Steph had fallen off her horse three days before we met at Publishing Software Company’s Stourport offices in mid-April. Or, to be more precise, the horse had thrown her off, and she was feeling a little bruised, but we were not meeting to discuss her passion for eventing or dreams of representing her country; we were here to discuss ad sales management!
It seemed like an opportune moment because Publishing Software Company (PSC), creators of the widely used Advertising Manager software, celebrated its 30th birthday in April.
I came armed with some questions for Steph:
Q: What are your Advertising Manager clients demanding more of?
A: Publishers are taking every opportunity to improve their productivity. Primarily, this comes in the shape of increased automation. One of the recent enhancements we’ve made to Advertising Manager is the ability to automate the process of artwork chasing. If the functionality is activated – and some publishers have opted not to – then the system will automatically generate a series of reminder emails for outstanding artwork. Such automation can work really well, although it does depend on you efficiently logging new artwork as it’s received, to avoid pestering clients with unnecessary communications.
Streamlining and efficient processes are what we’re all about, but I think it’s important to draw a distinction between sensible automation and OTT automation, because the risk is that with complete automation, the system ends up controlling you, and not the other way around.
Publishers are also trying to reduce risk and overheads wherever possible, which explains why virtually all our new clients opt for our cloud-based offering, as opposed to hosting the software in their own offices.
The move to multi-platform publishing has driven a lot of system changes over the last few years. Long gone are the days when ‘ad format’ would be one of a small number of options: typically, full, half or quarter pages. Now, the type, format and dimensions of the ads we’re being asked to manage are infinitely variable.
Clients are demanding more information, for it to be tailored to them, at their fingertips and to be graphical, so that they can see KPI performance at a glance. To that end, our new personalised user dashboard which ticks all those boxes, is undergoing final testing and tweaks and we hope to be able to roll that out shortly.
One thing we’ve noticed is that as the number of publishing channels has grown, so has publisher creativity. Publishers are now finding ever more ingenious places in which to serve ads. We have a number of clients in the in-flight magazine sector, and serving highly targeted ads on the airline tickets and boarding cards that we print out at home, is just one example.
Q: What could publishers do themselves to improve ad sales performance?
A: Whenever I’m asked this, I always answer – clean their data! You’d be amazed at how often ‘Address line 2’ contains “Bob only works mornings” or something similar.
Every duplication, incomplete record, incorrectly coded prospect will depress the ROI on your sales and marketing efforts, and if the data is particularly messy, dramatically so.
There are some honourable exceptions, but, generally speaking, sales databases across the publishing industry are not in the best state.
The solution lies in better documentation, training and quality control. The challenge many publishers face is that the traditional targets set for sales people (‘make a certain number of calls a day’) and the remuneration and incentive schemes built around them, actively discourage sales people from data checking and cleaning. The perhaps understandable attitude of many sales staff is, “why should I waste time on that when I could be on the phone selling, which is what I’m being paid to do?”.
Indeed, the problem sometimes runs deeper than that, in that some sales people operate parallel systems where they actively keep their top prospects off the central sales database, for fear they might get pinched by a colleague.
Perhaps a pristine database is only possible if we, as an industry, fundamentally rethink how we reward our sales teams – but that’s probably not going to happen anytime soon.
Q: How can publishers get the best out of their ad management system?
A: I always encourage publishers to use the system as it’s been designed to be used, to be demanding and to talk regularly to their software supplier.
If you discover a bug, then report it. If something seems odd or counter-intuitive, then talk to your supplier.
Ad management systems are not rocket science. They help manage a series of transactional processes which are common to all publishers. In short, a good system should be able to do pretty much everything you want it to do. So, if you find a problem, then talk to your supplier about it. It might be a simple settings issue or a bug that can be easily fixed. Or, occasionally, you might have spotted something the system can’t do but should be able to do, and that can then be programmed in as a system enhancement.
Use the system to the max. It’s been designed to make your life easier, so I’m always disappointed when I find publishers not using its full functionality.
Things to avoid like the plague are creating parallel systems, manual workarounds and sticking-plaster solutions in response to perceived shortcomings of the system. Talk to your supplier first, before going off-piste!
Q: For a publisher, what are the tell-tale signs that the way they manage their ad bookings is not fit for purpose?
A: If a publisher has invested in a proper ad management system, like Advertising Manager, then the system should be fit for purpose. Now it’s possible that a publisher might not be getting the best out of their system, in which case, meetings need to be scheduled with their supplier to get to the bottom of it.
Generally, though, the systems that are not fit-for-purpose are the DIY ones, where publishers use the Microsoft Word / Excel / Access suite of general office programmes to record and manage their ad bookings. This approach can just about do the job when you have a single title and one sales person, but the minute a publisher starts to expand, then the system starts to fall apart.
Usually the ‘aaaaaaagh moment’ comes when an ad is missed from an issue, a booking is disputed and there’s no signed order form to fall back on, or where an invoice is never raised, and that is usually when they pick up the phone to us.
The tell-tale signs that you are not working as effectively as you might be are: if contact and order information needs to be input more than once, if key sales reports take hours to compile instead of seconds, if invoice runs are seen as a stop-the-presses deal, if simple tasks (for example, setting up a new advertiser and generating an order form) are, err… not simple. I find it’s always a good idea to count the clicks; the fewer clicks the better.
For the record, it’s worth saying that contact and order details should only ever be keyed once!
Often, the trigger for a publisher contacting us is a train-wreck moment – when real money has been lost. But, I think what our new customers notice most after starting to use our system is simply the enormous amount of extra time they suddenly have. Time to grow the business, or take a well-earned holiday.
Q: What next for PSC?
A: Continued growth, hopefully. We’ve recently doubled the amount of office space and taken on an extra developer (welcome, David), a new support desk person (Zoe) and someone to help me on sales (Rita). We’re looking to expand further, both staff and office space. Recent new clients include Stream Publishing and Karen McAvoy Publishing, and we’re working hard to increase our client base further.
Advertising Manager is a mature, robust solution currently managing over a thousand publications. It will continue to evolve, with new functionality being added when needed.
On the subject of automation, which we spoke about earlier, there is one area of our own operations, where we’ve actually resisted it, and that is in our support desk service. Increasingly, software providers now channel their support calls through an automated ticketing system, where the publisher reports the query / fault online and then gets put in a queue with some vague assurance that they’ll be responded to “shortly”. One of the things we’re most proud of is our dedicated support desk, where your call will be answered by someone, who, more often than not, will be able to sort the problem out there and then.
Q: Finally, why should publishers contact you?
A: Well, the sensible answer is because our ad management software will help them work more effectively and efficiently, make more money and save them masses of time, which they can then channel into growing their business. The less sensible answer is because we’ve got a very well stocked sweetie cupboard, full of sugary and chocolatey goodies, which we use a lot in our marketing. Without giving away the secrets of our success, ask for a demo, and you’ll see what I mean….
If, as a publisher, you find yourself spending more time and energy on the management of your ads, rather than on the marketing and selling of them, then there’s a thirty-year-old specialist supplier who can help you out, and, Steph assured me, new clients are invariably pleasantly surprised when they hear the price. Why not request a demo? At the very least, there might be a chocolate bar in it for you.
Publishing Software Company
Old Anglo House, Suite 11-13, Mitton Street, Stourport On Severn, Worcestershire, DY13 9AQ
Steph Cope, Sales & Marketing Manager
Tel: 020 8088 2737