any kind of work look good if you’re working with something that isn’t very serious. But cancer or wet age-related macular degeneration are not good looking diseases. In fact, they are devastating.

So, how do you approach a project that requires a creative solution in order to communicate a message to an audience of stakeholders, scientists, advocacy organisations, doctors, caregivers and patients? They all have different needs. They all react to different messages.  They all are reached through different channels.

You start to wonder, ‘how does the graphic design I dreamt of doing fit into this picture?’ Well, let’s be honest, it doesn’t. It’s not Vanity Fair and it’s not Wallpaper*; it’s not even Scientific American. Designing for healthcare is a completely different arena, and you have to be prepared to change the way you’ve been playing the game. The way you use your tools, your thinking process, even your language has to adapt.  For me, the biggest challenge came when I realised I had to change myself and the way I work.

So I did it. I changed. Here’s how:

Step 1

I realised and accepted the fact that I work in a non-design related area (or at least the way I had initially thought of design and healthcare). Most of the people I work with probably don’t share my enthusiasm about grids, Pantone mugs or the Monocle magazine. They don’t even know what CMYK is. But that doesn’t mean they don’t care about what things looks like. And the truth is, if I can make the design AND the non-design people like what I have done, I have accomplished so much more.

Step 2

I learned to talk about my work like I did in university. I remembered the importance of presenting appropriately, explaining thoroughly and elaborating precisely. Most of the times I’ll hear one question, ‘why?’ I have learned to answer in a way that genuinely supports the strategic design decisions I made and the work I executed. And when I do that, they’ll mostly agree. Not always of course. But if they don’t agree, I have learned to listen and take their feedback, whether it be a colleague or a client, to make the next version something that excites all of us. Disagreement is part of the creative process in any industry– the only difference is in how we articulate and evolve the work.

Step 3

I embraced the challenges.  Anyone can make a nice ad for a Prada bag. But in pharma, the inherent limitations require us to be even more creative to bring the client’s messages to life. You might feel like you could have done more without the restrictions and guidelines, but then you remember that the design you just created has a purpose. That ad encouraged someone’s grandmother to get her eyes checked after her recent vision change, or someone’s dad to not just let the warning signs for a stroke pass him by without talking to his healthcare provider.

While I set out after university to make design for companies that I thought were ‘cool’, I am instead part of a creative process that aims to improve or save patients’ lives. And while that’s not what I had envisioned, it is something I don’t want to change anytime soon.

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The paragraphs below are excerpted from my recently-posted article in PR Week:


I recently contributed to another PR Week OpEd that asked the question:  What is the most important way in which the PR firm of 2017 will be different than the PR firm of today?

My answer was:  The PR firm of the future will not be focused solely on earned/unpaid media.  It will be a diversified firm that employs a variety of vehicles — digital, mobile, virtual reality — to deliver relevant content informed by predictive and behavioral data analytics to more precisely target customers, constituents and stakeholders and influence a desired action or decision.  It will deploy a strategic mix of paid, earned, shared and owned (PESO) media that can be monitored and measured directly in real time.

When I first saw the question my original thought was to answer that it wouldn’t be called a PR firm anymore.  But after more deliberation, I realized that was not at all the answer I believe.  I’ve long held that PR is a fundamental business function and can serve as a guiding light and central organizing principle for any business or organization …


To read the entire article, please click through to the PR Week story; PR Firms will Thrive in Big Data, New Media Age

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I recently had the opportunity to attend my second PR Week NEXT conference, an annual event for PR pros to learn from their peers and industry visionaries, debate hot topics and of course — network. I first attended this conference back in 2009 when the discussion centered on the way social media was rapidly changing the way we communicate, especially a relatively new concept gaining industry traction at that time: Twitter.

Much has changed over the past two years, so I was excited to participate in this year’s NEXT conference in NYC. It was a jam-packed and fun two days, and this year – like 2009 – the medium of choice to share learnings throughout the meeting was Twitter. So in the spirit of this 140-character age, here were my main takeways, in tweet form:

    • Twitter Insight #1: “S. Colamarino, VP Corp Comm @JNJComm: It used to be a 30 sec. TV spot and a PR campaign; 2day there is so much white space between the 2 to fill  #prweeknext”
      Much discussion at the NEXT conference was about how the communications paradigm, and the role of PR within it, is rapidly shifting. The sheer amount of “white space” through which we can reach audiences presents an exciting and often unnerving opportunity. As expert communicators, we must acknowledge and participate in this white space through masterful content development and syndication. During a panel featuring Edelman Digital’s Elizabeth Lee, J&J’s Sarah Colamarino and Unilver’s Christine Cea, we discussed the complex role that PR plays in the communications mix, and the importance of integrated, surround-sound campaigns. Yet even with all this change, one of PR’s greatest opportunities has long remained the same: tracking the bigger picture in real-time, and being nimble and brave enough to shift direction when needed.


