Northlich Ownership Changes Hands but Stays Independent

CEO Serrianne Sells Cincinnati Shop to COO Selker

By Published on .

BATAVIA, Ohio (AdAge.com) -- Mark Serrianne, owner and CEO for the past decade of Cincinnati's Northlich, is stepping down and selling the agency to longtime Chief Operating Officer Kathy Selker.
Mark Serrianne
Mark Serrianne

Mr. Serrianne will remain as non-executive chairman, but has sold his entire stake to Ms. Selker, who joined Northlich in 2000 after a career in finance at Arthur Anderson & Co. (now Accenture), Federated Department Stores (now Macy's) and Coca-Cola Bottling Group.

$19 million in fees
Northlich, which has 155 employees and 2007 fee income of $19 million, is an integrated shop whose services include traditional agency, media, digital, public relations and brand and new-product consulting. Terms of the transaction weren't disclosed.

Northlich handles accounts for national players such as Procter & Gamble Co. (including its professional products business, trade advertising, new-product consulting and corporate communications), Yum Brands (including the Long John Silver's advertising account won earlier this year and PR assignments for other brands), Birds Eye Foods and Brown-Forman (including Finlandia Vodka for which Northlich led a brand restaging in 2003).

The agency also won renewal late last year of its long-running Ohio Tobacco Prevention Foundation account following a review, and it handles advertising for the Kentucky Lottery.
Kathy Selker
Kathy Selker

Ms. Selker in an interview with AdAge.com said she sees potential for Northlich to continue to grow through acquisitions, such as the purchase last year of Interactive Ink, a Columbus, Ohio, digital shop, and through continuing to advance the five-part integrated-marketing communications model advanced by Mr. Serrianne.

The ownership change is the fourth in Northlich's history, with a senior agency executive taking control each time.

Diehard integrationists
Mr. Serrianne said he wanted to keep Northlich as one of the Midwest's larger independent agencies -- and one of the diehard practitioners of integrated marketing communications, which the shop embraced when it was first popular in the early 1990s and stuck with as the concept's popularity waned, and then more recently waxed once more.

Northlich runs all five of its disciplines off a single profit-and-loss statement, an approach recently adopted by Publicis Groupe's Leo Burnett Co. in configuring its Insight Group unit. Ironically, Leo Burnett, under prior Bcom3 ownership, tried to buy Northlich several years ago, according to people familiar with the matter, enticed largely by Northlich's BrandStorm consulting unit.

The consulting unit has been an entry point for several national accounts Northlich won for general advertising or PR duties over the years, Ms. Selker said, including Long John Silver's and Finlandia.

Mr. Serrianne declined to comment on any specific offers from global holding companies, but said that "we've always had overtures." Northlich at one point in 2001 announced but later backed off a deal to merge with digital and relationship-marketing shop Bridge Worldwide before the latter was acquired by WPP Group in 2005.

'Always been independent'
"We've always been independent, and my desire was to continue in that strategy," Mr. Serrianne said. "This is the perfect time. We've got the right leadership in place, the right kind of momentum going, so why not do it?"

Northlich long has been Cincinnati's largest advertising agency, though it may have been surpassed last year by Bridge, which had 175 employees as of last fall and is eclipsed in the city's marketing-services realm by design firm LPK, with more than 350 employees in Cincinnati.
Most Popular