Friday, December 18, 2009

Web design warning signs: #10 - No Ongoing Plan

This is the first in a series of 10 posts that address the top signs that you have a terrible Web design firm. At my company we often get asked the question of what to look for in a Web design firm. Sometimes it can be better to ask what NOT to look for. Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be outlining red flags that you should be on the lookout for when tackling a Web design project.

#10 – No Ongoing Plan

One of my personal pet peeves in Web design, which I see far too often, is that projects are imagined and then pitched as one time initiatives. Most Web sites are not a static product to be designed and launched once. They should be dynamic and changing and evolve over time with the needs of your company.

Many companies make the mistake of redesigning their Web site as a one-time event, when they should really be putting a platform in place for the ongoing evolution of their online presence. Effective Web sites need to be updated and changed over time as you business evolves, but too often a Web design firm will build a site and then disappear.

Ask the following questions when redesigning your Web site and think of your site as dynamic, leaving and breathing entity that needs to be fed and managed:

- How easy is the site to update?
- What’s the plan for upgrades?
- How is SEO managed on an ongoing basis? How are keywords and meta tags updated?
- What’s the process for adding new features or optimizing existing ones?
- How is ongoing reporting handled?
- If we need to switch to a new platform, what is the process for exporting data, content and design templates?

If your Web design company is not asking these questions or presenting solutions for these items, you have the wrong firm. Chances are they’ll be gone or out of business when you need to make updates.

Read the full series: Top 10 Web Design Warning Signs

Monday, October 26, 2009

Acceleration of print dollars moving online

From what we are seeing, not only within our markets but across the b2b media space as a whole, the move from print to online is continuing to accelerate despite the current economic environment. Much of this acceleration is being driven by more traditionally minded companies moving meaningful portions of their advertising budgets away from print. We are predicting this trend to continue through Q1 2010 particularly as larger companies finalize planning for next year's advertising budgets. Below is a nice summary from Direct Marketing News using CDW and IKEA as examples:

Dignital Marketing Shift Speeds Up - DMNews

Tuesday, October 6, 2009 Named As One of 10 Great Media Sites of 2009 by BtoB Magazine

It’s not often that a major industry publication recognizes your flagship Web site as best in class. I’m pleased to announce that has been included by BtoB’s Media Business Magazine in its annual “10 Great Media Sites” issue, alongside such elite publications as BusinessWeek, Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal. PoliceOne is widely recognized as the leading online resource for law enforcement and is celebrating its 10 year anniversary this fall. This honor clearly validates the site as a leader not only in public safety, but within online media as a whole. Each year, B2B magazine’s compilation recognizes sites that make the best use of technologies and strategies employed by the top players in digital media. This year, the focus was on meeting the challenge of monetization. The article cited PoliceOne’s success with its video initiatives – and PoliceOneTV - as a key differentiator.

Check out the coverage:

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Latest Trends: Online Advertising versus Print

We all know that marketing dollars are shifting from traditional media to online. Whether that means companies investing in their Web sites, advertising on portals like ours, creating microsites, buying banner ads or engaging social media, the world of B2B marketing is changing rapidly. We are seeing it daily in the public safety space both in terms of our success and the challenges our more traditional media-focused competitors are facing. For example, Cygnus Business Media, one of the companies we compete with in multiple verticals, has been hit particularly hard by changing trends ( I asked my team to pull together a summary of what media experts are saying to provide some context around what we are seeing in our markets:

Interactive Marketing Spending to Hit $55 Billion by 2014
U.S. interactive marketing spending will reach $55 billion by 2014, making up 21% of all marketing spending, according to a new report by Forrester Research. The report says search marketing will lead the growth, totaling $31.5 billion by 2014, followed by display advertising, which will total $16.9 billion. Also by 2014, spending on social media, projected to reach $3.1 billion, will top spending on e-mail marketing, projected to total $2.1 billion.

