GRAND RAPIDS — A 40-year-old business strategy isn’t usually a wise idea in the marketing field, but Alexander Marketing Services has used it as a recipe for success.
“One thing that’s helped us stay afloat so long is that we have a single-minded purpose in life,” said Bob Milroy, president of Alexander Marketing, which celebrated its 40th anniversary this month.
In 1965, Jim Alexander, a mechanical engineer fresh out of Purdue University, was forced to settle for a job outside his field, as marketing manager for Blackmer Pump Co. — today a subsidiary of Dover Corp. — in his native Grand Rapids.
Alexander quickly realized that his position wasn’t a full-time job, as Blackmer contracted much of what little work there was to a local advertising agency. He noticed that when assignments came back from the agency (now long out of business), the technical accuracy needed to promote the company’s products wasn’t there.
“He decided there would always be a need for an agency that could understand business-to-business products and technology products, and actually want to do that kind of thing,” Milroy said.
Alexander convinced Blackmer to give him the account and to spin off his position into a separate company. Since it wasn’t full-time work, he sought other clients interested in the specialized service.
“Fundamentally, that has been the position of the agency ever since,” Milroy said. “And to go along with that, you have to be competent in the field you specialize in — that’s all about staffing.”
Alexander Marketing attracts much of its staff from the client side of the field, along with veterans of other business-to-business agencies, and others, like the agency’s founder, from technical backgrounds who have gravitated toward communications.
“Understanding our clients’ industries is more complicated than retail or consumer work,” Milroy said.
Plus, understanding the client is equally important to understanding its field, which is where Alexander Marketing has a unique advantage.
As an example, Alexander Marketing has served as agency of record for Dow Chemical Co.’s chemical division for 25 years.
Bob Milroy and his organization really proved to me that they wanted to be students of my business,” said Jean Aukerman, global brand manager for Dow Fiber Solutions and previously global marketing communications manager for Dow’s chemical business, in a recent interview with BtoB Magazine. “They care about the nuts and bolts of our business today and where it is going.”
According to Milroy, clients value the longevity and experience of Alexander’s account managers.
“Look at the people on the Dow account; they’ve been involved with that company for more than 20 years,” he said. “Our people’s longevity on that account is longer than anyone we deal with on the client side.”
There are several employees celebrating lengthy anniversaries this year. Milroy has been with the company for 29 years, as has Vice President/Production Barry Sparks. Several others have been with the company for more than 20 years: Chris Beaudoin, senior account manager (25); Judy Murphy, vice president/director of media (23); Denise Froehlich, senior art director (22); Doug Wayner, vice president/executive art director (20); and Sherry Kas, electronic media manager (20).
As such, Alexander has maintained the institutional memory that clients haven’t and brings a continuity that few companies have maintained within their marketing departments.
Roughly 30 years ago, Alexander Marketing opened a Chicago office, which today accounts for 40 percent of revenue. Between the two offices, the company has 40 employees.
Jim Alexander retired in 1992, passing ownership of the company into an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP). In 2003, the ESOP was acquired by Philadelphia-based Alliance Holding Co. in an effort to diversify Alexander Marketing’s retirement accounts.
For three consecutive years, Alexander Marketing has been named one of the top U.S. business-to-business agencies by BtoB Magazine.