Awards & Press

Ovative In: Star Tribune June 2022

Enjoy these articles from Star Tribune showcasing Ovative’s commitment to team first initiatives from innovative hiring and retention practices, Champions of Change social impact initiative, dedication to ELEVATE training and development, zero-cost health insurance options, an office puppy, and more. These articles were written by Star Tribune writers and you can view in full on Star Tribune’s website.

How companies are hiring in the hybrid era

Old strategies for recruitment no longer work in a tight labor market.

Hiring in today’s extremely tight labor market requires creativity. Companies are offering new benefits, focusing on those who aren’t looking for work, emphasizing diversity and rewarding their own employees for helping bring in new workers.

One lesson is clear: Recruiting the way companies have done in the past no longer works when businesses are competing for and seemingly swapping the same talent, according to Tracy Bruckschen, director of talent acquisition at Allianz Life Insurance Co. of North America.

“How do you differentiate yourself as an employer of choice to recruit passive talent into your organization? The keys are going to be successful networking, creative sourcing and doing some creative things such as enhanced employee-referral bonuses for hard-to-fill or key roles,” Bruckschen said.

Allianz Life has added a dedicated “sourcer” role that focuses on finding diverse hires, Bruckschen said. It has enhanced mental health and family-planning benefits. And it has instituted increased referral bonuses.

“Every employee in the organization should be constantly recruiting,” Bruckschen said.

Stressful events of the last two years — from a global pandemic and a racial reckoning to remote working and disrupted schedules — have changed what employees want. While many seek a more flexible schedule with at least some time out of the office, few workers want a job with no “face time,” said John Kammeyer-Mueller, an industrial relations professor at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management.

“They want a mix of the two, and employers seem to be adapting to that,” Kammeyer-Mueller said. “They’re working to provide that kind of flexibility because that’s the only way they’re able to hold onto people.”

Doherty, the Employment Experts, a three-time Top Workplace, has doubled referral bonuses in recent years, added an on-demand virtual-fitness application for employees, and begun helping workers pay down student loan principal, according to CEO Valerie Doherty.

“Benefits are just as important as paychecks in the employee attraction strategy today,” Doherty said in an e-mail interview.

Companies the staffing and recruiting firm works with are raising pay to compete for employees, Doherty said. They’re also speeding up the application and onboarding processes and reducing the number of interviews before offering jobs, and minimizing paperwork needed to start.

At Ovative Group, a digital-first marketing agency, investments in the company’s “doing the right thing” culture, employee development, and commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion typically help land new hires, said Erin Aberg, vice president of talent services.

The “Champions of Change” program at Ovative offers employees opportunities to increase their social impact through cultural-awareness education, skills-based volunteering and providing pro bono services to nonprofit organizations. The Champions program also raises funds to award a $10,000 scholarship to a student from the nonprofit BrandLab, which aims to diversify the marketing and advertising industries.

“We’re committed to continuously focusing on our team and what our team needs and then trying things out,” Aberg said. “If something’s resonating and people like it and it’s meaningful to them then we keep it going.”

All things related to inclusion and belonging are getting some traction with job candidates, said Jim Link, chief human resources officer at the Society for Human Resource Management.

“Employees are looking for organizations where they can identify a piece of themselves in that organization,” Link said. “If a company can talk about what it’s doing for the good of society or how it’s aiding in the development of people who are underprivileged or in need or who can get help from the company, that’s extremely attractive to a newer generation of workers.”


How hybrid workplaces are retaining employees amid the Great Resignation

Employers are experimenting with flexibility, health benefits, financial incentives and diversity initiatives to hold on to their workers.

“I don’t know about you, but this is my first pandemic.”

Marcus Fischer, CEO of advertising agency Carmichael Lynch, has been using that line since he heard it from a client not long ago.

Embracing that notion, in the face of COVID-19, the Great Resignation and other forces that have upended the workplace, means that answers for what to do about it — how to keep employees and keep them happy — can come from anywhere.

“It allows for an incredible environment of innovation and experimentation,” said Fischer, who sees agency culture as an investment. “Rather than large, sweeping policies, we’ve tried to implement small-scale tests-and-learns as much as we can.”

That means keeping things that work, like a flexible “Work From Where You Need To” policy, where the agency tries to make the office feel like a campus. Employees come in for events, team or client meetings but otherwise choose where to work. Carmichael Lynch now has people working remotely in 17 states.

The agency and other Top Workplaces are focusing on medical and mental health benefits, development opportunities, in-person and virtual events, and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts to retain employees. Some are raising pay and giving home-office reimbursements.