  • Twitter Insight #2: “Elevate authenticity thru messaging, voice, content, participation and purpose  #prweeknext”
    The concept that I found most interesting, and the one that was explored throughout the conference, was “authenticity.” Sure, this term has become a bit of a buzzy cliché in our industry but the conference discussion explored it in a more meaningful way. By spotlighting companies and brands like Unilever and Avon, who demonstrate their commitment to authenticity through the successful “Dove Campaign for Real Beauty” and “Speak Out About Domestic Violence” campaigns, the conference focused on authenticity in action which only happens when companies are true to who they really are. In the cases of Unilever and Avon, this is achieved by being loyal to their core audience of women and focusing on issues that matter to them, so these programs come across as credible and logical – hence, authentic.

  • Twitter Insight #3: “A brand is a promise & a great brand is a promise kept. We need to be promise-keeping as well as promise-making  #prweeknext”
    Another great topic at the NEXT conference was about corporate social responsibility. CSR is not a new concept, but one that is easily misunderstood, misrepresented and definitely under-funded.  CSR is wonderful when executed with purpose, integrity and commitment, but this is where some (often well-intentioned) companies miss the mark. During one panel, Panera Bread’s Linn Parrish showcased Panera’s commitment to CSR through a successful program tightly aligned with its core values and products: “Panera Cares,” non-profit community cafes where people take what they need and donate their fair share. Once again, it all comes back to being authentic. When executed correctly and supported from the top down, CSR can elevate a company’s reputation among constituents and do a staggering amount of good for the community at large.
  • And Finally, Twitter Insight #4: “Don’t ask me ‘how can I help?’ but TELL me how you will help. Be specific,” suggests Kathy of @Discover #prweeknext”
    During a discussion on c-suite management, we heard from Discover Financial Service’s Kathy Beiser, who encouraged us to think critically about the value we bring to our clients. Beiser advised, “Don’t ask HOW you can help, TELL me how you will help.” It may seem like obvious advice, but it rang true, and applies to all industries. Think about it — how often have you called your client trying to be helpful and offering a vague but well-intentioned, “If there is anything we can do to help, let us know?” So the next time your client is in a difficult situation, devise a few specific, well thought-out suggestions and offer those up instead. The positive difference in response, and new opportunities it could present, may surprise you.
With all this in mind, my biggest takeaway from the NEXT conference goes back to a simple principle, which has withstood the test of time. Successful brands do what they say, and say what they mean. PR plays a critical role in conveying these intentions and achievements to audiences, and we can now share and manage this information in more targeted and meaningful ways than ever before. By listening to audiences and engaging with them based on those observations, we will always win.
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A big thanks to the folks at PRWeek and all the staff at WCG for a stellar year that led to the Editor’s Choice award for the top agencies to watch in 2010.  PR Week noted WCG’s growth in headcount and revenue, as well as rapid expansion of creative and social media capabilities, as indicators that WCG will indeed be one of the top agencies to watch in 2010.  Other agencies that were recognized include MS&L, Waggener Edstrom, Next Fifteen, and Ogilvy PR Worldwide.

From PR Week:

“WeissComm, once a traditional healthcare PR shop, used 2009 to expand its offerings further into social media and creative services through a number of acquisitions and hires. It says it expects revenues for 2009 to increase 40% year-over-year.

The acquisitions set a tone for the San Francisco-based agency, especially during a year where many firms were cutting budgets and staff. Going into 2010, it is well positioned for more growth.

With its integrated offerings, the firm is more than poised to take the lead as a counselor and strategist on issues relating to the FDA’s policy on online communications, healthcare reform, new technology, and the growing consumer health sector.

If the FDA develops guidance for social media and online communications, the firm, which has been a key partner in developing social media strategies for some of the largest pharma companies, can guide its clients through changes as a true adviser.

WeissComm’s acquisitions will also help it develop client relationships outside the traditional pharma and biotech sphere. Yet, many firms are remaining cautious about 2010. If budgets don’t increase and revenues stay flat, the agency could face challenges in maintaining its success.”

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