Monday, September 12, 2011

9/11, Remembrance and Praetorian

As our nation commemorates 9/11, mourning those we lost, celebrating acts of heroism and considering how our country has changed, I wanted to take a moment and encourage everyone to reflect on that tragic day. As CEO of an online media company dedicated to keeping first responders informed, I want remind all of us to remember those who lost their lives and those who made the ultimate sacrifice – many of them police officers, firefighters and paramedics - to save others. I encourage you to review the amazing coverage and stories of sacrifice we have posted on each of our sites:
You may be wondering how 9/11 affected the Praetorian Group as a company. When I think about 9/11, I can’t help but consider the formative impact that day had on our mission and future as a company. At the time, we had 5 employees and were struggling to find our way and make ends meet. Praetorian’s future was uncertain. But overnight, 9/11 changed everything. All of a sudden, the 70,000 law enforcement members on at the time as well as departments across the country had an urgent need to stay informed. They turned to the Internet and to us. I’ll never forget the day shortly after 9/11 when one of our members who was a chief of a small department called to ask for help. The only way he found out that his department was on alert was when he arrived home and his wife told him (she had seen it on CNN).

Correspondingly, we created site sections and newsletters as well as an email and text messaging alert service to disseminate information. PoliceOne became a ‘must have’ tool to help spread the news of terrorism threats and educate law enforcement on tactics and best practices to prevent terrorism. Our membership grew by 100% in less than 12 months. At the same time, 9/11 energized our company and fueled our resolve to keep pushing forward in a time of significant uncertainty. It crystalized our role in the community and brought us closer to the first responders we serve, strengthening our mission and commitment.

Ten years later, that energy and commitment is still strong and continues to ignite our mission. We count 700,000 first responders as members and a significant portion of our nations’ public safety community relies on us daily to provide them the information they need to stay informed. As I consider 9/11 and the state of Praetorian, I’m confident that we’re not only helping first responders everywhere better prepare for 9/11 related threats, but as importantly address the tragedy, challenges and threats they face on a day to day basis.

As part of a company dedicated to first responders, 9/11 has significant meaning for our members, our customers and each of our employees. Let us take a moment to reflect upon the tragedy of 9/11 and the examples of heroism and sacrifice we saw that day and how the first responders we serve – whether they be police officers, firefighters or paramedics – make sacrifices and risk their lives every day to keep us all safe.

In remembrance.

Alex Ford
CEO and Founder
Praetorian Group

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Praetorian Group Recognized for Social Media Efforts by BtoB Magazine

Check out the recent coverage we received in BtoB Magazine. This case study focuses on our successes and strategies in regards to Facebook, in particularly our social media reach on FireRescue1.

Seeded content, engagement drive a Facebook Strategy
Paul Gillen

Can you believe that a b2b publisher can rival Newsweek in Facebook presence?

Believe it. The praetorian Group, an online-only media company for public safety professionals, has amassed a remarkable 192,000 "likes" for its FireRescue1 page on Facebook, or about 10,000 more than the venerable newsmagazine.

In fact, when combined with the companion and EMS1 pages, Praetorian's Facebook footprint nearly double that of Rolling Stone. In building such a successful presence, Praetorian has learned that tactics about engaging the Facebook audience that would be useful to any marketer.

Read the full article here.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Book Review: The power of little bets

As an entrepreneur, I've used 'little bets' throughout my career and would credit the strategy as one of the key factors driving the success of the Praetorian Group. Peter Sims, a longtime business contact and friend, recently published a book - Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries - that explores the concept in depth. Peter does an exceptional job articulating not only how to use little bets but more importantly explores the mindset that needs to be in place to maximize their impact for both individuals and organizations. I found the book to be quite relevant for anyone in marketing and online media which is why I'm including my review on ThinkOnlineNow.

From my experience, the message of the book rings true. Over the past 10 years, I've probably made hundreds, if not thousands, of little bets and can testify to the importance of the concept, having used them to navigate the dotcom crash, the recent recession and a rapidly changing media landscape. In the process, my company has become the leading online media company in our market and has helped drive the adoption of online tools and content for first responders worldwide.

‘Little Bets’ is not just about how to try a lot of things in the hope that something sticks, but provides a thorough roadmap for how successful entrepreneurs think about business opportunities and execute on new ideas. Sims also explains the broader context that needs to be in place to cultivate little bets, such as the importance of a growth mindset and building a learning organization that isn’t afraid to try new things and fail. In the process, he does a great job weaving in the psychology and science behind his concepts, citing a wide range of relevant research.

Although I would have liked to have seen a few additional examples beyond the ones cited and perhaps more a more in-depth discussion of tactics for making little bets successfully, there's no doubt it’s an excellent resource and a must read for any entrepreneur, marketer or business manager. Check it out -

Additionally, here is a helpful list of books for entrepreneurs:

Alex Ford
CEO and Founder
Praetorian Group

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Praetorian Group named one of seven finalists for the top small business of the year by the US Chamber of Commerce

I'm proud to announce that our company, the Praetorian Group has been named one of seven national finalists for the 2011 U.S. Chamber of Commerce DREAM BIG Small Business of the Year Award. We've worked hard to build a great company dedicated to helping First Responders better protect their communities and save lives. The recognition is a great honor for me and my team and validation that despite being a small company, we are making a big difference out there in the world.

