Bolin Becomes

It was 1950. The war was over and it was time for Sargent Mike Bolin to get back to work. Keen to learn a new trade before re-entering the workforce, Mike signed up for the advertising track at City College of New York. With certificate in hand, he returned to his home state of Minnesota, accepting a job as Ad Manager for a reputable car dealership. It wasn’t long however, before Mike determined that starting his own agency was his best route to success. Audaciously, he pitched the dealership to be his first account.

With $1,000, a small office, a desk and a phone, M. R. Bolin Advertising was born!

The focus in those early years was on local, retail accounts – furniture stores, restaurants, HVAC services and the like. Newspaper and radio advertising were the dominant mediums however, television was quickly growing in popularity, driving the need for new capabilities in production, media planning and buying. It was an era where business was built on intensely personal relationships and Mike was a likable, charismatic ad man who always believed: “If they like you, they’ll buy from you.”


Growth And Change

The agency hit its stride in 1957 when it began working with Minneapolis Federal Savings and Loan. This was the start of a 33-year relationship, which helped the agency grow and mature. In addition to traditional advertising, the agency became proficient in broadcast rights negotiations, TV production, large-scale promotions, and event sponsorships.

Over those first 40 years, the agency’s client roster included many blue-chip advertisers including the Minnesota State Fair (27 years), Minnesota Dairy Promotion Council (28 years), and BlueCross BlueShield (18 years). Creatively, the agency developed several enduring campaigns, some of which would outlive the brands themselves. A good tree to come to for shelter (Midwest Federal), The Great Minnesota Get-together (Minnesota State Fair), You’ll find your home at Gabberts (retail furniture store) and where dream homes come true (Parade of Homes) to name just a few.

Integrity, transparency, high quality work, responsiveness and strong family values were (and continue to be) the hallmarks of Bolin’s business model and reputation.


A Second Generation

In the seventies, Mike’s three sons (yours truly being one of them) joined him at Bolin, making it a truly family business. Brother Scott and I bought our father out in 1990, and this year I’ll celebrate my 30th year of second-generation ownership. Coinciding with the ownership change at Bolin, came an acceleration of change in the agency business. The Internet, social media, and ultimately broadband were shaking the very foundations of traditional communications. We evolved, and in turn helped our clients do the same. We sharpened our strategic focus developing deep category expertise in travel/hospitality, building products and B2B, which led to more national clients with global footprints. We enjoyed long and fruitful relationships with Carlson Hotels, Carmex, Dominica, and Honeywell during this very turbulent time in marketing and communications.

At the same time, we co-founded Tribe Global, an international network of independent agencies.

Today, Tribe Global has grown to a tightly knit confederation of nearly forty members, giving Bolin a global perspective and truly international footprint.


Reflecting On Seven Decades Of Bolin

As we enter our 70th year in business, it’s important to celebrate our roots as well as our successes. Not many independently owned agencies have a timeline that comes even close. What’s been the secret? I believe it’s a combination of four things:

Adaptability. The digital landscape and how brands interact with customers has certainly evolved the skillsets and tools we use to do our job. Being able to adapt quickly with new services and new models keeps us relevant.

Focus. Whether on proximity or category, focus is important. Being all things to all people means you don’t do anything well.

Commitment to core values. Integrity, transparency, family values. We haven’t wavered from those, and never will.

Entrepreneurial spirit. Never being satisfied with good enough, is a great motivator. We’ll always look for ways to improve what we do and the service we provide.

Many things have certainly changed over our 70 years in business. But frankly, today’s content marketing, personas, customer journeys and marketing automation are just newer, more sophisticated versions of rock solid marketing basics.


Inspiring & Empowering Audiences With The Right Message, Delivered At The Right Time, In The Right Way, Is Still At The Heart Of What We Do.

Sure, we’re more likely to do it now with pixels and code than with film and print, but that doesn’t change the fact that we’re still telling stories and communicating with people. Busy, stressed, distracted people looking for help, entertainment or a little inspiration. And talking to them, well that’s what we’ve always been good at.