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Web ad wizard's success attracts top companies

Seeking proof that advertising, like many industries, is relationship-driven? Look no further than Greg Murtagh.

In 2004, Murtagh founded a Tampa online advertising firm called Digital Media. In the midst of a major advertising slump, his company has been on a tear, growing sixfold in three years by creating online ads for some 300 national brands.

Murtagh credits the surge in part to strong relationships built from decades in the industry. His career included stints with Procter & Gamble Co. and Dial Corp., working in Boston, Phoenix, Dallas, Atlanta and New York. His firm's president was once a brand manager at PepsiCo and former chief marketing officer in ConAgra Foods.

It also helped that Murtagh zeroed in on a formula that worked: crafting online ad campaigns for national brands and giving those campaigns heavy exposure on major retail sites like Walmart.com, CompUSA.com and CVS.com.

End result: Triad Digital Media notched a spot on the latest Inc. 500 list of fastest-growing companies in the country, swelling its revenue by 677 percent over three years.

In 2010, Murtagh projects revenues will reach $80 million, up from $65 million in 2009. Between trips to Digital's half-dozen satellite offices around the country (with a new office opening soon in Manhattan), he sat down to talk about capitalizing on the digital age.

Describe what you do.

We work with some of the leading advertisers in the world: Walmart.com, Dell.com, BestBuy.com. … About 15 altogether. We work with over 300 brands. Schick Quatro would be a brand; Glade Scented would be a brand. What we do is create advertising that appears on the retailers' sites. It's more than just a banner. It's flash and video and very interactive. It all ties into their e-commerce shops. It's not just an ad; it helps convert sales.

How effective is the advertising?

For the average banner ad that you would see on a publisher like a Microsoft site or iVillage … the click-through (rate) on those banner adds is 0.1 percent.

The click-through on our programs runs from an average of a half percent to 10 percent if there's an offer associated with it, for example, or a download. So we significantly outperform the average display program.

Let's go back to 2004. How much did you invest in launching Digital Media?

I had some angel money. … The initial investment was very small, like $100,000. This year, we will probably do $80 million in sales. … Last year we grew by 50 percent. I'll take 50 percent in 2009, the worst year in the past 80 years.

We're at 185 employees, most of whom are here in Tampa.

Can you give me an example of a recent campaign that was particularly effective or original?

We did a program with PepsiCo where we asked consumers to design their own NASCAR (car) online. For the winner, Pepsi actually designed their real NASCAR (car) with that design. And Jeff Gordon was their driver, and he won the race with that car. They said it was one of the best online marketing programs that they did that year.

Who are some of your newest clients?

PizzaHut.com and CircuitCity.com.

What's your forecast for ad revenue this year?

There was a lot of pent-up demand in 2009 when a lot of people retracted across the board. … I think 2010 is going to be a fantastic year for online media. We're already seeing that in the marketplace. People aren't holding back like they were last year. (The first quarter of 2009) was scary. Our conversations in January and February are very different from where they are now.

Is that bounceback in advertising across the board?

Online is going to lead the growth by far. … A lot of money is coming out of TV and print and moving to digital. Things that have to be printed and mailed will be down. E-mail: up; display advertising: up; search engine marketing: up; mobile: up; social (media): up.

What do you do for a second act?

We've been profitable every quarter for five years. … So what I chose to do in 2009 to take us to the next level was partner with a private equity company called HIG Ventures. They've provided significant working capital for us to be able to open new offices and provide new services.

We'll expand around those things that are growing around our core: mobile, social and video. That's hot, hot, hot. People really want to get their message via video instead of reading an HTML page. It's much more fun and engaging. We're anticipate adding five to seven new retailers this year. And we're now looking at international. We're looking at the EU as a real opportunity. Canada. Mexico.

Would you consider going public?

No. I like being private. I like to keep control of the pace of what we do and the quality of what we do.

I noticed the Vince Lombardi plaque on your wall. Is he your hero?

Ted Turner would be my hero. He's always very focused and enjoys life at the same time. And he doesn't take himself too seriously.

Jeff Harrington can be reached at jharrington@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8242.

Web ad wizard's success attracts top companies 01/15/10 [Last modified: Monday, January 18, 2010 10:46am]

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