We'll represent the Western region in vying for the top spot. The award recognizes small businesses in the U.S. for their work to restore job growth and economic prosperity. We're being recognized alongside top businesses across a wide variety of markets, each with less than 250 employees and $20 million in yearly revenue. Companies were evaluated in areas such as business strategies and goals, customer service, staff training and motivation, and community involvement - all areas in which we excel.

For more information, read the full release: Praetorian group named western finalist for the u.s. chamber of commerce small business of the year award

Monday, February 7, 2011

The importance of 'customer lifetime value' in B2B online advertising

As advertising options online proliferate, B2B marketing continues to evolve into a significantly more sophisticated and complex endeavor.  What’s the value of an impression?  An audience?  A click?  A lead? 

If you – like me – run a website or work with advertisers, you know that calculating ROI is becoming increasingly important in the eyes of many advertisers, yet tracking and demonstrating that ROI is challenging at best.  Although the Internet offers much more robust tracking and an immediacy of results than traditional media, it’s no holy grail when it comes to reliably providing identifiable ROI.   

On the flip side, as a company advertising online, you are looking for immediate results and validation of your marketing spend.  Who can blame you?  The economy is struggling and advertising dollars are being scrutinized at the highest level.  From Google and Yahoo CPC ads to social media to industry portals, how do you best measure the success of online as a channel in acquiring long-term customers? 

Publishers, whether online or print, provide an audience and offer the opportunity for customer acquisition.  They give companies the opportunity to seed and then grow a long-term relationship with key decision makers in their industry.  Yet connecting impressions and clicks with tangible results for advertisers is difficult due to the use of multiple tools and elements in ad campaigns, from video to custom content to social media, along with less-than-precise tracking software, long sales cycles and company websites that may not be ideally optimized to maximize conversions.

Missing from the Discussion

There are multiple facets to the ROI discussion, but one critical element that is often left out is the concept of Customer Lifetime Value (CLV).  As an online publisher, CLV is an important concept in differentiating between buying a click and creating a customer relationship.  For instance, in our market – public safety (comprised of law enforcement, fire, EMS and corrections) – customers are highly brand loyal.  If you attract them, create a relationship, provide them with value and attentively service their account, they are yours for years.  As an advertiser, CLV is an important tool in maximizing custom acquisition and evaluating marketing spend.

In layman’s terms, Customer Lifetime Value is very simply a way to understand how much you should be willing to invest in a new customer taking into consideration how much that customer will spend on average over the term of their ‘customer lifecycle’.  Depending on your product, lifetime value could reflect months or years of business and includes renewals, replacement purchases, repeat purchases and other fees or revenue streams a company might collect from a customer.

Formal definition:  In marketing, customer lifetime value (CLV), lifetime customer value (LCV), or lifetime value (LTV) is the net present value of the cash flows attributed to the relationship with a customer. The use of customer lifetime value as a marketing metric tends to place greater emphasis on customer service and long-term customer satisfaction, rather than on maximizing short-term sales.

For example, I have an exceptional customer relationship with Amazon and as a single guy, it’s lasted far longer then any of my dating relationships.  My first Amazon purchase was through a promotion 8 years ago.  Amazon probably paid $20-30 in marketing cost to “acquire” me through an online marketing campaign associated with my American Express card.  Since then, I have spent $50-200 per QUARTER from Amazon.  That’s $6,400 in value from that one acquisition, which is quite a return.

Within our industry, one of the companies we work closely with is in the firearms segment of law enforcement.  One of their recent campaigns generated several thousand dollars of immediate sales and a couple dozen new customers.  As we analyzed the results, we realized that most of our clients who sell direct tend to measure results only on the immediate return from those initial sales.  However, for this company, we highlighted that each sale would generate several different purchases or revenue streams from activation fees to new cartridges to replacement parts and accessories over the course of the customer’s lifetime.  When taking those calculations into consideration the campaign went from “successful” to “highly successful”. 

Tracking Customer Lifetime Value

Although relevant for any marketer, CLV is particularly relevant for companies who sell direct to consumers or who are distributors.  If you measure online advertising through direct sales post advertising, make sure that you are considering the long term value a customer provides.

While companies can calculate CLV by doing customer surveys and keeping track of the average customer’s spend over time, that can be difficult and time consuming and most companies don’t do it – particularly those in our market.  If you are an online publisher, make sure to always ask advertisers how they value a customer over the long term – it will make your job that much easier in establishing ROI.  Even if they have not calculated CLV, making sure they understand the concept is a good first step.

If you are an advertiser, it’s not difficult to generate and test hypotheses of how much customers will spend over time.  Oftentimes, much of this data can be extracted from your CRM software.  I recommend advertisers at minimum account for potential lifetime spend in assessing their marketing campaigns even if it is with only a general sense of what that spend might look like over time.  A full calculation can be complex and time consuming, but here are 5 steps to quickly eyeball your CLV and tie it back to your marketing strategy:

1.      Estimate the total amount of money that your average customer will spend on your products per year.

2.      Estimate the average lifespan of a customer, meaning how long the average customer continues to purchase products from your company.

3.      Multiply the two numbers in #1 and #2 above to get the average total value of each customer over time.

4.      Apply a discount rate to that value to account for the present value of that future stream of income. I recommend using a discount rate of 5 to 10% and a net present value calculator to determine how much that future stream of revenue is worth to you today.

5.      Figure out how much you’d spend in marketing dollars to acquire a customer based on that calculation, taking into account the gross margin of the products that customer is purchasing and any other strategic factors applicable.

If you’d like to do a more thorough calculation of CLV, here are two useful online tools that guide you through the process: