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Feed the Giants


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  • | 12:04 p.m. May 14, 2010
  • Entrepreneurs
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REVIEW SUMMARY
Company. Triad Digital Media
Industry. Online advertising
Key. Harnessing the Internet to engage shoppers

For all the success Triad Digital Media has enjoyed, and for all that may yet come, Greg Murtagh keeps a subtle reminder at his desk — a multi-page presentation to executives at Wal-Mart Stores Inc. from six years ago, spelling out various ways that the nation's largest retailer could improve its Web presence.

“This company was built on this document,” Murtagh says, pulling the simple booklet from a nook at his desk within Triad's Tampa headquarters. Aside from a field of work cubicles, numerous computer monitors, several HDTV screens and various conference rooms named for local sports teams, he makes it sound as if the basis of the business isn't much more complicated than that.

Now exceeding $70 million in annual revenue, and having grown by leaps and bounds in recent years, Triad appears to be simply scratching the surface as to how consumers connect with their favorite companies. After increasing the many ways potential customers can interact with brands, whether printing a coupon or designing their own product, the company is expanding into video production, allowing computer users to watch presentations going far beyond the typical 30-second television commercial.

“The Internet is growing like a weed. We just need to get our fair share,” says Murtagh, who is confident he can grow Triad to $150 million over the next few years. At the same time, he is humble and appreciative of how his company has grown in the worst economy since the Great Depression.

Decision happened in 1997
Murtagh, 47, launched Triad with a $100,000 “angel” investment in 2004, the year after he moved to Tampa. Originally from Rhode Island, he previously worked in the sales and marketing of packaged goods for companies such as Procter & Gamble Co. and Dial Corp., moving around the country to Scottsdale, Ariz., Boston, Dallas, Atlanta and New York.

In 1997, he says he made a decision to pursue advertising on the Internet. As personal computers became more powerful and information on company home pages grew to be less stationary, he recognized greater capabilities in engaging customers and introducing new products beyond putting up a basic banner ad on a home page.

Aside from Walmart, which itself has recently refined its brand including dropping the hyphen, other major retailers Triad works with to enhance their Web sites include CVS pharmacies, Dell computers and electronics merchant Best Buy. Companies it has worked include P&G, Disney and Johnson & Johnson.

Murtagh calls up examples on his office computer as easily as you can on yours. Walmart.com lets you click through to an online video about Rachael Ray Nutrish dog food. Another ad for Tide laundry detergent links to its Facebook page. There's also cross-marketing potential, such as going to Dell's page and finding a video link demonstrating the American Express Open credit card.

Limitations appear to be few on the types of things Triad can do with company Web sites. Its next step involves launching Triad Digital Studios, which will allow the company to handle high-quality video production in house at far less cost than the hundreds of thousands of dollars normally spent making 30-second TV spots (not counting the cost of air time).

Although he may occasionally reflect on how the company started with himself as its only employee, Murtagh looks ahead to what Triad can ultimately become — a force for online advertising that has only lately realized monetization.

“I feel fortunate that 13 years ago I picked the right industry,” Murtagh says. He is still a bit sheepish about boasting over Triad's success, considering a few of his neighbors in Tampa are being adversely affected by the recession.

But he isn't surprised by the company's growth, including a 37% jump in revenue even last year. The company already made the Inc. 500 after posting 677% growth between 2005 and 2008.

“When you do quality work, people keep coming back to you,” Murtagh says. “I prepared for this for a long, long time, and the opportunity just presented itself.”

Taking notice
Past colleagues are impressed with what Murtagh has been able to achieve with Triad, given that it isn't based in a top U.S. media market. What's more remarkable, they say, is the fact that he is able to use local resources without having to attract a high number of employees from larger cities.

“Greg has done a fantastic job of staying focused on one vertical, that being retail, and helping companies monetize their Web sites in innovative ways,” says Pete Distad, a Los Angeles management consultant who has worked with Triad in the past. He notes that the company has been particularly successful in helping those companies add value to their sites, while staying ahead of the curve and watching market trends.

“They embody the entrepreneurial spirit,” adds David Tarabocchia, a senior associate at KPMG Consulting in Tampa who has worked with Triad at various times in recent years. “You can feel the vibrancy when you walk around their space.”

Even though Triad is a small company, “they walk among giants” in the retail realm, Tarabocchia says. He compliments Murtagh and his firm for avoiding becoming victims of their own success and refusing to compromise service to clients. “They really have something special,” he says.

It isn't just Murtagh's peers who have taken notice. H.I.G. Ventures LLC, a Miami-based capital provider that partners with entrepreneurs worldwide, made a substantial investment into Triad that he says will allow it to continue growing in exchange for a minor ownership stake.

“They saw a diamond in our company,” says Murtagh, who will only describe the investment as being in the millions of dollars. “It's been great. They have been introducing us to potential customers and partners. If we decide one day that we want to get into the United Kingdom, they can make a few phone calls that afternoon.”

He adds that whatever independence Triad is giving up will be well worth it in the long run, in terms of both continued company growth and return on investment to H.I.G. “Even though we're already growing very fast, we can increase that trajectory with their help and investment,” he says.

In announcing its investment five months ago, H.I.G. Managing Director John Kim said, “Triad is a true market leader bringing tremendous value and measurable ROI to both advertisers and e-commerce retailers in one of the large untapped areas of digital marketing.”

Branching to sales centers
For the time being, Triad is concentrating its efforts stateside, having recently hired three staffers to open a New York office and setting a goal of $25 million to $30 million in annual sales there.

Staffers are in several other cities across the country, though the majority of its 210 employees are situated in an office building in the Westshore business district. External sales staff are situated in six others cities across the country: Orlando, Dallas, Seattle, Sacramento, Santa Monica and near Walmart's headquarters in Bentonville, Ark.

Being based in Tampa, a market mostly known among younger workers for its sports teams and proximity to beaches, it can be a bit of a challenge to attract talent from other large cities with creative bases. However, Murtagh says those prospective employees also recognize that Triad can be a gateway to working for similar companies in Los Angeles, San Francisco or Seattle.

“We're able to build careers in Tampa, not just jobs,” he says. “We give young people a lot of opportunity and a lot of rope. We have a great bunch of people, and a good marketing agency is all about people. We just need more of them.”

Murtagh adds that there is no need to relocate Triad to a larger market, no matter how big it gets. In fact, his company is already looking to expand beyond its current second-story space at 1410 N. Westshore Blvd. into the third and fourth floors, occupying a total of 35,000 square feet.

“There's no need for us to move,” he says. “My kids love it here and I love it here. We're not going anywhere.”

 

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