by Ryan Clark
Contributor, NKU Magazine
Back in the day, when Josh Heuser (’01) was throwing parties in area bars, it never really crossed his mind that within a few years he’d have a private audience with the president of his alma mater, or that the two would share plans to prepare events for Northern Kentucky University.
But such is the beauty of life.
Josh Heuser is a graduate of NKU, as well as an entrepreneur, an expert marketer and, most of all, someone who still knows how to throw a darn good party. He’s so good, in fact, that he does it for a living. Sort of.
“It’s funny—I never wanted to join a fraternity,” says Heuser, an Independence, Kentucky, native. “Then I started playing flag football for a fraternity team, and I enjoyed the group, and then I was in the fraternity. And we would always organize these fundraisers and parties. That’s what I was good at.” Heuser and his Tau Kappa Epsilon brothers became known for their themed parties. Yes, they could organize a Ladies’ Night or a Halloween party, but Heuser became known for taking a movie—such as Ocean’s 11—and reproducing the movie poster with faces of their friends on it.
“We would take a day, like the Sunday before Labor Day,” he says. “School would be closed on Monday, so all of the students would be looking for something to do that Sunday night. We’d choose a bar and market the event and we’d get a great turnout.”
They’d create flyers and walk the streets, papering cars and dorm rooms with the information.
His hobby turned into a full-time job when, after graduation, Heuser worked his contacts to land a marketing gig with local restaurant owner Jeff Ruby. By 23, Heuser had opened his own nightclub, Club Clau, a popular nightspot in Over-the-Rhine. Over the next 10 years, Heuser went on to open, operate and sell two additional bars before going through a bit of a transition.
“When you become the older guy in the bar, that’s the time to get out,” he says.
In 2009, at age 30, he started AGAR, an agency that helps create “experiences” around brands. Named for the “red base in a petri dish that allows organisms to grow,” AGAR specializes in experiential marketing and brand development.
“We create immersive experiences,” AGAR’s website says. “We take an authentic and holistic approach to consumer and brand relationships. Through our multiple interactive and engaging touch-points, we unite brands with their audience and the audience with their brand.”
With 14 full-time employees based in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, AGAR now features clients like TriHealth, Toyota, Procter & Gamble (AGAR manages the company’s community sponsorship dollars) and Cincinnati staples like Lumenocity, the Flying Pig marathon and events at Fountain Square. The company helped refurbish the old St. John’s Unitarian church on Elm Street in Over-the-Rhine, where Heuser opened a popular club and event center called The Transept.
“We want to be involved in any events that feature Cincinnati, either directly or indirectly,” Heuser says. The company’s bottom line has increased 20 to 30 percent each year, he says, and they are currently up 30 percent over the last fiscal year.
Heuser's success stood out to his professors and to the leaders at his alma mater. And that led to a personal meeting last year between Heuser and former NKU President Geoffrey Mearns. “It was a great feeling knowing you went to a university and 15 years later you have the opportunity to contribute your skill set to enhance the university experience,” Heuser says.
Recently, AGAR collaborated with NKU Athletics to develop strategic concepts that resulted in the creation of the men’s and women’s basketball hype videos, as well as the integration of the Gjallarhorn into pregame
athletic ceremonies. The videos, and especially the Gjallarhorn (the giant horn associated with Norse mythology, not the video game weapon), were created to instill new traditions in Norse Athletics and the university for years to come.
“We’re really excited about what’s going on at NKU,” Heuser says. “I was fortunate enough that, because of NKU, I was able to enter the professional world with no debt, and it was so important to me. With no debt, I was able to fail—and fail many times—before I had success. I was able to add to our economy versus graduating with massive student loans and being forced into the debt column of our economy.
“I mean, I was able to throw parties and get paid for it,” he continued. “Ultimately, I think NKU has set me up for success.”
This story orginally appeared in the spring/summer 2016 issue of NKU Magazine. Read the whole issue—including an in-depth profile of former E.W. Scripps CEO Rich Boehne—by clicking here.