Hoping to better and more inventively serve a sector catalyzed by COVID-19, W2O has rebranded as Real Chemistry. The shift, revealed to the company’s staff on Friday and publicly unveiled this morning, reshapes the organization into one that is better able to sate the industry’s newfound appetite for disruption.
The change comes on the heels of a blockbuster 2020 that saw W2O boost its revenue to $334 million, a 67% jump over 2019’s take of $200 million (the 2020 sum includes revenue from companies acquired during the year, including payer specialist consultancy Discern Health). Head count also surged, from 926 at the end of 2019 to 1,519 a year later. Real Chemistry CEO and founder Jim Weiss said $500 million in revenue – rarefied air in the realm of health marketing agencies – is achievable by the end of 2021.
“Adding all these new people and capabilities and entities has been strategically and methodically curated, but the concept of collaboration and integration and connecting the dots – getting people to see one mission and dream together – the rebranding helps do that,” said Weiss. “It galvanizes people and brings them together. You can have all the technology and data in the world, but you need something to unite them.”
Weiss said the company’s leadership team view Real Chemistry as an operating platform of sorts, one that allows the former W2O to parallel the evolution of existing and would-be clients into tech-forward innovators. By more tightly bonding capabilities added during the organization’s acquisition binge to its more traditional advertising and public relations expertise, Real Chemistry expects to be able to accommodate an even broader range of client assignments and demands.
“If you’re not innovating across the entire patient journey, then you’re not innovating in healthcare,” said Real Chemistry global president Jennifer Gottlieb.
Founded in 2001 as WeissComm Partners, the evolution toward Real Chemistry began in May 2019, when W2O secured an infusion of resources from New Mountain Capital. “We’ve been changing since then into something that’s now coming together as a true healthcare company,” Gottlieb noted. “Through digital innovation and tech enablement, we’re supercharging the ways we communicate and activate.”
Even as its broader approach evolved, however, the organization’s move away from its previous moniker was not an easy one. “We rarely treat ourselves as a client,” Gottlieb said.
A little more than a year ago, Team W2O started conducting just such an exercise. “The impetus for me was, ‘How do we unite everybody here in a single mission? How do I get that collaboration and that integration?’” Weiss recalled. “I had this idea in my head that was circular rather than hierarchical. It was about bonding – things coming apart and coming back together, chemical reactions and catalysts.”
The pandemic lent additional urgency to the company’s self-analysis effort. “We knew that we wanted to come out of this pandemic completely transformed,” Weiss continued. “What we have now is additive…. Real Chemistry is the embodiment of all of our core values. It speaks to what we need to become the best at what’s next.”
No other names were seriously considered, Weiss added. Some of the company’s best regarded and most recognized brands, like W2O and 21Grams, will remain in play. The organization will continue to operate as a single P&L.
“The name ‘Real Chemistry’ had to resonate internally as alchemic of our teams and our people, but also externally in terms of how we operate with our clients,” Gottlieb explained. “We’ll always go out to market with a one-company approach. That doesn’t mean clients won’t buy into a specific area, but they know we’ll be able to come to the table with all of it.”
Weiss agreed, adding, “I look at it somewhat more simply and always practically: Entity-wise, we’re still very much the sum of the parts… We’re not tossing the foundation; the foundation is strong. We take a lot of pride in the fact that almost every owner of the firms we’ve acquired is still here and doing what they do.”
Clearly, Real Chemistry hasn’t paused to internalize the changes: Weiss reported that the company has hired 213 people in 2021, with more to come. Gottlieb believes this growth, in concert with the new model, uniquely situates Real Chemistry to serve the ascendant health and pharma vertical.
“It took a global pandemic for people to see all the innovation and value this industry is bringing,” Gottlieb said. “Its reputation has never been better. Now it’s our time to get in there and help companies realize all that is possible.”