In surveying more than 200 marketers in March for the report, Forrester found that 60% plan to fund interactive marketing by shifting dollars away from traditional media. (Source: Forrester, “U.S. Interactive Marketing Forecast, 2009–2014”)

Top Executives Choosing Online
“Confirming what many already suspected, a recent poll from LinkedIn's Research Network and Harris Interactive found that advertisers are spending less ad dollars on print in favor of online. The poll of 1,015 top executives at ad agencies and their corporate clients found that 74% of advertisers that use Internet say they are using it more than they did one year ago, while 49% of advertisers that use print say they are using it less.

While conventional wisdom holds that newspapers and magazines are losing print ad dollars to the Internet, polls like the LinkedIn-Harris survey provide empirical evidence to prove it.” - Erik Sass, Media Post

Forecast: Declines in Magazine Spending Through 2013…Digital poised as fastest-growing
“The current economic slowdown, shifting consumer behavior and new ad-supported revenue models are triggering acceleration of digital migration.” - Bill Cobourn, PricewaterhouseCooper’s

Reallocation of Dollars Online a Reality
“60% of marketers surveyed will increase their interactive marketing budgets by shifting funds from traditional media. Print advertising was cited by 63% of marketers as being cut, outranking direct mail (40%) and broadcast (12%). Online display advertising, which currently stands at $7.83 billion, will rise by 17% annually, ending up at $16.9 billion in 2014.

Among CMOs facing lower budgets 19% said they cut branding and advertising because ‘I can't track its results’ and 26% said the same about their magazine expenditures On the other hand, 47% of CMOs whose budgets have been cut are increasing their spending on social media, while another 44% are increasing spending on Web site development. 40% will spend more on online advertising, and nearly that amount will increase financial resources in e-mail, considering these functions critical to their businesses, or needed to maintain competitive advantages.” - Forrester Research, reported by Richard H. Levey at

Macy's is giving magazines the cold shoulder.

The retailer has quietly cut its entire magazine spend for the first half of 2009, according to several publishers. "We were on a media plan for Macy's, and we got a call,'' said one publisher. "They scuttled the entire first half and are going online.'' - Ad Age

Automotive Industry Increases Online Spending 55%
“The automotive industry - caught in the grips of a recession and poor management - is turning to less expensive, more trackable media en masse.” - T.E.P. Research

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Decade of Praetorian: Reflecting on the Journey

This month, our company celebrated a rather remarkable anniversary. It was 10 years ago that I quit my job, jumped on a plane and headed west to start the Praetorian Group in an office building that also housed a fish processing plant and a fruit market. The smell that permeated the office at that time was not, in fact, success.

Fortunately, we were buoyed and energized by a lofty dream and vision: to use Internet technology to connect public safety – spanning police, fire, EMS and corrections – and help them better protect their communities, be safer and stay better informed. It’s a mission that did – and still does – provide inspiration to all of us each day.

This month’s 10 year anniversary has provided me with the occasion to reflect upon our journey and what it has meant to both me and the markets we serve. I am immensely proud of what we have built, the team we’ve put together, the members who have embraced our services, and the sponsors who have supported our mission. Over the years, we’ve received piles of letters and emails from members expressing sentiment that ranges from general “thank yous” to specific, harrowing stories of how their lives were saved by lessons learned from our sites and seminars. Testimonials like these have served as confirmation that we are making a significant difference each day in the lives of first responders and the communities they serve by providing critical information, resources and technology.

We’ve had to overcome many obstacles in reaching this milestone. In the early 2000s, we had to scrape and claw and hang on by the skin of our teeth to survive the “dotcom” boom and bust. Then it was the challenge of growing and figuring out not only how to survive as a business, but thrive. We’ve faced serious technology and business challenges and are now fighting through the worst recession in 60 years. These situations have yielded countless memories, from figuring out how to bring in enough revenue to meet payroll to the long nights in the early days of PoliceOne when I’d find myself driving an hour each way to fix our servers by hand on what seemed like a weekly basis.

But through it all, Praetorian is undeniably thriving by every meaningful measure. So much of our success can be attributed to having the right team and each member motivated by the right mission. It is our team’s unrelenting passion and commitment to the professionals we serve that has fueled our growth. Through it all, we have maintained the perspective that whatever struggles and challenges we’ve had to endure are trifling compared to facing the loss of a partner, subduing a violent subject, running into a burning building or a fighting to keep a patient alive.