With twice as many job openings as people qualified to fill them, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), keeping personnel has hardly been more urgent. According to Fischer, with stress spiking for many as work and home life collide, this is a time to model empathy.

“We have to show each other grace, our clients and even ourselves,” Fisher said. “No one has gone through what we’ve gone through.”

Expanded health

One test item that has stuck at Carmichael Lynch is giving employees a free premium membership to, which includes 10 free days of caregiving for children, seniors or pets, or tutoring or housekeeping services. Additional benefits include on-demand help for stress and anxiety from Sanvello, plus Talkspace, an online and mobile therapy company.

Solution Design Group (SDG), a digital product services and consulting firm, added free virtual online health services, including in-home visits, and prescriptions from Nice Healthcare. While SDG introduced that benefit before the pandemic, employees have particularly made use of it since, said Jana Bertheaume, SDG’s chief people officer.

“We’ve had families that have children who have had broken bones, and they’ll do X-rays in the garage,” Bertheaume said. “They were able to do that without having to take their kids to an urgent care.”

Ovative Group, a digital-first marketer, recently began offering a no-cost medical coverage option to employees and their families. “We did an analysis to see what would it take if we just pay for all of it,” said Erin Aberg, vice president of talent services. “If we see something that will be a meaningful investment in our team, that will be meaningful for them, we’re willing to lean in and make that happen.”

Allianz Life Insurance Co. of North America, among new benefits, has removed co-pays for depression medication and for outpatient mental health or therapy visits, said Tracy Bruckschen, director of talent acquisition. Allianz also has created an on-site health care clinic with services from a nurse practitioner available at little to no cost.

Financial incentives

Top Workplaces also are sweetening financial incentives for employees to stay. Some 28% of employers nationally are adding new merit-pay programs, according to Regan Gross, human resources knowledge adviser at SHRM.

“Employers are increasing compensation as well, to remain competitive,” Gross said in an e-mail interview. “Inflation has increased the need for employers to look at ways they can pivot in response to employee needs — things like transportation, fuel cost, child care — all offer areas that employers should look at and respond to needs of employees.”

At Allianz, the 7.5% dollar-for-dollar company match within the company’s 401(k) program, though not new, is a key retention tool, Bruckschen said. It’s one of the highest such matches locally and possibly nationally.

Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union gave every employee a 4% raise in November, in addition to performance increases, and made the raise retroactive to January 2021, said Julie Cosgrove, chief talent officer.

Every employee who works directly with Affinity Plus members received a bonus, Cosgrove said. Those who work on Saturdays in branch locations now get time-and-a-half pay. All employees got a $500 stipend for their home offices.

“We recognize how the world has changed, how costs have increased, and we also have had a lot of successes in the organization,” Cosgrove said.

Development and diversity

Employers also are enhancing internal career-development opportunities, said SHRM’s Gross.

Affinity Plus partnered with Metro State University to create an MBA program, with the credit union paying 100% of tuition. Ovative covers the cost for remote team members to come to Minneapolis for an annual training day. New to Allianz are leadership opportunities for managers of hybrid teams as well as “skill uplift” opportunities for hybrid workers.

While many Top Workplaces stage in-person and online events to sustain their culture, those efforts also are more likely to include diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.

“Being in Minneapolis, in the center of racial and social justice reckoning, our entire philosophy around all of our work in DEIBA [diversity, equity, inclusivity, belonging and accessibility] has been ‘Do More, Do Better,'” Carmichael Lynch’s Fischer said. Employee-resource groups at the agency include a women’s leadership group, one for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and allies, and others for multicultural employees and those with disabilities and their allies and parents.

At Allianz, the newest employee resource groups are AllABLE (Allianz for Abilities Beyond Limitations and Expectations) and ASCENT (Asians Supporting, Collaborating, Educating and Networking Together).

“We continue to partner closely with our DEI organization to support and drive an inclusive environment where everyone brings their best self to work regardless of their role, background or work arrangement,” Bruckschen said. “The key there is to foster connectedness throughout the organization.”

Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Lake Elmo. His e-mail is [email protected].


Keeping in touch in the hybrid workplace

Read on Star Tribune Here
Workplaces manage new challenges communicating with in-office and remote employees.

When COVID-19 abruptly sent employees at a Minneapolis digital media agency home to work, there was one team member whose companionship they could still enjoy.

Ogee the office puppy was available to spend weekends with workers from Ovative Group, upon request.

“There were obvious struggles when we went remote. Some of our people dealt with family care issues, loneliness, the isolation,” said Erin Aberg, vice president of talent services and Ogee’s main tender. “People could pick her up for the weekend as a way to connect. It was a creative way to address a need.”

Managing a hybrid workplace has some things in common with raising a puppy: It requires patience, a sense of humor and a willingness to put up with some messes. Most of all, clear and consistent communication and the ability of both sides to read signals is crucial.

Top Workplaces have developed a variety of communication methods to keep their teams clued in and connected as more shift to the hybrid model, with workers spending some time in traditional offices and other time “working elsewhere,” as senior management at UCare calls it.

To adapt, UCare formalized communications in an effort to make sure all employees were seeing the same information at the same time. The health plan provider — ranked 11th on this year’s large Top Workplaces list — upgraded conference rooms with higher quality cameras and microphones to support hybrid meetings. In return, there’s an expectation that employees dialing in from their remote workplaces will appear on camera at every function they participate in.

“When we can see each other, [and] facial expressions, it brings energy to conversations and our team members feel more engaged and connected with one another,” said Pat Schmitt, UCare’s chief administrative officer. “It helps everyone read the room.”

UCare regularly stages catered lunches for its workforce and sends Grubhub gift cards to hybrid staff so they can chow down alongside their onsite peers. That gesture is one of the smaller measures UCare has taken to make sure its hybrid and remote team members don’t lose an edge because they are not physically present.

The nonprofit has also formalized a policy to bring meetings to a complete stop when the cameras go off. That’s meant to ensure that decision-making doesn’t continue in the small talk as a gathering winds down, excluding virtual team members.

“In our employee surveys, we heard from people working elsewhere that they want a level playing field,” explained Schmitt. “We want there to be fairness, so that an employee who is in the physical line of sight of a leader doesn’t have an advantage when it comes to coaching and career development.”

Hybrid the hard way

At Froehling Anderson, No. 9 on the small companies list, the March 2020 shutdown forced everyone to flee the office and work remotely at the CPA firm’s busiest time of the year, with tax deadlines looming.

“People had to change. I was skeptical if we could get the work done, but they did it. It was impressive. It would have been hypocritical if we would have said, you have to come back and have your butt in a chair at the office,” said Al Delage, a partner who heads the tax group.

Now a hybrid worker himself, Delage comes into Froehling Anderson’s St. Louis Park office a few days a week for meetings but otherwise works remotely at his lake place near Princeton. As a senior-level manager, he thinks his embrace of his hybrid status has helped set the tone to allow others to choose the option.

“It’s always been our culture to be together, but culture is not four walls. It’s how we work together, how we treat each other,” he said.

The firm now emphasizes regular check-ins between top leaders and hybrid staff, especially junior team members. The importance of strengthening such contact was a lesson learned the hard way.

“We hired some bright people in the middle of the pandemic and a few left; we weren’t immune to the Great Resignation. They never formed that connection. When we saw that, we stepped up efforts with communication,” Delage said.

“Retention is a big deal for us; we put a lot of effort in recruiting, hiring and training and it’s costly to replace staff.”

Kevyn Burger is a Minneapolis writer.


Dale Nitschke

Dale Nitschke

CEO & Founder

About the Author

Dale is the Founder and CEO of Ovative. After years of operating a large omni-channel business and leading a customer data initiative, Dale knew there was an opportunity to create a marketing firm that helped clients become more customer centric and drove better performance outcomes. A gap existed between business consultancies and advertising agencies that modern marketing approaches demand. He also believed that a strong, healthy culture could attract and develop smart, talented team members. In 2009, he formed Ovative to bring media, measurement, and consulting together under one roof to enable an enterprise approach that drives more revenue and grows clients’ customer base.

Prior to founding Ovative in 2009, Dale spent 23 years at Target Corporation where he served as President of and grew the ecommerce business from start-up stage to a $1 billion+ business and established the foundation of Target’s Guest database capabilities. Previously he served as SVP Merchandising at the Department Store Division of Dayton Hudson. Dale has advised retailers and brands globally on business, growth, marketing, and measurement transformation strategies.

Outside of Ovative, Dale is a leader on topics including business strategy, change management, and team leadership. He serves on the board of Allergy Amulet and on the Dean’s Advisory Board of the Wisconsin School of Business at UW-Madison.  He enjoys spending time with his family, up north in northern Wisconsin, playing golf, and cheering on Wisconsin sport teams.

Steve Benson

Steve Benson

Chief Financial Officer

About the Author

Steve is the Chief Financial Officer of Ovative. Steve is responsible for the company’s IT, corporate accounting, treasury, tax, financial planning and analysis, and Business Operations

Prior to joining Ovative, Steve provided finance and accounting advisory services to clients. Before that, he spent 23 years at Target Corporation, leading Finance and Accounting teams.

Steve enjoys distance running, woodworking, and traveling. Steve and his wife have two sons, and they enjoy escaping to the Minnesota north shore.

Annie Zipfel

Executive Vice President, Media

About the Author

Annie is the Executive Vice President of Media at Ovative. She oversees delivery and growth across paid and owned media (digital, traditional, and retail media) and creative services.

Annie has more than 30 years of experience in media, brand management, insights/analytics, marketing, and product. She has also developed large, high-performing teams and built new measurement capabilities. Annie led the marketing team at Andersen Windows & Doors, leading the digital, social, content, customer insights, and creative functions. Prior to that, Annie served in multiple marketing leadership roles at Starbucks, REI, Target, and General Mills, with a keen focus on brand, media, insights, analytics, and measurement.

Annie is an industry leader in brand management, customer insights, e-commerce, social media, and analytics. She enjoys hiking, traveling, cooking, fishing, and spending time with her sweet dog and two sons.

Bonnie Gross

Executive Vice President, Talent Services

About the Author

Bonnie is the Executive Vice President of Talent Services at Ovative. She is responsible for attracting and retaining top talent and creating a culture in which our team thrives personally and professionally. Under Bonnie’s leadership, Ovative has defined an industry leading leadership and development program and transformed our approach to talent recruitment with a focus on diversity, equality and inclusion. Prior to her current role, Bonnie led Ovative’s Client and Business Development team overseeing client satisfaction and new growth opportunities.

Before joining Ovative in 2014, Bonnie spent 13 years at Target Corporate as the VP of digital and Digital Marketing where she led the launch of Cartwheel, an industry-leading social shopping application. Bonnie was the VP of Marketing for Fingerhut for 15 years prior to joining Target.

Steve Baxter

Steve Baxter

Executive Vice President, Strategic Initiatives

About the Author

Steve is the Executive Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at Ovative. Steve has been with the company since 2010 and launched Ovative’s media practice in 2012.

Prior to joining Ovative, Steve worked at Target for 8 years where he led development of Target’s CRM initiatives, Digital media analytics and Target’s Media Network. In 2005, Steve developed Target’s proprietary in-house capabilities to both measure in-store sales impact from digital brand investments and personalize marketing messages across both digital and non-digital channels.

Steve is an industry leader on topics including marketing, advanced measurement, ecommerce, and monetization. Steve enjoys fishing, camping, golfing and trying to stay competitive in any sport with his three boys. Steve enjoys escaping to the MN north shore with his wife, boys and dog whenever possible.

Lindsy Steinberger

Sr. Manager, Paid Search

About the Author

Lindsy is a Sr. Manager on the Paid Search team at Ovative.

Tyler Spiwak

Analyst, Measurement Solutions

About the Author

Tyler is an Analyst on the Measurement Solutions team at Ovative.

Lillian Smith

Senior Analyst, Paid Social

About the Author

Lillian is a Senior Analyst on the Paid Social team at Ovative.

Beth McKigney

Senior Vice President, Measurement

About the Author

Beth is the Senior Vice President of Measurement at Ovative. She is responsible for developing, implementing, and supporting proprietary technology products that enable clients to unlock insights across marketing channels and devices. Since joining Ovative in 2013, Beth built Ovative’s Site Analytics & Optimization practice and Ovative’s unified marketing measurement tool, MAP. She is spearheading development of new technology products focused on advanced analytics, testing and reporting.

Prior to joining Ovative, Beth spent 9 years at Target in multiple digital and marketing analytics roles. She defined and delivered Target’s email and mobile marketing strategies, identified and defined guest-facing technology enhancements, and managed site-wide promotional marketing plans.

Beth is a thought leader in advanced analytics and optimization strategies. She regularly advises clients on strategies to improve their marketing effectiveness and is a published thought leader. She lives in Brooklyn Park with her husband, two boys and dog, Sota.  Beth’s an avid University of Minnesota sports fan (especially football – Row the Boat!) and enjoys downhill skiing, biking, hunting and fishing.

Dianne Anderson

Senior Vice President, Media

About the Author

Dianne is the Senior Vice President of Media at Ovative. She is responsible for delivery and growth across paid digital media, traditional media, marketplaces, and creative services. Since joining the company in 2013, Dianne has been a key leader in establishing new channel practices, a strategic voice in media and marketing strategy and a driver scaling best in class teams. She regularly advises clients on ecommerce, retail, digital media and measurement strategies.

Prior to joining Ovative, Dianne spent 8 years at Target leading strategy and activation of digital e-comm and brand marketing initiatives.

Dianne is passionate about music, leading ukulele lessons for the team and participating in office musical collaborations.  Her happy places are Northern Wisconsin, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where she enjoys making memories with her family.

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