Springfield, MO

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Michael Stelzer, president; Doug Austin, senior vice president of growth & innovation; Todd Carroll, CFO; and Dennis Marlin, CEO
Michael Stelzer, president; Doug Austin, senior vice president of growth & innovation; Todd Carroll, CFO; and Dennis Marlin, CEO

2013 Dynamic Dozen No. 12: Marlin Network Inc.

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The company Dennis Marlin founded on his 35th birthday in 1985 is a shadow of the multidivision Marlin Network Inc., with its six office spaces and more than 100 employees spread across Springfield.

What started as a one-employee advertising agency, now comprises seven Marlin affiliate companies: Marlin Co., Deep, Food IQ, The Alchemedia Project, Marlin Network University, Star Awards and Marlin Network Consulting Group. The focus is on food and beverage marketing.

Marlin Chief Financial Officer Todd Carroll says each affiliate operates autonomously, and the Marlin executive team functions as a hub to crunch numbers and provide resources such as technologies and health insurance programs.

“Each affiliate has its own culture and personality. Each has its own vibe,” Carroll says.

For instance, at Food IQ on far South National Avenue, chefs slice and dice in its test kitchen, while graphic designers quietly sketch out logos on their Macs under a modern cubicle canopy system. Downtown, Marlin account executives, copywriters and art directors are intermingled throughout the third floor of an 1896-built former ice house in the Brick City development. Energetic laughter is overheard, while other team members cluster in the “fish bowl” conference areas on laptops and smartphones.

“It gets loud in here at times,” says Production Manager Don Leveque, a 35-year printing and advertising veteran, who reports to the office around 6 a.m. – “before all the kids arrive.”

The Marlin reach goes beyond Springfield, with key associates working from California, Denver, Kansas City and Chicago. In a joint venture with client Checkers/Rally’s drive-in restaurants, the firm last fall opened a culinary development center in Tampa, Fla., to help develop a dessert menu.

The latest affiliate addition is Marlin Network University, which launched in September 2012 to offer staff training for industry curriculum as well as topics such as personal finance and retirement planning.

The companies are unified through an employee stock ownership plan, and team members are beginning to incorporate Great Game of Business methods taught by Jack Stack.

In a year when Marlin earned the food-service division account for international conglomerate Unilever (NYSE: UN and UL) and picked up hometown startup Vandivort Hotel, the agency grew revenues 19 percent to more than $11 million. The last three years, the company has been riding a 28 percent revenue growth curve.

Aside from revenues and annual billings of $75 million, Marlin Network tracks growth by the number of new babies born to its staff members. Last count, there were 18 newborns the last three years in the Marlin family.

The staff creativity screams throughout its offices, from a staff photo titled, “The Intimidators,” with props and founder Marlin decked out in a silk smoking jacket and holding a pipe, to a centerpiece table at Brick City hand built by Marlin Co. President Michael Stelzer made of reclaimed wood and metal legs formed into ice tongs to pay homage to the building’s original use.

Free-thinking leadership is evident by the numerous writeable walls and Marlin bicycles available at the center city campus for employees to ride to lunch or simply take a spin to generate creativity.

The agency works on local projects for Convoy of Hope, Camp Barnabas and Community Foundation of the Ozarks, with some of the work offered pro bono, Carroll says. Creative staff members have spent recent weeks developing the brand for Vandivort Hotel, the agency’s first hotel client.

“We need the hotel downtown for our clients,” says Stelzer, with proposed Vandivort logos hanging in the hallway outside his office and the phrase “Wow them with whimsy” written on the wall behind his desk.

Working mostly in the business-to-business food advertising world, the agency assists clients selling to such buyers as restaurants, schools and hospitals.

“Work gets work,” Stelzer adds. “When we’re doing good work, people see it.”[[In-content Ad]]


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