"Edgy" Marketing Gamble Is Saving Cats’ Lives

The Cincinnati Business Courier interviewed our CEO, Kathy Selker, about our Scooter the Neutered Cat campaign, our acquisition of Forza Marketing, and what leadership advice she'd give a new boss. Check out what the Courier had to say below. 


Scooter at Northlich Photo credit: Northlich
By Chris Wetterich, staff reporter and columnist, Cincinnati Business Courier
Kathy Selker has a background you might not typically associate with advertising and marketing — she was a computer programmer with a focus in science and economics.
When you think about it, however, those disciplines make perfect sense in today’s advertising and marketing world, said Selker, the CEO of Northlich.
Selker arrived in the industry about two decades ago when it began to move from mass communication to targeted microcommunication.
“Science is about data, knowledge, facts, analytics. It really seemed relevant to the agency business,” she said. “Since it was the beginning of that pivot — it felt like I could seem like I knew more than a lot of other people about this. It was trending into a different field."
The work was intellectually interesting, but the people completed the picture, she said.
“The people in this industry … they want to think differently. They want to come up with different ideas,” she said. “What could be better than being in an environment where you could work with people like that all day long?"
Northlich acquired Forza Marketing in 2016. How important are acquisitions to Northlich’s growth and do you foresee the company remaining independent? The Forza acquisition was strategically significant because in doing that, we were able to expand our capabilities and also pick up some very senior talent. That was an important acquisition for us, and it’s gone well. Sometimes acquisitions can be very important to growth. As far as being independent, we’re almost at our 70th year. We’re very proud to be independent and plan to continue to be independent.
What’s the biggest trend in this industry and how are you dealing with it? One is the access to customer data. That has really exploded. What we have now is so much richer and so much more dynamic. The challenge is, it’s not really about the data. It’s really about the insights you can get from the data. What we’ve done is become experts in those channels. We invested in our own access to a national database. We have access to data on 300 million U.S. citizens. We use our data appended to our clients’ customer data to really build out rich insights to help us do a better job of communicating to customers and prospective customers for our clients.
I was floored to know Northlich was behind the Scooter the Neutered Cat campaign. Tell me more about how that came about. I’ve been in different parts of the world, and people have seen Scooter. Our client came to us and said, we have a problem. Most cats going into humane shelters are not coming out alive. The release rate of cats out of shelters was only 30 percent — 10 cats go in, seven cats are euthanized. We stepped back to figure out, “What is causing this?” Cat owners were reluctant to spay or neuter their cat. They had a misguided belief that spaying or neutering your cat changed their personality. Instead of creating another set of work that was tear-jerky, sad, cats in cages, we took the opposite approach. It celebrated Scooter the Neutered Cat for being hip because he was unencumbered by responsibility. Our client was very supportive because it was a little edgy. The language we used had to be bleeped out for certain channels. But the results have been tremendous. The live release for cats for the last quarter in Hamilton County is 95 percent. We’re really proud of that work.
The last time we spoke with you in detail was 2013 and you had been dealing with the Great Recession’s aftermath. How’s business now? Our business is very different than it was pre-recession. All of us as businesspeople are much more thoughtful and maybe more cautious about where we make business commitments. The era of people saying, “I’m going to go with my gut. I’m going to make a big commitment” — there’s a lot less appetite for going with your gut, particularly with a big expense. What there’s a lot more appetite for is, let’s try something, let’s test something, let’s optimize, let’s throw a little bit at it, evaluate, learn and then modify a little bit. You can be more comfortable you’re getting a return on investment.
What leadership advice would you give a new boss? First, you have to listen. I think that’s obvious advice. It’s not always easy advice for someone to take. A lot of us are just waiting for our turn to talk. You need to think about what works for the person you’re speaking with. Second, surround yourself with great people. Everybody says that, but it’s hard to do. Don’t micromanage them. Give them general guidance.

Kathy Selker

Title: CEO, Northlich

Education: Bachelor’s degree in economics, University of Cincinnati; MBA, University of Cincinnati

Residence: East Walnut Hills

Family: Three grown sons: Matthew, Christopher and Robert

Career path: Consultant and developer, Arthur Andersen; executive at Macy’s and Coca-Cola; managing partner, Selker & Selker; COO of Northlich