Microsoft. Starbucks. Sprint. These are just three of the clients Steve Boehler works with on a daily basis at Mercer Island Group (MIG), a consultancy he founded in 1990 that specializes in agency management and marketing and sales strategy.
"He is a great partner," boasts Anne Saunders, SVP of global branding at Starbucks, which has been with MIG nine years. "He's always delivered what we hoped, but added value and insight to the business that was unexpected."
Added value and long-term client health are Boehler's perpetual missions. And, he is a master of relationships and strategy. Ongoing agency performance appraisals keep him well-versed in client-agency relationships. Procurement and ROI are the biggest issues he sees between PR firms and clients.
"Client CMO life span is roughly a year," he says. "It's putting increased pressure on [being] short-term oriented. It's a challenge on PR firms whose work is long-term reputation.
"It's also hard for the PR industry to think long term about things like how to deal with ROI if clients are worried more about [the short term]," he adds. "[Clients] expect [the] PR industry will solve ROI, but they don't have time to talk about it. If PR can't figure out how to close the loop on ROI, it will be hard to maintain the same growth as other [marketing] disciplines."
Not surprisingly, the areas in which MIG has particular expertise - agency searches, relationship "fix it" counseling, contract negotiations, client-side marketing and sales strategy - are all booming.
Boehler has been refining his skills in the 17 years since he founded MIG. His first real breakthrough, however, came in 1991, when Microsoft asked him to help find a consumer-focused agency. That request put MIG on the map. Boehler has been a trusted adviser to Microsoft ever since, but Bill Gates' empire isn't alone in reaping the benefits of this relationship.
Nine years ago, direct-mail company Money Mailer was "floundering, says president Godfred Otuteye, who hired MIG to help. Boehler was "significant" in spurring a rebound by identifying and addressing the root of its problems and facilitating communication.
"We're not the largest client, [yet] he's never made me feel less important than Microsoft," Otuteye says. "To say he exceeds expectations is an understatement. He always puts clients' needs [first]."
A tech company recently asked MIG to assess product life-cycle performance compared with other tech companies. Boehler did that, but he also looked to the consumer products industry because "it does product life cycle better than tech." Thus, he offered additional, bigger-picture information adapted from consumer-product life-cycle practices that could help his client set a new standard in its industry.
Matt Driscoll, a consultant at MIG for eight years, deeply values Boehler's principles.
"He genuinely cares about people," Driscoll says. "It's not politics; it's just his personality. It's in his DNA. He's so genuine that when my 3-year-old calls the office, he asks [about] Steve. There are jobs where you have to make questionable decisions moving forward. I've never had to make a questionable decision here. We would never do anything that everyone in the company didn't feel absolutely good about."
Boehler thinks there will always was a need for consultants. "It's easy to lose sight of what's right for the long term or lose sight of the relationships," he says. "We're able to look at the big picture on [a client's] behalf and resist being completely sucked into the latest fire. While we're putting out the flames, we're thinking about what is right for the long term."
Mercer Island Group, founder and partner
Weyerhaeuser, president, DriPride Division (1989-90); VP of marketing, consumer products (1988-89)
Procter & Gamble Brand Management, various posts for various brands