Dale Nitschke's Ovative Group, the decade-old digital-first marketer, didn't pause for the pandemic.
Ovative's revenue grew 42% last year to $36 million and it's up 50% so far in 2021. This fall, the firm will take on a fourth floor in the Nordic building in the Minneapolis North Loop neighborhood to accommodate 300 or so employees by year-end, a doubling since 2019.
Work-from-home has clicked for most employees. But the majority also want to spend at least some of their week in the spacious, open environment designed around comfort, amenities and collaboration, including rooftop-patio views of downtown from Ovation's 11th floor.
This summer, Ovative will welcome 26 new analysts and 32 interns, almost all from local colleges, such as the University of Minnesota, Augsburg, Carleton and St. Thomas.
"We're still 'incoming' on the trend curve,'' quipped Nitschke, 59, resurrecting a phrase he learned as a merchandise trainee in 1984, at the former Dayton's.
Nitschke led Target's online business before leaving the company in 2009. He has led Ovative, a marketer and data analyst, to revenue gains of 20%-plus every year but one since inception. It's growing faster than its industry.
Ovative, solely owned by Nitschke, has gained traction in recent years through its software that tracks spending and effects for clients.
"Our marketing analytic platform brings all the data together about the client's media spend on digital and traditional media and measures the overall impact on the business," Nitschke said. "We were consulting with companies on measurement of their digital-advertising dollars back in 2015-16, using client software. We thought we could do better. So we decided to build our own."
Nitschke paid for the multiyear investment mostly out of the firm's cash flow.
"We became a tech product company, in addition to marketing services," he said. "We create a bigger impact for our clients and better value by doing both.''
Nitschke could make millions today by selling Ovative to a larger marketing firm or another investor. He wants to play it out indefinitely as an independent.
"We're just starting," said Nitschke, a Milwaukee native and Wisconsin-Madison graduate. "We're going to keep our heads down and work. Since I'm the sole owner, it liberates me to make decisions to do the right thing instead of what a financial partner might expect."
Ovative, which attracted 25 new customers last year, also has deepened relationships with customers like publicly held Tapestry, owner of high-end Coach handbags and other luxury goods.
Sleep Number Corp., the maker of customizable mattresses that's based in Minneapolis, has been a client for six years.
"They built their platform and were uniquely able to connect our digital-to-physical consumer touchpoints," Kevin Brown, chief marketing officer at Sleep Number, said. "Ovative helped us connect the dots between our brand communications, digital presence and our physical stores."
He added, "Their measurement approach has provided incredible insights that have helped us make better, faster decisions to improve our overall customer experience, which shows up in our brand and business performance. Working with Dale and his team has been a game-changer."
Internally, Nitschke is a collaborative-culture guy, a good listener with a share-the-credit approach who also rewards employees with good compensation, flexibility and internal advancement and independence.
Beth McKigney, who leads Ovative's measurement solutions and technology teams, has worked with Nitschke for 17 years, starting at Target. She said his leadership style sets him apart from other bosses. He's serious about listening and meets with "every single person" in the organization.
"This enables him to be an emphatic and effective leader," McKigney said. "Dale typically says that each person at the company contributes to building and maintaining our culture."
McKigney said Nitschke, partly because of his appealing style, has been able to assemble a leadership team of "client-side" veterans who have worked in media and measurement programs for larger outfits. They understand how client businesses work. With the help of Ovative's software, she said, "They uncover insights and make the decisions required to deliver results."
Nitschke said, "We are not loud. Most of our new business is from word of mouth based on our good work."
Neal St. Anthony has been a Star Tribune business columnist and reporter since 1984. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.