Agora, Inc. is a holding company for more than 20 publishers of financial, health, travel and special interest books and newsletters -- each offering unique ideas, information and insights. Altogether, Agora companies publish more than 300 books and 40 newsletters, reaching 1 million readers from around the world.
Based in the historic Mount Vernon district of Baltimore, Agora is housed in a collection of 19th century mansions. They also have offices in London, Bonn, Paris, Johannesburg, Buenos Aires, Melbourne and Waterford, and many of their titles are available in French, Spanish, German and Italian.
The company's name has its origin in history. The Agora was a lively marketplace for the ancient Greeks, where people came not only to buy and sell goods but also to meet to exchange news and ideas. That same philosophy is what drives Agora, Inc.
As Agora founder and president William Bonner explains: "Agora is a publishing company. We offer our customers ideas, information, and insights. But we do so in a manner very different from that of the traditional publishing house. Rather than being centered on the medium—whether a given publication is, say, a book, a magazine, or a newsletter—Agora is centered on the ideas themselves. When we have something to say about a subject—whether it be speculative investing or natural health—we offer our ideas in many different ways, including books, newsletters, Web sites, conferences, tours and special reports.
The medium is important from a business perspective…but it is not as important as the message itself.And what is the message? We publish ideas on a variety of subjects. Some of these ideas are very practical—such as how to get the best price on an airline ticket. Others are rather abstract—such as our discussion of man's relationship to the state. But all of Agora's messages have something in common. They all celebrate the virtue of thinking independently and taking responsibility for your own life."
Agora became an Advantage client in 2000. The evaluation team wanted a better integrated system for their newsletters, supplements and list business. They were also looking for a system flexible enough to accommodate the fast-changing needs of their growing business. Daryl Berver, President of the Publishing Services Division, says: "We need our fulfillment system vendor to be a true partner, almost an extension of our staff, and we have that with ACS. Since we went live in early 2001, Advantage has been instrumental in Agora's continued evolution and growth."
Agora puts its publishing philosophy into practice in its business operations as well. Independent thinking and taking responsibility are watchwords of the business and technical staff, not just editors and writers. Currently, electronic marketing is a major focus, and Agora is looking to pave new ground in this area.
Tara Rebak, Vice President of Fulfillment Systems, has this to say: "When our business needs shift, we always know that ACS is going to be supportive of the new endeavors we want to pursue and they work with us every step of the way. We just completed a major implementation of the new customer service letters feature that will enable us to electronically reply to customer correspondence in a more efficient and timely manner. This was just another example of the partnership we've developed with ACS and why we'll continue to develop the functionality of the software."
Advantage's Commissions Management (COM) module is integrated with the Circulation and Product Order modules, and allows you to automatically create commissions-due records for your sales representatives. These records can then be passed to an accounts payable system for the actual payout of the commissions. Using COM means that the payable commissions are calculated automatically, based on Advantage net order amounts.
The Commissions Management module offers maximum flexibility for structuring your commissions. You determine how often a sales rep earns commissions, and at what rate. The rep can be paid a percentage of the sale, a graduated amount per quantity (for example, $5.00 for every book on the order), or a flat rate. In addition, COM allows you to create a separate commissions-due record for the sales rep's supervisor (or sales associate). Because calculations of commissions are select-based, you can vary these formulas as much as desired---in essence, you can pay the rep a different commission amount for each type of order that she/he places for the customer. How you define "type of order" is completely up to you.
You can also build in an automatic escalation based on a quantity threshold---for example, you can increase the commission from $5.00 to $5.50 after 100 units of sales. Finally, you can enter manual commissions records as well. For example, you can enter a flat bonus amount for the rep that is not tied to any order activity in Advantage. These manual adjustments can be negative as well---for example, to correct an overpayment of commissions.
However you handle your Commissions payouts, and whatever rate structures you use, the Advantage Commissions Management module can eliminate the need for spreadsheets and calculations outside the system---reducing the time involved and the chances for error.
For more information on the Commissions Management module, contact your Advantage account manager or Ken Nemerovski.
This month, Customer Portrait presents The Pacific Press Publishing Association in Nampa, Idaho. Pacific Press joined the Advantage community in 1997.
The Pacific Press® Publishing Association, established in 1874, is owned and operated by the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and publishes books and periodicals with Christian themes, for both children and adults. Specialties include books for Christian women and books and magazines in foreign languages, including Spanish, French, Afrikaans, and even Samoan.
Their monthly magazine called Signs of the Times, has been in continuous circulation since the Press began in 1874. Pacific Press publishes other periodicals as well, and also produces many of the materials used in Seventh-day Adventist Sabbath Schools and churches. In addition, they distribute easy-listening and inspirational music through their Chapel® Music division, as well as producing a variety of media, including software to spice up church presentations, videos, and DVDs.