This being public safety, we have at times had to fight to bring our customers and members (sometimes kicking and screaming) to embrace the Internet as a valuable tool. It’s a fight that we are winning in taking the lead as the top online media company in public safety, competing against much larger companies with bigger budgets and greater resources.

As we take stock of our company and mission after 10 years, it is clear we are making a difference:

  • has helped revolutionized how law enforcement gets its information, and now reaches more than 25% of all police officers nationwide.
  • Calibre Press and the Street Survival Seminar have been thriving under the PoliceOne umbrella and now in its 29th year trains nearly 10,000 officers per year in critical, lifesaving tactics.
  • is approaching 100,000 registered members and is making a name for itself as the most current, comprehensive and exciting media property in the fire market.
  • just celebrated its 2-year anniversary and has become recognized as the number one Web site for EMTs and Paramedics.
  • Our and sites are younger but each is growing rapidly, counting more than 45,000 members between them.
  • We’ve created a network of 10 microsites, such as,, and, that provide specialized resources around key topics.

To properly celebrate this anniversary, I must formally thank the groups who have been partners in our success:

Thank you to our advisors and contributors, who represent some of top minds and most forward thinking individuals within each of our markets. You have shared your ideas and vision, given us your stamp of approval and have helped make us what we are today.

I also must thank our sponsors and partners, many of whom have been with us since day one and who provide us with the means to provide the services we offer. We have benefited from your input, and we have enjoyed sharing our success with you as we’ve grown.

Finally, and most importantly, I want to thank the first responders and officers who have given us their trust as their primary source for critical resources to help them with their profession. It is a special feeling to be able to provide information that may save someone’s life or enable them to save another, and we thank you for allowing us to play that role. Without you, we wouldn’t have a company, mission or identity.

Praetorian is unique in the public safety market. After 10 years we still have the mindset of a start up and underdog. At our core, we are a small, entrepreneurial company highly committed to the police officers, firefighters, EMTs, paramedics, correctional officers and emergency managers we serve. It’s been my honor and the honor of my entire team to serve the public safety community for the past 10 years. There is no other group as dedicated to the public good and as worthy of our support.

Here’s to another 10 years filled with exciting new challenges and a continued impact on those who protect us every day.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Challenge of Measuring Online Advertising

Much of traditional, media-based advertising is driven by the impression. Think of the TV ad, the billboard or the print ad. The name of the game is identify your audience, buy some space and deliver your message through engaging creative. We all know that measurement ends up being illusive at best and plain impossible at worst.

Online advertising promises to be different. And it is. But are we discounting the power of building your brand in the right place at the right time with the right creative?

We strongly believe that online advertising is still advertising. Impressions count. Branding counts. Thought leadership counts. Audience engagement counts. The below article from does a nice job of arguing for going beyond the click-through in measuring online advertising and provides some interesting data points:

Engagement metrics evolve beyond CTR along with Web display ad technologies

Let's not be too hasty in discounting the power of the right impression.

Social Media as a Marketing Tool

Over the past several months, many of our sponsors have been asking us how they should incorporate social networking sites into their marketing plan and better reach the younger segments of their customer base. Most recently, that discussion has been driven by the rapid growth of Twitter and Facebook, and the accompanying tales of companies that have seen great results from clever marketing strategies.

Whether you are an established brand or an up-and-comer trying to build buzz, there is a growing worry among companies that not having a Twitter profile, a blog or a Facebook page means you're "behind the ball." Often, the main barrier is either unfamiliarity with social media or difficulty evaluating whether these initiatives are really worth the time, effort and hassle. So if you decide to commit to building a social marketing plan, what sort of return can you expect and how is it measured?

Understanding Your Options:

In our experience, social media marketing can be worth the time and effort, but it's important to take a measured approach. There are a lot of ways out there to engage customers, including traditional methods like building a sales force or going to a trade show. Social media is just one of many options in your marketing toolkit. The upside is that it's cheap, but the downside is that it takes time on an ongoing basis and requires expertise to really make it pay off.

