Today I’m very excited to announce the rebranding of PPC Associates to 3Q Digital.
I’m very proud of the reputation we’ve built up around PPC Associates, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t going to miss the name. That said, the services we offer today are much more than just PPC, so a change was necessary. What follows is a (sort of) brief history of our company and an explanation of why we are making this change!
The Early Years: Better Pay than Online Poker
In 2007 I was unhappy at work. I was traveling to India three times a year, dealing with a long commute, and grappling with internal politics. On top of that, my wife was pregnant with our first child, so it was going to be challenging to get to the hospital in time if I was 13.5 time zones away. So without much of a plan, I quit. At a minimum, I figured I’d have a lot of free time to spend with my wife and new son, and I also hoped I’d create the next great American start-up at the same time.
In January, 2008, I headed down to the Bay Coffee Company in Pacifica, CA, set up my laptop in a corner, and started staring at the computer screen for ideas.
A few interesting ones started to bubble to the top: “The Baby Survey” was a crowdsourced survey site where expecting parents could get advice from other parents about the basics of child-rearing; “Foodie Reports” was a review site for specialty foods in the grocery store (which is the best olive oil?); and WrinkleCream.pro was a comparison site for selecting the best wrinkle cream.
I had a little success with the Wrinkle Cream site, though mainly it was driven through arbitraging Google AdWords. I also played a little online poker and won $6000 in less than two days and then gave it all back over the next few months.
But what mainly happened in those early months of 2008 is that I started getting calls and emails from friends asking me if I would help them with SEM at their companies. I had never worked at an agency or even done any consulting, so I just made up an hourly rate and gladly accepted whatever business came my way. I even launched a very crappy WordPress blog and resurrected a URL I had owned for a few years to create a basic online presence. Here’s a screenshot (without graphics, sadly) that I got from the Way-Back Machine of PPCAdBuying.com – launched in January 2008!
Over the next six months, my wrinkle cream web site got hacked and never recovered, but my SEM consulting business started to take off. By the end of 2008, I had enough SEM consulting work to keep me busy full-time. And I was starting to get calls from bigger clients too – big enough that I realized that trying to close a contract with espresso machines grinding in the background probably wasn’t the best sales strategy.
2009: An Office (Sort Of), Team Members, and a New Name
So despite the free rent, free Internet, and great coffee, I decided it was time to invest a little money in an actual office (well, sort of). In 2009, I signed a killer deal with Regus temporary offices that got me an office 10 days a month, free Internet, and free (but really bad) coffee.
While I was still in the coffee shop 50% of the time, I could schedule client meetings based on my “office” time. Plus, it just felt really cool to have an actual office, even if it wasn’t really mine.
By early 2009 I had about 10 clients – great companies like CalFinder, EchoSign (acquired by Adobe), LightInTheBox (NYSE: LITB), Flock (acquired by Zynga), Smule, and Zappos. As more and more leads were coming in, I realized that pretty soon I wouldn’t be able to handle all of these awesome clients by myself. At about that time, I was hanging with my old friend from my days at FindLaw.com, Will Lin, and we started to talk about the idea of working together again.
So Will quit FindLaw and joined me at PPC Ad Buying. Will, however, had a problem with the name – he thought it was too long. He initially suggested “Rodnitzky and Associates,” but having spent 40 years correcting misspellings of my name, I was against that. Then he came up with PPC Associates, and we went with it.
Our first Web design was an ‘homage’ to Google – unfortunately the fonts and background colors don’t show up on the Way-Back machine, but you can get a sense of the look and feel here:
A few months after Will began, we realized that two people weren’t enough to handle all the business coming our way, so we decided to actually hire some team members to help us out. Given that we didn’t have a real office, benefits, or a business checking account, the first few brave souls to join our team were definitely taking a leap of faith. And in truth, our ragtag team consisted entirely of people we already knew – a former colleague at my last job, a Web designer with whom I had collaborated on some projects, my sister, and an SEM guy who I had rejected in a past job interview! By the end of 2009, we had roughly five people and around 15 clients.
2010-2011: Growth, growth, growth
The next couple of years of our existence are sort of boring, so I won’t spend too much time detailing them. Suffice to say, we went from five people to about 25, from no office to two offices (San Mateo and Chicago), and from around 15 clients to about 40 clients. And we did it all without a sales team or really any outbound marketing or sales efforts at all.
Well, actually, in October of 2011, we officially launched the PPC Associates blog, replacing my individual effort, Blogation.net. Led by marketing superstar Hillary Read, we made a commitment in 2011 to post at least one article every business day. Since that date, we haven’t missed a single day – nice job Hillary!
2012: Welcome to the Wide Tail of Marketing
I’ve always liked the phrase “an expert at everything is an expert at nothing.” In the online marketing world, I’m dubious of anyone who claims to be an expert at more than one or two areas of marketing. So the notion of offering more than just SEM to clients was one that I did not take lightly. That said, by early 2012, we noticed that clients were increasingly asking us to do more for them than just their SEM. And in some cases, we lost clients who opted for a “one-stop shop” over a collection of individual expert agencies.
And the truth is, we realized that online marketing had changed. The “long tail” of search engine marketing was dying (helped along by Google), and being replaced by the “wide tail” – multiple channels (search, social, display) on multiple devices. To fully service our clients, we needed to follow our clients’ customers, who were no longer sticking to just desktop search.
The solution we came up with was to hire true experts to build complementary service offerings to our existing SEM efforts. The way I’ve always explained this internally is that we want to be “A+” at everything we do, so we need true subject-matter experts in each field. So we hired a Facebook expert and a display media expert and started offering these services to clients. On top of that, we also opened an office in San Francisco and grew to about 50 people and 60 clients.
2013: More than Just PPC: Welcome to 3Q Digital
2013 to date has been a year of massive change at PPC Associates. We added SEO to our list of services by hiring SEO pro Kent Yunk to run that team. We also brought on a COO for the first time, opened a San Diego office, signed a partnership with Convertro for attribution management, and hired our first sales person! We currently manage about $180 million of annual online marketing spend for more than 75 incredible clients.
The combination of SEM, SEO, Display, Facebook, and Attribution really makes us a digital marketing agency, rather than a PPC agency. So we made the tough decision to come up with a name that reflects our total service offering. Through a combination of branding brainstorming (with thanks to Julie Vlahos), an internal name-choosing contest, and domain-availability checking, we arrived at the name 3Q Digital. For a few years now, we’ve talked internally about what we call “Maslow’s hierarchy of client needs” – that is, what are the things we need to do to provide incredible service and results to clients?
We came up with three core deliverables – XQ (execution), IQ (intelligence) and EQ (emotional intelligence).
In other words, a client needs to have work delivered on time and without mistakes (XQ), needs to work with team members who are true experts in their field (IQ), and needs to feel like they have a partner who cares about them and provides strategic value (EQ). When you combine these three client needs with our internal values – Net Promoter Score (client satisfaction), internal Net Promoter Score (team satisfaction), and company ROI – we feel like we’ve created an agency that can really create amazing partnerships with clients.
Visually, this ‘dual hierarchy of needs’ looks like this:
I’m very excited about this new name, as it really speaks to the core principles that helped shape our agency in the first place. And frankly, we’re not just a PPC agency anymore, so we need a name that will work well for us as we continue to follow the ever-changing road that is online marketing. Are we still going to provide awesome/the best PPC management in the world? Of course! But we are also awesome/the best at other types of online marketing as well.
Thanks for helping us get to this point, and welcome to the new age of 3Q Digital!