Their beautifully landscaped and maintained two-story building is located in Nampa, Idahoclose to Boise and surrounded by scenic mountains. In addition to housing the editorial, customer service, sales and marketing and other publishing employees, the building contains the printing plant where much of their material is printed. So much mail goes out of their printing plant every day that they even have an onsite post office.
At the time Pacific Press installed Advantage in 1997, they were looking for an integrated book and magazine system, expanded marketing and promotion capabilities, improved customer service functionality and the latest Windows technology. Nearly 12 years later, they have realized all those goals and more.
Ed Bahr, the IT Director at Pacific Press, has this to say about Advantage: "This software has served our needs well here at Pacific Press. Because our business model is somewhat unique, Advantage has provided the flexibility and customization we need for an efficient workflow."
Stu Pottle, tech support person for the Advantage system, just retired after 14 years at Pacific Press. He was there through the original conversion and all the upgrades since then. He has been training his replacement, Rick Johnson, for a while now. Although he is looking forward to retirement, Stu will miss his coworkers, and also his friends at ACS. "I've enjoyed working with ACS peoplethey are always willing to help out with a question or concern," says Stu.
Bill Pinard was the ACS project manager in the original implementation. He says: "As the PPPA project manager, Stu did an outstanding job driving the many aspects of the project to completion and learning all about Advantage. Stu was trained in Advantage's Tools programming language and went on to develop PPPA's forms and custom reports. He made it his business to understand the users' needs and how they could be met with Advantage functionality. He was a real champion for Advantage within the PPPA organization and he will be greatly missed."
Account Manager Ev Acton agrees with Bill. She says: "Over the years, Stu has really "owned" the system. There has never been a question of that. He's worked side by side with his end users and has been able to walk through any issue he has reported to Advantage. When you talk with Stu, it's clear he understands not only their business but he also understands how the processes work etc. I've always thoroughly enjoyed working with Stu."
Rick has a background in networking, programming, and technical support. His main duties at Pacific Press will be administering and facilitating use of the Advantage system at Pacific Press. Rick says (about Stu), "I've never worked with someone who has such a complete understanding of the system he is administering. On top of that, Stu understands nearly every aspect of the user interaction with Advantage and can help them understand how their jobs mesh with Advantage."
Editor's note: Rick, you have some big shoes to fill, but we know you will do a fantastic job. Stu, best wishes on your retirement! It's been great working with you and we will miss you.
WAUKESHA, Wis. How about some good news from the magazine-publishing industry? Kalmbach Publishing Co. of Waukesha, Wisconsin, is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2009 and still going strong.
This independent, niche publisher produces the world's best-selling magazines for model railroading (Model Railroader), scale modeling (FineScale Modeler and Scale Auto), beaded jewelry making (BeadStyle and Bead&Button), astronomy (Astronomy), and railroading (Trains).
Kalmbach publishes 15 magazines and a host of special-interest publications. Its book department produces 35 books annually. Kalmbach maintains nearly 30 Web sites, and it produces the world's largest jewelry making show, the annual Bead&Button Show in Milwaukee.
Collectively, more than 1 million enthusiasts worldwide read Kalmbach print publications, not to mention the tens of millions that visit the company's online properties. In 2008, the company generated more than $50 million in sales for the sixth year in a row.
Albert Carpenter Kalmbach founded A. C. Kalmbach and Co. in 1933, one year after graduating from Marquette University. In January 1934, Al combined his two passions of publishing and model trains when he introduced the first issue of The Model Railroader magazine. By July of that year, the magazine's paid circulation surpassed 1,000.
From 1943 to 1989, Kalmbach grew from two magazines Model Railroader and Trains (both still in publication today) to 15 magazines.
In 1989, the company moved to its current location in Waukesha. In the 20 years at the Waukesha location, Kalmbach has doubled its sales, from $26 million (1989) to $54 million (2008).
Throughout its 75-year history, Kalmbach has maintained its founder's core business philosophy: Put the customers first.
"The customer is the real boss of us all," Al once wrote. "Not a cent can be paid out for payroll unless it comes in from the customers, and not a one of us would have a job for long if we didn't please the customers."
Al's commitment to extraordinary customer service was ahead of its time, and his principles remain the foundation of the company's business practices today.
"We're proud of the fact that customers that subscribed to Model Railroader in the 1950s remain loyal subscribers to this day," Kalmbach President Gerald B. Boettcher said. "That tells us that we're keeping true to Al's editorial and service standards."
In addition to its editorial properties, Kalmbach produces the annual Bead&Button Show, the world's largest consumer bead event.
About 15,000 jewelry-making enthusiasts travel to Milwaukee's Midwest Airlines Center to attend this weeklong event that features more than 500 classes and workshops, an international marketplace, silent and live auctions, and a chance to mingle with the world's foremost experts on the craft.
Kalmbach Publishing Co. plans to continue to grow by actively monitoring trends and looking for opportunities to acquire existing products and launch new ones.
ACS is proud to have provided software and services to Kalmbach for almost 27 years.