Before spending a lot of time on social networking, make sure you think through your objectives and come up with a plan for how you're going to use it to complement your marketing strategy. Here’s a quick outline of the value and opportunities offered by a few of the sites that we’d recommend you consider as part of your strategy:

1. Facebook Page
  • Connect with customers from around the world who use Facebook every day (in our case, first responders)
  • Showcase your brand and drive traffic back to your corporate site
  • Engage purchasers with multimedia features such as video demos and product images
  • Grow your list of friends and use Facebook as an engine for announcing everything from a promotion to a major product launch

2. Twitter Profile
  • Provide your customers real-time updates on company announcements, discounts and promotions, product launches and answering FAQs
  • Develop a follower list and speak directly to customers with short, conversational messages about your brand and products
  • Follow individuals in your industry and find out what they are discussion (in our case, we are seeing trainers, media contacts, industry experts, distributors and manufacturers all using Twitter)

3. LinkedIn Group
  • Create discussions between decision makers within a professionally focused environment that is directly tied to your company
  • Educate purchasers by posting relevant information such as news, available jobs, white papers and research results
  • Build a database of active members and communicate to them directly as the group moderator

4. Company Blog
  • Become a thought leader in your market by sharing your expertise and best practices with readers
  • Archive content relevant to your company in a branded, search engine-friendly environment
  • Organize link exchange between valued clients and partners to your blog for increased search value

Getting Started:

Now that you know where to go, let's talk about what you need to do. Like any new marketing investment, learning the best way to use social media for your specific company takes time and a lot of trial and error.

If you do it yourself, you’ll need to allocate time on an ongoing basis to keep your profiles fresh and grow an audience. If you are not willing to do so, don’t even start.

Below are a few brief tips of how to stay efficient as you get started:
  1. Let Others Do the Work
    One of the easiest solutions use services that offer exposure within their existing social network. For example, for our sponsors, we'll post links to sponsor-submitted content, including press releases, new product announcements and white papers, or even direct links to our sponsors' sites to our Twitter feed, Facebook page and in-house social networking sites. We've already done the work of aggregating a network and can speak directly to our members in a nonintrusive way.

  2. Use Tools
    Stay up-to-date on the latest applications that simplify social networking processes. Developers are constantly innovating new ways to interact with social media sites and improve your experience. For example, TweetDeck is a useful app which, among other uses, allows you to simultaneously post messages to your Facebook page and Twitter profile with one click.

  3. Create and Follow a Plan
    Create a social networking plan and appoint someone to become your resident expert. Using Twitter as an example, here are some main points that should be included in your strategy:
    1. Type of content - What are the types of information that you want to communicate? We focus primarily on product announcements, tips and breaking news.
    2. Frequency of posts - How often will you tweet and from how many different profiles? After you decide what type of content you want to post you can then determine the appropriate number of posts. Posts should be done weekly at the very minimum.
    3. Integration - Can you strengthen your corporate site and add fresh content by incorporating an RSS feed of your tweets? Or convert followers to newsletter subscribers?
    4. Promotion - How do you increase your followers and convert non-Twitter users to followers? Twitter can be a powerful way of keeping in touch with customers in between purchases. Adding an icon to your site or newsletter is an easy way to add followers and create more ongoing interaction.

Hopefully this gives you some helpful tips and things to think about as you consider your own social marketing strategy. On a side note, we've recently launched a couple of new services to help our sponsors better make use of social networking. If you're interested in learning more, contact us directly.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Defining Findability

I’ve heard a lot of talk recently in the online marketing world about “findability,” or how easy it is to find a Web site or company online. The Internet is vast and growing; it currently contains at least 25 billion pages. Google engineers recently found 1 trillion unique URLs on the Web. The sheer number of pages our there is downright incredible. What findability gets to is how well you match your company to potential customers that are looking for you or what you sell. How do you stand out in what I affectionately call "the online garbage heap"?

When I think about reaching the niche markets we serve and driving relevant traffic to our Web sites, I focus on the following question: “What are the most critical places for my presence, and how can I reach potential customers where they are most open to my message and products?” In my case, it's reaching police officers, firefighters or paramedics that are looking for news, products and information, and who are likely to become members of our sites. For most of my customers, it's tracking down first responders looking for or researching the products they sell, which could include anything from body armor and AEDs to fire apparatus and tasers.

