My Day with the Ad Man

Brian Brown, Reporter

Michael Stelzer is a pretty interesting dude. Yes, “dude” is informal, but after spending a day following him around, it somehow feels like a fitting tag.

Michael is the president of Springfield-based ad agency Marlin, a division of the Marlin Network, which he helped launch with Dennis Marlin in 1985. On May 14, I got a chance to follow him around as part of Springfield Business Journal’s Day in the Life series.

I met Michael around 7:30 a.m. at “the forge,” a metal workshop on his sprawling farm property east of town. Michael, 63, almost immediately struck me as a guy who has reached a point in his life many others dream about. When my photographer and I arrived, he’d been listening to music – “Tommy: A Bluegrass Opry” by The HillBenders – as he bent and shaped steel in his shop with a ballcap on. He takes bluegrass guitar lessons. He wears boots. He harvests deer off his property with a bow. He seems confident but approachable, and his company is filled with creative 20-somethings who like working downtown. “Dude” fits.

Michael smiles as he works on a hanging sculpture for Hotel Vandivort.

Michael smiles as he works on a hanging sculpture for Hotel Vandivort.

Michael has built two tables for the boutique hotel, which also is a Marlin client.

Michael has built two tables for the boutique hotel, which also is a Marlin client.

That’s not to say he doesn’t take his work seriously. This is a guy who has helped build Marlin Network into a company that generated over $15 million in revenue last year. He’s seen the company through ups and down, and I got a real sense for his passion when he spoke to a group of new hires during a lunch meeting. Marlin has built a reputation and client list consistent with a food-marketing heavyweight. The company serves businesses including Starbucks, Bush beans and Unilever. However, that wasn’t always a clear niche.

Michael told the lunch group in the company’s early days its clients included Bass Pro Shops, Tracker Marine, Empire Bank and a now-defunct shoe company. But much like the food-focused Noble & Associates where he and Dennis came from, the long-term goal was always to be a food specialist. Now, about 90 percent of its clients are in the food business.

“We don’t have a potato account, and we could use one,” he told the new hires.

I can only describe the atmosphere at Marlin as modern. Artistic food pictures dot the walls of the former ice house in Brick City. Michael says that helps attract young talent from Missouri State University. Though not all students seem to know it’s there. As I was getting ready to head up to the third floor space, I asked a student if I was headed the right way to Marlin. Answering as though I’d asked about a professor, she said she didn’t know who Marlin was.

Michael conducts a 3 p.m. meeting in a conference room with a carpeted wall and a common sight around the office: a food pic.

Michael conducts a 3 p.m. meeting in a conference room with a carpeted wall and a common sight around the office: a food pic.

Michael’s office and its bright walls are up a flight of narrow stairs.

Michael’s office and its bright walls are up a flight of narrow stairs.

The inside of his door is framed in log ends.

The inside of his door is framed in log ends.

Building No. 3 at Brick City, Marlin’s headquarters is surrounded by MSU art-and-design classes.

Building No. 3 at Brick City, Marlin’s headquarters is surrounded by MSU art-and-design classes.

Michael is dedicated to surrounding himself with the best and the brightest, which seems to be a good approach to life and business. His metalwork mentor is Tim Burrows, an area metal expert who has shaped much of the hardware at Top of the Rock and Big Cedar Lodge. His guitar instructor is John Chapman of The Acoustic Shoppe – “the best bluegrass picker around,” Michael says. His physical trainer is Mark Millsap, a CoxHealth trainer and former Drury University running coach.

“I like associating with accomplished people,” he says. “It rubs off.”

I think my day with him has given me a couple of insights I didn’t have before. Thanks for associating with me, Mr. Stelzer. What? The dude deserves some respect.

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