The Insights Blog

Barry O’Neil named to executive leadership role at Mercer Island Group (plus his advice to marketers and agencies!)

Barry O’Neil named to executive leadership role at Mercer Island Group (plus his advice to marketers and agencies!)


As we look ahead to what undoubtedly will be another exciting (crazy!) year, we are delighted to announce that Barry O’Neil has been promoted to an executive leadership role at Mercer Island Group. In his role as Director, Barry will continue to lead major client and agency engagements while overseeing the building of even better processes that can help marketers and agencies succeed in 2022 and beyond.

Barry truly did some heavy lifting in 2021, leading a number of successful creative, media, digital, performance marketing and PR agency reviews. The media agency pitches he managed covered hundreds of millions of dollars of media investment. Barry’s promotion comes on the heels of client work supporting a wide variety of fine clients like Anthem BCBS, Holland America Line, UScellular, Ulta Beauty, Brooks Running, Seabourn Cruise Line and many fine agencies.

As our friend and client Beth More recently said “Barry is an integral part of the Mercer Island team, guiding us through rigorous searches for both a creative and public relations agency. He communicated at every stage of both searches and supported our senior leadership team seamlessly throughout the entire process.” High praise from an experienced and excellent marketer! And Beth wasn’t the only one singing his praises:

“Barry is that calm genius that every team needs. Smart, thorough, so easy to work with, and you can trust him to get you the best return on your agency investment.”

– Erica Hissong, VP, Anthem BCBS

“Barry has been such a pleasure to work with. He has made what would normally be a complex process extremely easy. He keeps us on track and does a great job of communicating with the agencies we are considering. Cheers to a well-deserved promotion.”

– Sharon Honjiyo, Holland America Line

“Barry is such an effective advisor! He’s helped my agency completely redefine our processes and strategic approaches with great success. Based on his help, our win rate went from 20% to 80% almost overnight and has remained that way for the last two years! All that and he is such a pleasure to work with!!”

– Mark Astone, CEO, Catalyst Marketing

Given how intimately familiar Barry is with presentations that “win”, we caught up with Barry and he shared some tips for how executives can deliver more effective and compelling presentations in 2022.

Barry, you’ve helped a number of agencies dramatically increase their win rate in major pitches. What are some tips you can give to agency executives – and anyone else trying to make a sale – for 2022?

Competitive pitches are a tough slog! You’ve fought your way through the RFP process and finally have a chance to show off your solution in the big presentation. In the lead-up, you hopefully did the hard work of analyzing their business challenges, finding rich insights to leverage, and developing a winning strategy. If you did all of that, you’re ready to share your solution in person (or over Zoom). Here are my favorite five tips to do so in a compelling way:

1. Use a manifesto to introduce the solution. The manifesto (text or video) acts as a sort of “mood board” to nudge the prospect toward thinking and feeling about your solution in a certain way. Done well, it can create a safety net around your proposal by making your prospects respond emotionally before they see the work.

“If you’re having a good presentation and you show the manifesto video, it pulls on their emotions, their heart strings, and they’re responding, or they’re smiling, and they’re like, “Yep. You nailed it.” It’s over at that point.”

– Mark Astone, Catalyst Marketing

2. Present your solution through your agency process. Assuming you arrived at your solution through your agency’s strategic process, now’s the time to show the prospect how you did so. Walk them through the steps, connecting the dots for the audience to build up support for the reveal. When you talk about the solution itself, pinpoint how it addresses the prospect’s specific business issues.

“Storytellers for the Information Age is our philosophy and One Story, Many Voices is how we do it. We live in this world where there is endless information. One of the jobs we have to do for our clients is boil down that information and compress it somehow in a structured way and then tell one story in many different ways.”

– Mark Figliulo, FIG

3. Don’t use formal case studies. Agencies often want to include past relevant experience in a pitch, which is the right instinct. Unless case studies are asked for, though, we don’t recommend sharing them in full, as the minute you’re talking about other clients is the minute the prospect’s attention drifts to their phone.

4. Instead of cases, name drop your related successes with “droplets.” Reference past successes succinctly in a way that directly ties to the current conversation. A droplet is simply a one-sentence description highlighting past work that is relevant to the prospect, including only the brand, the challenge, the strategy or tactic, and the outcome. It’s a quick way to add credibility and not lose the audience with a tangent.

“The client does not pay attention until you start talking about them.”

– Robin Boehler, Mercer Island Group

5. Prove you’re results-focused by telling them what you’ll measure. It’s one thing to share a great marketing strategy, but the prospect needs to fully understand how the investment will be quantified.

“I think it’s a huge responsibility when a client entrusts their business with me and my agency, because they’re hiring us to do a business outcome. I’m passionate about the results, and you’ve got to be relentless about it to get good business results. You can’t be casually interested in the data and the metrics to get good business results.”

– Dooley Tombras, Tombras

If you follow these five tips, you’ll be better prepared the next time you’re in the room, virtual or otherwise. After all your hard work, these tips should help you present your brilliant solution with clarity sans distractions, all while keeping the talk focused on the prospect and the challenges they’re facing.

Robin Boehler is a co-founder of Mercer Island Group. Robin has managed hundreds of agency searches and relationships for businesses of all sizes and types, like Ahold Delhaize, Starbucks, American Century Investments, PEMCO Insurance, PetSmart, Seabourn, Avis Budget Group, Sargento, Ulta Beauty, and dozens of other blue-chip firms. She also has consulted with a wide array of agencies including Digitas, Periscope, W&K, GS&P, Havas, Cactus, DNA, and many others. Robin is a frequent speaker, having presented and keynoted at events sponsored by the BMA, the 4As, AMI, and others.

Steve Boehler, founder, and partner at Mercer Island Group has led consulting teams on behalf of clients as diverse as Zillow Group, Microsoft, UScellular, Nintendo, Ulta Beauty, Stop & Shop, Qualcomm, Brooks Running, and numerous others. He founded MIG after serving as a division president in a Fortune 100 when he was only 32. Earlier in his career, Steve Boehler cut his teeth with a decade in Brand Management at Procter & Gamble, leading brands like Tide, Pringles, and Jif.