- You can now include AMB agreements in inventory packages that are set up at the INVPAK workspace. You can include a CIR subscription (or a PRO product) with an AMB agreement within the same package for your customers, and offer package pricing. Currently, only single-access-point agreements may be used with this feature.
- A new view, OPRDAT/SES, tracks the history of user locations, as well as high-level activity (logging in and out, routing between views, etc.). This information could be of use in researching system problems, for example---since you have an audit trail of how users have moved through the system.
- With this release, separate transaction tables have been created as associated tables to both the CPNPMO-M and CIRPMO-M tables. The new associated tables contain only the statistical portions of the current promotion tables (and omit the fields related strictly to promotion setup). These tables are updated by Advantage processes, which in turn update the main CPNPMO-M and CIRPMO-M tables when the process completes successfully.
One effect of this change is that users can now be working at the CPNPMO workspace and its views (to add and maintain promotions) while the posting processes are running.
- A separate Date of Birth field has been added to the main Advantage customer record. Many clients use this information in their daily business, and previously have had to store this in a customer demographic field. The new date-format field allows the customer's birthdate to be stored directly on the main record.
For more information, contact your ACS account manager.
Advantage now supports multiple credit card (and/or direct debit) clearing vendors on the same instance of the software. This would allow your organization, for example, to use the same instance of Advantage for operations in different geographic locations, each with its own credit card or direct debit vendor.
An upload process has been added for Access Management and Billing. You can load up agreements---with full participant and access point information---including agreements that may have been entered outside of Advantage. The upload process can be particularly useful for moving agreement management from an outside system onto the Advantage database.
Separate "transaction only" tables have been created as appendices to the promotion analysis tables (CPNPMO-M and CIRPMO-M). The transaction tables contain only the statistical fields from CPNPMO-M and CIRPMO-M. Advantage processes that update promotion stats now write to the transaction tables and then roll up the statistics to CPNPMO-M and CIRPMO-M at the end of the process. As a result, promotion code maintenance at CPNPMO can occur while Advantage posting processes are running.
An upload process has been added for the Contact Management system, with the option to create a task that is linked to an image on the network. You could scan in documents that are related to customer service issues and then create a CRM task via the upload that is automatically linked to one of the images.
You can now enter PRO returns at SVCDAT/PRO, instead of MSTDAT/FST. For example, if a customer calls in the return, the rep can locate the order at SVCDAT/PRO and process an applied return without having to route away from the basic customer service flow.
For more information, contact your ACS account manager.
These icons are available at EVERY view - even views without Order Entry capability (CDSOPR...).
The icons - in order from left to right - are as follows:
- Blue & yellow figurines: Customer Lookup (Control key plus number 1 key = CTL-1)
- Darker blue square icon: Inventory Lookup (CTL-2)
- Orange figure with pen: Customer Notes (CTL-3)
- Orange square icon: Publication Information (CTL-4) - see issues, rates, delivery codes and much more
- White square icon: next Due Notes (CTL-5) - sort in reverse order by Due Date
- Open envelope icon: Promotion Finder (CTL-6) - Old fashioned value list works on the Promo Code at the bottom of the dialog box
- Yellow figurine: Customer Overview (CTL-7) - for current session customer
- Orange figure in frame: Customer Portrait (CTL-8) - for current session customer
- Scissors in box: Coupon Information for customer and for coupon (CTL-0) - as of 2007r2
- Red phone: Call Tracking icon (CTL-9)
These ten icons can save you time and effort when looking up information, whether checking up on something or working with a customer.
- The Advantage package feature now supports "mix-and-match" packages. Using this setup, pricing is at the package level, but the customer is allowed to choose from a list of available components. For example, you could create an offer with 15 available items, and set up three different packages: one with 6-unit pricing, one with 8-unit pricing, and one with 12-unit pricing. The customer would choose the desired package, and then select any combination of the 15 items (in a bundle of 6, 8, or 12 items).
- Previously, CIR renewals allowed you to define different offers either subscription choices or member choices from which the subscriber could choose when responding. This has been expanded to include general promotion choices. Now you can offer the subscriber any of the following options in responding to a renewal promotion: subscribe to a different publication (in effect, use the renewal to switch or upgrade pubs), receive a subscription package, or receive a package consisting of a subscription and a PRO item.
- You can now define the valid login days and times, as well as the maximum number of concurrent sessions, on a user-by-user basis. You can use the first feature to restrict a user or set of users to specific login windows. You can use the second feature to minimize the number of stranded sessions across the system. Also, by setting the "number of sessions" indicator to zero, you can effectively disable an Advantage user - which may be useful in certain temporary situations.
- You can now access the list of valid values for a closed, validated field in an Advantage dialog box (it is not possible to drag the value list icon from the toolbar into a pop-up dialog box in order to see these values). From within the dialog, drag the "?" in the upper right corner to the field in question. This launches the context-sensitive help display that provides information from the data dictionary. The help display now includes a button to display the list of valid values for the field.