La Plata firm puts creative technology into clients’ hands
NDG Communications serves up ads, marketing apps for real estate developers
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.”
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.