For niche marketers, I recommend the following framework for evaluating different types of online marketing options. When thinking about my online strategy for each of the markets we serve, I look very closely at the following online environments and ask myself how well each of these provide access to potential customers:

Portals (,
The best portals provide a highly targeted and qualified audience that is deeply engaged in the content they are accessing. Visitors tend to be highly loyal and return frequently. They also tend to be the more savvy, professional and engaged member of the community you are targeting and often visit portals looking for you or information on the types of products you sell. Portals also offer great opportunities for product education and lead generation if configured to make you “findable”. Look for the market leaders with the best content and the leading expert contributors and be careful of the numerous wannabe sites that merely repurpose print content or run-of-the-mill news.

Search Engines (Google, Yahoo)

Using search engines, either through SEO or CPC buys, is all about making your company and products immediately accessible. It works best when you have a call to action or are looking for straight conversions, particularly if customers are already familiar with your product or brand. Search engines and portals (described below) are the first places customers go when looking to buy products and since that’s where they are searching, that’s where you want to be found.

Associations (,,
Associations offer highly targeted access to their members. Most are small and not very web savvy, but do have a web presence. I recommend reaching out to those most relevant to your customers to see whether they have a newsletter in which you could buy exposure or in which they would be willing to trade links or post press releases. Many will do so for free.

Social Networking Sites (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter)
Mining social networking sites for potential customers can be a constructive guerilla marketing tactic, but also a huge waste of time. Ask yourself if your facebook fans are really potential customers or if they care at all about your products and brand. If you have twitter followers, who are they? If you have a niche product and only a small percentage of the market you serve could be a potential customer, make sure that your social networking is reaching that customer. If so, it can be a nice marketing channel. If not, don’t bother.

I like the term “findability” because it goes far beyond simple SEO or Cost per Click buys and takes a holistic look at your customers and the behaviors they exhibit online. It’s a nice concept to force you to think not just about where you find your customers, but when and where they can find YOU.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Introducing Praetorian's Blog - "Think Online Now"

As the leading online media company in the public safety market, the Praetorian Group has a unique vantage point from which to observe the intersection of online marketing and niche vertical communities. We combine a focus on police, fire, EMS, corrections and homeland security with more than 10 years of experience on the forefront of Internet technology, content and advertising.

When I started Praetorian in 1999, online portals were all the rage. It seemed like the entire business world was enamored with the potential of the Internet to revolutionize how business is done. Dollars were flowing and anyone with an interesting business plan or idea was getting capital. We’re all familiar with the resulting crash.

But as with any disruptive technology, the Internet continued its march onward. Like new technologies before it – the printing press, the telephone, the automobile, the computer - it now has become ubiquitous and has fundamentally changed how we communicate and do business on a day-to-day basis. If my mother, who is in her 60s, sends me Yahoo instant messages and somehow figured out how to set up a Twitter page, the world has definitely changed. We’re seeing that not only in the mass market, but also in the niche communities we serve.

Our business model has been battled-tested and refined. It survived the dotcom implosion and has been molded by national disasters such as 9/11 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina. It’s even evolving now as we address the realities of our current economic environment and the advent of social media and networking. Over that period, we’ve realized that our success relies on two primary components:

- Deep domain experience and dedication to keeping first responders informed, safer and more effective in protecting their communities

- Sophisticated understanding of building online businesses and applying Internet strategy to vertical communities to address marketing and business challenges

This blog is designed to explore both of those components and how they interface. We believe it will be a must-read for those in the following groups:

- Companies serving Public Safety and interested in reaching first responders
- Executives and marketing professionals at companies or ad agencies targeting niche markets
- Business professionals in the police, fire and EMS market
- First responders interested in online technology and marketing
- Entrepreneurs interested in the latest thinking related to online communities

We look forward to starting a dialogue. Thank you for joining us.

Alex Ford

CEO and President
Praetorian Group, Inc.