The Advantage Users Group (AUG) chose New Orleans, Louisiana for its 2019 gathering. The conference was held at the Crown Plaza Hotel, in the middle of the French Quarter. More than 50 participants from 16 companies attended the event for three days of sharing and showing. As usual, the AUG steering committee did a great job making the event run smoothly.
Dan Heffernan kicked off the meeting with his annual presentation of publishing trends and AdvantageCS news. Among the trends, the pivot to subscription revenue (advertising revenue has dropped significantly over the 10 last years) wasn’t new to the audience but factors such as paywalls, retention strategies, and AI technology are definitely changing the landscape. Relationships with social media are also adapting quickly, as Google and Facebook have taken over a significant share of publishers’ ad revenue. Apple and Amazon are also implementing initiatives.
On the publisher side, podcasts and audio initiatives, the resilience of print, and the continuous trendy topic of membership may well transform the industry in the coming years. Dan explained how AdvantageCS is actively supporting its clients through a strong presence at industry events (a good way to identify future needs), major investments in R&D, important partnership initiatives, videos (tutorials), and a new user interface. 2018 was a busy year for the company, with 3 new clients, multiple upgrades, and large implementation projects.
Next up were two representatives from Cybbea, a performance-driven technology company that partnered with Crain Communications. Cybbea enables online businesses to exponentially increase revenue and lower cost of acquisition by optimizing every stage of the customer journey.
The Crain team ended the first day with a high-level description of their email architecture. Bonnie Roche and Dana Weeks described the Jellyfish project, which restructured email data in a more consolidated framework and enabled increased efficiency. Email is still a large source of website traffic and key in their relationship with customers.
At the conclusion of the afternoon session, the group adjourned to a casual “meet and greet” reception hosted by Cybbea.
The second day of the conference was a full one, with morning and afternoon sessions. Paul Gee, Vice President, Digital Product Management and Development at the American Medical Association, delivered the keynote address entitled “R&D in Medical Publishing,” and discussed the difficulty in learning in a content world that constantly captures the reader’s interests in order to serve up similar content.
Following the keynote was a panel discussion on upgrades and updates, led by Doug Moore. Panel members were Felicia Muse (Agora), Dennis Biswell (Ogden), and Renee McKenzie and Traci Hart (Crain Communications). Doug emphasized the trend among clients to more frequent upgrades, with some movement to a continuous update approach. He revisited the different phases of such projects and the key factors of success. Tara Rebak (Newsmax) shared her experience with the update approach: testing is still necessary each time, but as the jumps are smaller, the process is much faster. Also discussed was how Cider impacts the process, as it has its own upgrade path. The Crain team emphasized the key role of the test plan and its various challenges.
John Sheehy followed up after the break with a comprehensive review of R&D and Advantage development initiatives. Last year was an active one, with projects including selectable packages in Cider, billing after service for agreements, multi-server handling capacities and performance improvements, an Apple app store integration, security improvements, a new select tool, and of course the new desktop user interface.
After lunch, the new feature presentation was followed by a demo of the new select set builder, the third web-based capability developed in Advantage. Tara Rebak and Mike Gilbert gave a demo and offered valuable feedback as first users of this feature.
The Crain team followed with helpful business insight on how they leverage social media. Jen Mosley, Deanna Milojkovic and Aliya Samhat, gave useful input on the social media landscape, the logistics Crain has put in place, and how the horizon may look in the coming months/years.
The break was an opportunity to celebrate Phil Montgomery’s retirement by sharing a beautiful king cake. Phil will be leaving AdvantageCS this summer, after nearly 37 years. Nemo took the opportunity to describe the early years when they had to carry mini computers with them through the airport for demoing the software at prospect sites, a totally foreign concept to the youngest participants.
Four roundtable discussions occupied the last two hours of the day: GDPR (how each organization has interpreted and adopted the regulations), tax requirements and the way various companies approach it, BI/data mining practices, and the use of managed services. Experienced participants shared their insights, while the others asked questions.
The evening of the second day was an opportunity for some entertainment. Many attendees chose to take a jazz cruise on the Mississippi River, on the steamboat Natchez. For two hours, the group enjoyed unique views of the city from the river, to the music of an outstanding New Orleans jazz band. After the cruise, some of the participants continued the evening by taking advantage of the incredible nightlife on Bourbon Street. (But everyone showed up in the morning!)
Friday morning began with the annual technology update, delivered by Matt Varblow. Among other topics, Matt provided the first details about AdvantageCS’ plan to move the application to a full web UI.
Felicia Muse (Agora) followed by leading the strategic topic: The Customer Single Data Source. At Agora, Advantage is the primary source of nearly all data, so that all customer service happens in one place, and no data conflicts exist with other system sources. Ogden Publications and the Massachusetts Medical Society also participated in the discussion and supported the same approach, with a few exceptions such as emails lists (done in an emailing system) and sometimes prospects.
The final time slot offered two parallel sessions. One was on Customer Single Source and the other was a roundtable on Cider. For Cider, it was interesting to hear Tim Swietek (Ogden) describe his experiences after using Cider for nearly 3 years. The learning curve at Ogden has been steep, and they are now expanding to new modules such as events and membership. With Cider in use in more and more organizations, we expect it will continue to be a popular topic at future AUG meetings.
The morning ended with the announcement that the next AUG meeting would take place in Austin, Texas. A suggestion was made to add a training day to the conference which the steering committee is taking into consideration.
Without a doubt, the 3 days provided valuable input to all amidst a quickly changing landscape. And as usual, everyone enjoyed the opportunity to network with other Advantage users.
We hope to see you next year in Austin!