Nestled in the West Loop, one of the city’s trendiest neighborhoods, sits the Chicago office of W2O, the leading independent provider of analytics-driven, digital-first marketing services and communications to the healthcare sector. Here in the Windy City, a crew of communications professionals, marketing experts and analytics wizards are on a mission to make the world a healthier place. Amid a global pandemic, W2O (like many other companies) has shifted to working from home, yet its entrepreneurial and mission-driven culture continues in a virtual setting.
We had the opportunity to chat with three leaders from the Chicago office: Anita Bose, Chief Growth Officer, Bryan Specht, Group President of Transformation, Consumer Health & Marketing, and Chuck Hemann, Practice Leader of Integrated Intelligence & Activation. They shared what makes W2O special, the Chicago team’s unique culture, and how the firm has evolved amid the pandemic.
What attracted you to W2O?
Bryan Specht: I’ve always loved purpose in my work, and I can’t think of anything more important than healthcare — the pandemic has only underscored that for me. The power of the work we do is totally mission-driven, plus I get the opportunity to work with amazing people. The W2Oers I knew before coming onboard were all-stars and incredibly intelligent, and just good, decent people aside from their smarts.
Anita Bose: For me, it was the opportunity to work with brilliant, dedicated people and interesting clients who are at the heart of healthcare, which is a passion area of mine. The opportunity to pursue my passion within a fun, entrepreneurial and exciting culture is what attracted me to W2O and what’s kept me here.
Chuck Hemann: The culture of W2O is why I’ve come back to the firm twice. Most agencies have a goal, and they start on a straight line to achieve that goal, but something shiny usually catches their eye, and it takes them off course. I’ve known Jim Weiss (Founder and CEO of W2O) for over a decade, and it’s always been the same mission, he’s always kept us all on the same path, and it gives us something to shoot for and a north star to guide us.
How would you describe our company culture?
Bryan Specht: I would say a defining pillar of our culture is the entrepreneurial spirit. I’ve worked at many agencies, and the entrepreneurial opportunities here are incredibly real. One of our key values is “Build Yours,” and it’s legit — if you want to make something happen, you can. This idea of entrepreneurialism isn’t superficial or empty; it’s ingrained in our identity.
Anita Bose: There are so many elements that make up our DNA. We’re fast-paced — we’re more fast-paced than many agencies, and most agencies are known for being a high-speed environment. Aside from how quickly we move, our environment is collegial — we really enjoy spending time with one another at work and outside of work. Pre-COVID-19, of course, this was much more feasible, but even as we’re working from home, we’ve found ways to connect virtually and hang out because we genuinely enjoy each other.
Chuck Hemann: I agree with Bryan. Our entrepreneurial spirit influences who we are, what we do, and how we make the world a healthier place alongside our clients. As a Practice Lead for our Analytics team, I see the development of tools or solutions come from staff in a diversity of roles. It isn’t just executives who develop product ideas; it’s people who are knee-deep with the clients all the time who come up with these solutions. You’re not just handed something to execute here, and you don’t need permission to reimagine and innovate. Plus, the idea of reinventing isn’t limited to solutions or products — it applies to your career too. When I first started at W2O, I was doing social listening, then pivoted to digital analytics and social measurement work, and now I’m involved in the paid media world.
Bryan, you’re relatively new to the team, and starting a new role during a pandemic must come with challenges. Can you share your experience of W2O’s culture in a virtual setting? How do you think our virtual environment will impact the firm moving forward?
Bryan Specht: It has been challenging, especially with the way I work. I enjoy visiting offices, meeting people in person, brainstorming on a whiteboard, and being able to truly connect as human beings. That said, there are a few silver linings. When you’re new to an organization, there’s a galvanizing effect when everyone faces the same challenge at the same time. Certainly, we’re all facing the challenge of navigating this pandemic, but we’re in it together. The other thing is, we’re going to be so much more digitally connected and prepared when we come out on the other side. In the same way, we see the acceleration of digital transformation in healthcare; our teams will be much more comfortable with the virtual elements of work.
The Chicago office is known as a microcosm of W2O. Can you share the uniqueness of the Chicago team?
Bryan Specht: I haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing the culture of our Chicago office in person (yet!), but what I’ve experienced virtually is that it’s warm, it’s inviting, it’s fun, and you need that because our work can be really serious.
Anita Bose: I think the Chicago office has the most fun culture out of our 17 offices worldwide, though I may be biased. In all seriousness, developing a solid culture for our Chicago office is something that Chuck and I really prioritized from the beginning. But the people truly define it. We have a great diversity of age, background and functional verticals within the company. We also thrive on being connected and hanging out with each other. That was easier before COVID-19 hit, but even as we’ve worked from home, we’ve had virtual events, and we’re having a virtual holiday party later this month. We continue to be a cohesive, collaborative bunch while finding moments of levity, even during a challenging time.
Chuck Hemann: It’s everything Anita mentioned, that is our Chicago office. The only thing I would add is our office has a Midwestern sensibility that reflects who we are as a company. We certainly work hard, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously. There is a humble, understated yet confident personality in the people who work in this office. That helps us attract candidates from a variety of different places.
Can you describe some of the existing work or upcoming work that you are excited about?
Bryan Specht: One of our next frontiers includes consumer health, which I’m excited to activate from our Chicago office. There’s an exciting opportunity to take brand building and the consumerization of health and apply that to the health and wellness space.
Anita Bose: We’re doing some very cool work across biopharma, across retail and across health delivery companies. We’re continuing to go after some really innovative healthcare clients beyond who we’re already fortunate enough to partner with, and we’re looking forward to continuing that work in Chicago.
Chuck Hemann: We have a lot of traditional PR and communications work here, and we have a lot of digitally-focused work that I look forward to evolving and continuing. We have also innovated our performance marketing capabilities here in Chicago, which has moved across our firm, which is exciting to see.
The last three questions are rapid-fire and Chicago-inspired:
White Sox or Cubs?
Bryan Specht: Cubs
Anita Bose: Cubs
Chuck Hemann: Can I say neither? Chicago is where I call home, but I’m from Cleveland, so I’m not too fond of either team, especially the Cubs.
Looking towards the future, when you are back in the office in the West Loop, what is the first thing you are going to do?
Bryan Specht: Eat a bowl full of peanut butter filled pretzel nuggets, one of my favorite snacks. I know we have amazing snacks, and among those is peanut butter filled pretzel nuggets.
Anita Bose: Pull out the bar cart for an office happy hour — we have such a good bar cart!
Chuck Hemann: Hit up one of our neighborhood bars with the whole office — I miss doing that with the team.
Describe the city of Chicago in one or two words?
Bryan Specht: Hard-working
Anita Bose: Food haven
Chuck Hemann: Authentic
Interested in making the world a healthier place? W2O is hiring.