A Q&A with BOCA’s new GM Merrill Freund and Founder Kathleen Shanahan

By April 9, 2018Public Relations

Merrill’s Take on Joining BOCA

What drew you to BOCA initially, and what excites you most about working with BOCA?

My sweet spot and passion for PR has always been working with the technology innovators that are disrupting established markets and changing the way people work, play and live. Having worked with BOCA’s founder Kathleen as well as several of her senior team members earlier in my career, I know she and her team share that same passion.

I have been extremely impressed by BOCA Communications and the amazing work they have done for their clients. Joining the firm is a great opportunity to collaborate with a smart group of people and extend BOCA’s enviable client base, team of great PR professionals, and the company’s brand + footprint in Silicon Valley as well as all over the country. We are going to have a lot of fun doing it.


You’ve had a long career in PR. How is BOCA different than the other agencies you’ve worked for?

Agencies are always a reflection of their founders and senior leaders, and I have not worked with  anyone with more passion and heart for her clients, her people and her craft. Kathleen views her professional universe as an extension of her family and is committed to creating a win-win situation for all of her family members. This infectious approach has helped drive successful client outcomes, superlative PR careers, and a tight BOCA culture and community. Employees even named the culture: #BOCALife.

BOCA’s client base is very strong and I am impressed by the roster — both current and past clients. The firm has taken so many disruptors through successful acquisitions by industry giants such as Cisco and SAP. BOCA also represents amazing brands in B2B high tech, digital health and life sciences.


What do you think makes a boutique PR agency stand apart from its competitors?

Regardless of size, agencies are defined by their people and approach. A client’s agency is only as good as the people on its team and the focus of its work. To attract and retain the best PR people in the industry, the top agencies create a culture that motivates and inspires them to do their best, provides them with the training and support to learn and grow, and challenges and rewards them for excellence.

I am going to bring it back to clients and passion again. BOCA’s passion and commitment to its clients is impressive — I’ve never seen that level of passion to drive results forward. They strategically partner with their clients to come up with highly creative campaigns that drive results that consistently go above and beyond.


What are some of the greatest challenges PR agencies face today?

The biggest challenge that agencies face today is the same one that they have had for years: identifying, nurturing and retaining the best talent in order to deliver great client work. The options for PR professionals continue to grow — from giant, multinational marketing firms to midsize and boutique agencies to sub-five person consultants, not to mention physical, virtual and hybrid structures. The result: Agencies must ensure they are creating the best working environment and culture that rewards, motivates and inspires people to do their best work every day, and to feel like they are in a career, not a job.


How will you measure your success as a General Manager a year from now?

There are two answers to this question.

First, you inherently know when things are working. There is positive and growing energy in any successful company that is tangible and powerful. I have experienced this throughout my career and it is infectious and grows like a giant snowball.

Second, there are clear metrics that measure the health and momentum of an agency, including client retention and satisfaction, employee morale and culture, revenue and profitability, and company achievements and awards. These metrics, both individually and collectively, will give Kathleen, myself and the BOCA management team a good framework for assessing our level of success.


Kathleen’s Perspective on the Firm and on Merrill Joining the Team

How has your vision for BOCA changed over the past five years?

My vision has always been to create a top-notch digital PR agency that provides outstanding client service and impressive results along with a culture that makes people feel like they are part of a family — a key value to BOCA Communications. I wouldn’t say there have been any formalized vision changes in the past five year. What I will say, though, is that it is time for people to take notice of BOCA. We are so laser-focused on our clients that we’ve had a bit of a “cobbler’s shoes syndrome.” I want the industry to take notice of our great work. I am proud of the BOCA family, proud of our clients and proud of our work. #BOCAlife: Live and love your colleagues and our clients.


How will Merrill help you see the agency’s vision through?

I am so excited Merrill is joining our team. He is a stellar PR professional that delivers great client results. He is also super funny and smart. He “Slacks” out witty comments to the team. I love that. So, from a vision perspective, I look forward to him keeping our great client momentum moving forward and adding his personality into our group. All that said, I believe he will extend the BOCA brand and I hope that the industry sees that BOCA bringing on its first-ever General Manager to help me steer the ship means we are stepping up our game even more.

This is a big win for our clients too. Merrill brings years of experience from large agencies — including IR and PR — that will lend nicely to our public companies such as Deluxe and Vonage and to our disruptors such as Arcadia Data and StreamSets.


Merrill is BOCA’s first general manager. What is the significance of hiring a GM now?

I am going to answer this question in an authentic and passionate voice (two other core values of BOCA). Being a sole owner of a PR agency is hard and very lonely. Yes, I have an incredible team around me — from vice presidents to directors to supervisors all the way to ACs — they’re all amazing people. I truly  love the BOCA family.

A general manager’s success is measured through ongoing client retention as our current clients are very important. They are also measured by growth of a company. I honestly got a bit lonely managing BOCA by myself. I know Merrill. I trust Merrill. Merrill has been a GM before. He managed P&Ls, he managed growth and he managed downturns back to growth. He has been to the rodeo before. I am hiring a GM because I want a partner down the line that will help me guide BOCA and take BOCA to new heights. I didn’t want to do it alone anymore. I wanted a partner in crime and he is a great match with me, as we are opposites, which is a very good thing.


What, specifically, makes Merrill the best fit for BOCA and BOCA’s clients?

Like I said earlier, he is my opposite. We are both very good at our trade. And, we have different personalities, which makes for a good pair.  Back to our clients, Merrill is strategic and programmatic. He will be able to bring a new level of creativity to our clients and ensure we drive to flawless execution. One of his first orders of business is to meet with each client and ensure BOCA is delivering outstanding client service that maps to strategy and results.


What’s in store for BOCA in 2018?

Let’s look past 2018. Bringing Merrill on is a long-term play. What is in store for BOCA in 2020? Very good things. I am pumped for this new year. I am pumped for BOCA to move to new heights and have a great time while doing it. #BOCAlife rocks. Merrill, we are so excited to have you in the BOCA family. Now, let’s go do great work!

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