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Riding a Wave

  • By
  • | 9:10 a.m. July 23, 2010
  • Strategies
  • Growth
  • Share

Company. The Media Crew
Industry. Online advertising
Key. Catching on to a growing medium without getting caught up in the momentum
By the Numbers. Click here for revenue information.

Like a surfer watching for the right wave, Nick Foley awaited a swell of momentum in online advertising for much of the past decade. Even as banner ads became more commonplace on Web sites, advertisers were largely reluctant to trade such digital displays for tried-and-true print.

Now it appears the tides are starting to roll in for online ads based on the amount of revenue growth Foley's small Largo-based company, The Media Crew, has achieved in the last few years. The agency, which makes money from the number of times the ads it produces are clicked on or through, made the Inc. 500 list of the nation's fastest-growing companies last year and looks to a repeat appearance later this summer.

Three-year revenue growth of 536.7% between 2005 (just over $500,000) and 2008 ($3.2 million) ranked The Media Crew at No. 488 on Inc. magazine's annual list, a designation it proudly displays on its site and inside its 2,500-square-foot office near Walsingham and Ulmerton roads.

But rather than focusing on how to top that success, Foley wants to sustain the company's growth for many more years to come.

“We want to take smart steps, but baby steps,” says the president, general manager and “head geek” of the 16-member enterprise. “We don't want to grow too fast and we make strategic moves each time we hire someone.”

The Media Crew operates on a performance-based marketing model, meaning essentially that it doesn't get paid unless the ads are effective. Instead of getting paid each time an ad is clicked on, it gets paid only when a desired action — a purchase or registration — happens after the ad is clicked on. It provides companies with enabling technology to connect with consumers through online media, e-mail and other services, and is behind a group of online affiliate marketing networks.

Surfing Web and water

A University of Maryland graduate who grew up visiting relatives near Clearwater Beach, Foley found a way to combine work and surfing when he established The Media Crew in 1999 with only three people and a small office across the street from the Gulf of Mexico.

The company now has an additional office in downtown Orlando and is also represented by five offsite international programmers.

The Media Crew consists of several segments — RevenueStreet, a performance-based advertising network; WagonMailer, an e-mail marketing portal; and Effectus, the company's recently launched proprietary marketing software. It's a lot to keep up with day to day, which is why Foley places such a strong emphasis on staffing.

“You get to a point where you can only do so much,” he says. “You have to have the right people.”

One of the company's key additions in recent years is Rustam Irani, a previous consultant to The Media Crew who now serves as its chief operating officer.

Irani, a Canadian-born graduate of the University of Florida whose entrepreneurial parents hail from India, says he was fortunate to join the company in a full-time role at the crest of its growth wave.

“It was just a perfect fit. It has worked out fantastic,” Irani says, noting that he tends to the business side of The Media Crew's operations while Foley handles the creative segment.

Clicks amount to cash

The Media Crew operates on a simple performance-based marketing concept: It doesn't get paid unless an ad works.

Clicking on online ads results in a virtual clinking of coins in a cash box, from a nickel to a dollar each time, while those ads producing sales leads or actual transactions can generate as much as $15 to $20, according to Irani.

The agency's sites produce between one million and three million registrations per month in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia, he says. Its RevenueStreet network averages one million clicks, at least 300 sales and more than 20,000 leads per month.

“Companies are becoming a lot more knowledgeable about online advertising and what constitutes a good return on investment,” Irani says. “They know their product, they understand their margin and if they generate a lead or a sale, they're happy. There is still such a huge growth potential.”

The Media Crew currently works with 4,000 advertising affiliates, offering most everything from technical school information to brand-name consumer goods, though that is only a fraction of the business other comparable local companies do. For example, ClickBooth, a subsidiary of Sarasota-based IntegraClick, claims at least 30,000 affiliates.

Foley says there is a lot of cross-promotion or “co-opetition” between online ad companies. “I characterize them more as partners than competitors,” he says. “At the end of the day, we both make money together.”

Reinvesting profits

Instead of spending profits as wildly as they seem to be generated lately, The Media Crew reinvests into developing new software and platforms as well as increasing efficiencies. “We want to maximize and leverage our technologies,” Irani says.

But that doesn't mean employees aren't entitled to a few job perks or allowed to have fun every once in a while. Foley says the company will take a weekday afternoon off to catch a Tampa Bay Rays game at St. Petersburg's Tropicana Field, or end the workweek early on a few Fridays in the summer for a barbecue behind the office.

“You're on a personal level with everyone here,” Foley says. He adds that the company considered moving to larger office space elsewhere in southern Pinellas County, but decided to put that money toward tech and people instead.

The Media Crew also strives to give back to the community. Irani says the parent company is in the process of starting a non-profit organization called Gulf Coast Giving.

“We're staying humble,” he says, adding that it will eventually be too difficult to sustain the type of triple-digit percentage growth in coming years that put the company on the Inc. 500.

“You can take that momentum and throw all sorts of resources at it.” Irani says. “We don't want that spike only to have it come back down. We want our growth to be gradual.”

For the time being, The Media Crew is enjoying ongoing business recognition. Revenue Performance magazine recently listed RevenueStreet among its top 20 performance marketing networks and exchanges, and Florida Trend magazine will soon include the company among its best small-business employers in the state.

As is usually the case, more work means less time for play, therefore Foley's employees see him a lot more around the office.

“He used to go surfing during lunch,” Irani says. “He isn't able to do that as much anymore.”


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