Kathy Selker, president and CEO of Northlich LLC, a full-service advertising agency with just under 100 employees, knows that to be successful you have to stay true to your values and what you do best. By sticking to this philosophy, Northlich has become a leader at what it does and has attracted the attention of customers looking to do the same.
“One of the challenges is not to chase every opportunity and just to stay focused on that which we do with excellence,” Selker says. “We’ve held ourselves to that standard, but sometimes it’s tempting to do other things.”
To make your core values a key ingredient in the everyday functionality of your business, you have to abide by them in everything you do.
Smart Business spoke to Selker about how she makes decisions with the company’s core values in mind.
Identify core values. I was given some very wise advice a few years ago, and it’s become wiser over the years. You have to really take the time to identify your core values. I went through that exercise, shared that with the agency and have kept those close to our heart.
You have to do the work to identify your values, and you have to share your values; otherwise you can cheat. You have to do your best to hold yourself accountable to those values. I know people say that all the time, but it was the best advice I’ve ever gotten.
If you use that instead of filters to say, ‘Is this client a match for us? Will we be able to demonstrate our commitment to transparency, courage, greatness, passion or not?’ That’s been very helpful. There have been times where I’ve been in a relationship, and it’s not going well and you have to step back and say, ‘You know what, here’s the core issue here.’ We are committed to doing great work here, excellent work, not compromising, and we’re in a relationship with a client where their objective is different than that and it’s causing us great stress internally.
Determine bad relationships. No. 1, are we the right match for them? Can we do what they need to have done? No. 2, is there a value and chemistry match? We’ve all had difficult relationships and sometimes in a client-serving business you’re going to have challenging relationships, but you have to have a certain amount of chemistry and a certain amount of clarity about what we’re trying to accomplish and if it’s possible to make sure it’s the right match. The economics have to make sense. There are certain kinds of things we choose to not work on, certain products we choose not to work on. It’s just not a match for our folks, and certain industries we try to stay out of because we don’t have the depth in that area. Sometimes you make a decision to pursue something or accept an assignment and then you realize it was a mismatch. It’s an art; it’s not a science.
I’ve had relationships where I’ve taken the deep breath, had the important conversations and made the decision and walked away. I’ve had other relationships where I’ve just kept it going and it didn’t get better, it got worse, and it probably cost more than it helped me. You have to make value-based decisions. You have to be true to yourself and you have to do what’s right in the best interest of your employees and, in our case, our agency’s reputation. If you compromise something that’s core, that’s a mistake. In my head I can think of four mistakes where I failed to decisively make a hard decision. Every single one of them later I knew where I didn’t do what I needed to do when I needed to do it. It’s tough and you’re not always going to get it right, but you have to hold yourself to that standard.
Stay true to your business. The first thing you have to do is take care of your current relationships. Start by taking good care of your people, because they are your ambassadors to your clients and to your community. Take equally excellent care of your current clients and current relationships. That has helped us really weather through this tough, tough economy; keep great clients and great people and it’s also been a door opener to more great clients and great people. That’s a fundamental.
Secondly, really doing the hard work and identifying the intersection between the kind of work you can do with excellence and what the market conditions are interested in hiring. You have to really have a hard conversation with yourself. What are we great at? Not what do we want to be great at. But what are we great at and how do we go connect with that in the marketplace. So you have to both do the thinking work and then you have to also execute.
HOW TO REACH: Northlich, (513) 421-8840 or www.northlich.com