The Three Ships name honors the spirit of exploration that brought three ships — the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria — to the Americas in 1492. Founded in 2009, when digital marketing remained a new frontier, the company aspired to live out the innovative spirit of explorers who looked to the promise of tomorrow. Many years later, we’re still innovating.
We have launched, built and invested in a variety of digital marketing businesses. Our first business, a digital advertising agency we now call CRISP, remains at the heart of what we do. We’ve also incubated, built and sold a successful Software as a Service company (Demand Signals, which was acquired by TRANZACT). We’ve launched a financial lead generation company Claris, invested in digital ventures such as BLOSSOM and e-commerce opportunities such as Lavalier. And our customer acquisition company 3S Ventures co-invests with brands to grow their digital presence.
We have a proven track record of success in digital marketing performance-based partnerships with companies including a private equity-owned financial services company, the leading United States jewelry insurance company and a private equity-backed retailer. Private equity firms have turned to us to evaluate deals. Public companies have turned to us to help them achieve transformations.
While we weren’t quite founded in a dorm room, our founder did start the company just months after finishing graduate school in 2009. He believed that digital marketing changes the way customers buy, and the name “Three Ships” captured the innovative spirit required to navigate this new era of digital marketing.
By 2013, Three Ships had naturally evolved into two divisions: a digital agency and a software and services company for organic search. Moving to independent companies (one focused on machine learning algorithms and the other on idea-driven campaigns) operating within a larger Three Ships allowed us to deliver more sophisticated specialization to our clients in the rapidly maturing digital world.
In December 2015, Three Ships purchased a 25,000 square foot building at 1122 Oberlin Road in Raleigh to accommodate its businesses’ need for expansion space. In March 2016, Three Ships announced that the digital marketing agency would become CRISP and the organic search software firm would become Demand Signals. We also began investing in research & development on pay-for-performance digital marketing, formalizing our efforts into a third company named 3S Ventures.
Today, more than 80 digital professionals work at the Three Ships building and Three Ships serves a client roster that includes industry leaders in retail, financial services, business services and private equity.
Zach Clayton is the chairman of Three Ships, which he founded in 2009 immediately after graduating from business school. Three Ships is a family of digital marketing businesses with a common mission of unlocking growth for our clients through digital marketing.
Zach has founded four successful digital marketing businesses:
- CRISP, an advertising agency that fuses art and performance to bend the future for its clients
- Demand Signals, a machine learning platform for optimizing websites for organic search (acquired by TRANZACT in 2016)
- 3S Ventures, a digital asset management business that co-invests with brands in growing their online presence
- New Media Campaigns, a web and application development firm
Currently, Zach is the Chief Digital Officer and a member of the executive team at TRANZACT, the leader in customer acquisition for the insurance industry. TRANZACT, backed by Clayton, Dubilier & Rice, acquired Demand Signals from Three Ships in 2016 to accelerate its digital transformation.
Zach is a “digital lifer.” He started New Media Campaigns as an undergraduate; he published his first research paper on social media well before Facebook was public or Pinterest existed. He has worked with leading private equity firms and more than 25 private equity-backed clients, advising CEOs, senior marketers and company leadership on digital strategy.
Zach has written for The Hotline, authored three books, published numerous articles on digital media and appeared on CNN, MSNBC and FOX News. He holds an MBA with high distinction from Harvard Business School, where he was a Baker Scholar, and a BA from UNC Chapel Hill, where he was a Morehead Scholar and elected to Phi Beta Kappa.
Zach currently serves on the Foundation Board at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Media and Journalism and the Board of the Dix Park Conservancy.