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Beyond the (e)Bay

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  • | 9:47 a.m. April 15, 2011
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Company. Triad Retail Media
Industry. Online marketing
Key. Reaching shoppers where they surf the Web

Triad Retail Media, a nondescript firm based in Tampa's Westshore district, was already a national player in terms of online media, but its standing was advanced further with the Jan. 27 announcement that it will manage advertising for eBay Inc.

Greg Murtagh, who launched the company in 2004, sees the deal as a new beginning for Triad. While his firm is already aligned with some of the country's most familiar consumer brands, the eBay partnership charts a new course for growth.

“It's a giant advertising opportunity for us,” says Murtagh, who modified the company's identity from Triad Digital Media earlier this year to better reflect its focus on retailing. He cites the billions of page views eBay attracts each month, making it prime territory for promotion of goods and services, and allowing for as much video and animation a potential customer could ever want.

He also points to the potential $50 billion market for online advertising this year, based on various estimates. That's the gap between online and traditional ad types such as print and broadcast, he says.

“Dollars that had been spent on TV and print are flowing our way,” he says, noting that they will flow even faster if Triad can demonstrate sales behind those investments. “Now is the time to lean forward and tighten the reins.”

Still early in the game

Even with the proliferation of smart phones and tablet computers more powerful than desktop processors of years gone by, online ads and promotions are still considered to be in their early stage. Experts think opportunities for growth and development abound.

Consider this year's Super Bowl television spots. The commercials used to be seen only once the night of the game, but they can now be viewed before and after the game numerous times on several different websites.

Besides remaining a form of entertainment for days afterward, online ads make it easier to track the number of people viewing as well as results, such as click-throughs for more information or actual sales in the form of virtual shopping carts, says Erika Matulich, marketing professor at the University of Tampa's John H. Sykes College of Business. That makes them superior to other ad forms, which offer only sketchy results, she says.

“If I am a manager and can get a good ROI on new media forms, and I am simply guessing at ROI on traditional forms, my preference would be new media forms,” Matulich says.

Murtagh, last year's Business Review Entrepreneur of the Year for the Tampa Bay area, sensed those possibilities as far back as 1997, when videos on computers were flickery and pixellated. He was working in the sales and marketing departments of companies such as Procter & Gamble Co. and Dial Corp., moving around the country, when he decided to pursue advertising on the Internet.

He landed in Tampa in 2003, launching Triad the following year with a $100,000 “angel” investment. His big break came in the form of a presentation to Wal-Mart Stores Inc., showing how the nation's largest retailer could boost its presence on the Web. (He still keeps the multi-page document in his office at the Towers of Westshore building near Interstate 275.)

From there, Triad lined up contracts to enhance the websites of major retailers including CVS pharmacies, Dell computers and Best Buy electronics. With a mouse click, consumers can navigate not only details and demonstrations of featured products but cross-promotions with other advertisers and quick links to company pages on Facebook.

Enhancing banners

With eBay, Triad will sell and manage all display advertising appearing on its sites, taking a “beyond the banner” approach that allows customers to view category-specific content without clicking off the page. Sponsored landing pages or “content centers” will highlight seasonally relevant and interactive content, and inspire new purchases through integrated merchandising with eBay listings.

Murtagh explains that eBay previously used ad networks to help monetize its site. Not only were those ads inexpensive, generating little revenue for the site, they didn't allow much control over what types of ads were displayed. (Think of the ones currently seen on Facebook as an example.)

Triad focuses more on the quality aspect, in terms of both advertisers and displays, allowing the publisher — in this case, eBay — to command a premium for space on its pages, he says.

“As eBay continues to focus on innovation and new ways for eBay shoppers and sellers to connect, we are driving even better experiences on,” Christopher Payne, vice president of eBay North America, said in announcing the collaboration. “Our new agreement with Triad puts our customers front and center as we deliver more relevant, customized advertising content to them through Triad's leadership in digital retail media.”

Triad is establishing an office near eBay's headquarters in San Jose, Calif., where 10 staffers will work with 20 to 30 employees based in Tampa, Murtagh says. The firm also recently opened an office on New York's Park Avenue with a dozen employees there.

Now with 265 employees and additional sales offices across the country, Triad is growing at a steadier clip than in recent years, joining the Inc. 500 after posting a 677% boost in revenue between 2005 and 2008.

The CEO says there have been no problems managing such rapid growth. “We've done a good job of being leading edge, but not bleeding edge,” he says.

No need to relocate

Regardless of how much Triad grows, Murtagh reiterates that there is no need for the company to relocate from Tampa to a larger media market. Last fall, the company expanded to two other floors at the Towers of Westshore, taking up 35,000 square feet.

“We're able to build careers in Tampa, not just jobs. We give young people a lot of opportunity and a lot of rope,” he said in a previous interview. While getting creative workers to move here is no longer the challenge it used to be, he added, Triad can be a stepping stone to those larger markets.

UT's Matulich notes that online operators like Triad can locate anywhere, but Tampa is a particularly good geographic point for this type of industry because it has a strong technological base and a talented pool of creatives.

“Location is no longer a strategic necessity in the world of online advertising,” she says. “What is a strategic necessity is a high-quality product, outstanding customer service and reliability.”

Triad is already looking for additional opportunities for which the eBay agreement can open doors. Late last year, it partnered with News America Marketing, part of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. empire that includes The Wall Street Journal and Fox TV, to take over brand advertising on the media giant's SmartSource coupon site.

It is also expanding on its relationship with Wal-mart, producing a mobile application for Sam's Club warehouse stores and SlimFast weight-loss products that allows customers to track their progress. Meanwhile, Triad's relationship with eBay has already been expanded to include eBay Motors.

Murtagh isn't limiting his ambitions, noting confidently that Triad should reach $120 million in revenue this year. He says the company is maximizing its relationship with H.I.G. Ventures LLC, a Miami-based capital provider that made a substantial investment in Triad in exchange for an unspecified minor stake.

He has reached out to Facebook, which is speculated to be due for an overhaul ahead of a planned initial public offering, to discuss the possibility of managing its display advertising. He has yet to get a return call.


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