La Plata firm puts creative tech­nol­ogy into clients’ hands

NDG Com­mu­ni­ca­tions serves up ads, mar­ket­ing apps for real es­tate de­vel­op­ers

Maryland Independent - - Business - By DARWIN WEIGEL dweigel@somd­news.com Twit­ter: @somd_bized­i­tor

Tom Nel­son doesn’t like the name very much, but his La Plata-based NDG Com­mu­ni­ca­tions has been thriv­ing as a one-stop ad­ver­tis­ing, mar­ket­ing and in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy shop for home­builders and real es­tate de­vel­op­ers across the na­tion.

“For tout­ing we’re a creative bunch of peo­ple, it’s like the most un­cre­ative name you’ve ever heard of,” Nel­son said with a laugh dur­ing an in­ter­view last week.

Though, the name still looked good carved on the Col­lege of South­ern Mary­land Lead Edge Award his com­pany re­ceived this year: Charles County Tech­nol­ogy Com­pany of the Year.

The story of the un­cre­ative name dove­tails with the early evo­lu­tion of the com­pany from a one-man de­sign stu­dio into a grow­ing, award-win­ning full-ser­vice ad­ver­tis­ing and mar­ket­ing agency in the real es­tate in­dus­try.

The Chap­tico na­tive — he grew up on a tobacco farm in St. Mary’s County — started out in 1997 as Nel­son De­sign Group af­ter a cou­ple of years work­ing for a mag­a­zine pub­lisher in Tyson’s Cor­ner, Va., straight out of Sal­is­bury Uni­ver­sity.

“In 2002, I started mak­ing the move into fo­cus­ing on be­ing more of an ad agency for the real es­tate in­dus­try,” Nel­son said. “There was an ar­chi­tect called the Nel­son De­sign Group out in the Mid­west. I couldn’t un­der­stand when I first started do­ing busi­ness with [home build­ing] peo­ple they all thought I was an ar­chi­tect. I had a very large con­tract with Boz­zuto [Group] in Prince Ge­orge’s County that I needed to get a pro­posal for and I couldn’t do Nel­son De­sign Group, so I called the at­tor­ney and I came up with NDG in all of five min­utes. It’s the worst name ever. I joke about it. When peo­ple ask what NDG stands for I tell them ‘No Damn Good.’”

When he made the leap to self-em­ploy­ment in 1997, Nel­son saw a new mar­ket emerg­ing that would, through a se­ries of evo­lu­tions, be­come a large part of his busi­ness and help the com­pany grow to the 26 em­ploy­ees he has today.

“At the same time, that was about when in­ter­net for busi­ness was kind of in its in­fancy,” he said. “So, I started build­ing web­sites. The Charles County EDC [Eco­nomic Devel­op­ment Com­mis­sion] was one of my first clients that were here lo­cally. We built their very first web­site. And we just kind of grew from there.”

“I started pick­ing up a lot of home­builder work in the early 2000s. I wouldn’t say we changed; we just kind of evolved to where we were do­ing more than just in­ter­net devel­op­ment and graphic de­sign — it just kind of rolled into be­ing an ad agency,” he said. “Now we do mar­ket­ing and ad­ver­tis­ing. Ninety per­cent of our clients are home­builders and com­mer­cial real es­tate de­vel­op­ers.”

Part of the other 10 per­cent is the Uni­ver­sity of Mary­land Re­gional Med­i­cal Cen­ter in La Plata.

“I’ve been do­ing work for them since 2008,” he said. “We de­vel­oped the web­site that they’re us­ing.” His firm has since de­vel­oped the web­site’s wait time tool so pa­tients can es­ti­mate how long it will take to see a health­care pro­fes­sional.

“You can ac­tu­ally go on­line and find out what the wait time is,” he said. “You can even send a text and find out what the wait time is on your cell­phone.”

That kind of for­ward-think­ing devel­op­ment has con­trib­uted to the evo­lu­tion of putting tech­nol­ogy solutions right into the hands of clients — and a rea­son for the Lead­ing Edge award. He now has soft­ware pro­gram­mers on staff.

Last year, NDG Com­mu­ni­ca­tions de­vel­oped and de­ployed touch­screen kiosks in home sales cen­ters for var­i­ous home builders, in­clud­ing Beazer Homes and Brook­field Res­i­den­tial.

“If you go into any sales cen­ter na­tion­wide for Beazer Homes, they have a touch­screen kiosk where you can de­sign your home on­line and you can view all the dif­fer­ent plans in that par­tic­u­lar com­mu­nity,” he said. “We de­vel­oped that for them. We pro­grammed it and de­ployed it on our servers.”

The cur­rent project for Brook­field Res­i­den­tial is a home­owner app for smart­phones and tablet com­put­ers, which is in beta test­ing right now and will be de­ployed soon.

“We’re build­ing a home­owner ap­pli­ca­tion that no home builder has right now,” Nel­son said. “It’s a mo­bile app. Once you sign a con­tract, you can track the con­struc­tion progress of your home through your phone, through this app — it works with phones and tablets.”

The app also gives alerts for meet­ing and in­spec­tion ap­point­ments and syn­chro­nizes with dig­i­tal cal­en­dars.

“The peo­ple in the field will be able to take a pic­ture of your home and load it to a gallery so you can get real-time up­dates on where [the] home stands,” he said. “It’s re­ally, re­ally cool.”

Nel­son said the meld­ing of tra­di­tional ad­ver­tis­ing and mar­ket­ing with soft­ware devel­op­ment, so­cial me­dia and in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy is what has al­lowed his com­pany to con­tinue grow­ing. He’s cur­rently in the process of adding “four or five” new po­si­tions.

“We do pretty much any­thing we need to help a home­builder sell a house,” Nel­son said. “But, un­like a lot of ad agen­cies where they just come up with big ideas and sub ev­ery­thing else out, we do it all here. We have a pro­gram­ming team in-house, so we do all of our own devel­op­ment.”

“You can’t just rely on the big idea any­more,” he added. “The big idea has to then evolve into the ap­pli­ca­tion of the idea. It’s got to get out there in the dig­i­tal world.”

STAFF PHOTO BY DARWIN WEIGEL

Tom Nel­son, pres­i­dent of NDG Com­mu­ni­ca­tions in La Plata, re­ceived the Col­lege of South­ern Mary­land’s Lead­ing Edge Charles County Tech­nol­ogy Com­pany of the Year Award this year.

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