Dan Heffernan of Advantage CS on key trends in media membership and subscriptions

If you have been in magazine publishing for a while chances are that you are familiar with Advantage CS. The company, which specialises in subscription and membership management tools for publishers, recently celebrated 40 years in business. 

Here Dan Heffernan, Vice President and Chief Product Manager of the company looks forward to the next 40, giving insight into the tools it offers, stressing the importance of community in media membership schemes and predicting the rise of AI as a way of helping inform decisions about pricing.

Dan Heffernan

So tell me a little about the history of Advantage CS? What were the key challenges you were trying to address 40 years ago?

Forty years ago, we started as an off-shoot of a power plant construction company, merging their IT department with a newly acquired company and told to go develop some software and sell it. Our first client was a book publisher and our second published magazines. Thus was born the predecessor of Advantage, our suite of solutions for publishers and membership organisations. The challenges back then were to sell a turnkey solution of hardware, software and services that was affordable, and to convince prospects of the benefits of an in-house solution: control, flexibility, efficiency and quality. In other words, happier customers for the publisher.

And what are the key challenges now?

Keeping up with the vastly accelerated pace of technology change and staying ahead of the needs of our clients (and of the industries we serve) in order to have the capabilities when they need them. There is also a much wider field of competitors. Lastly is a process I call “flocking.” This is when people make very poor business and IT decisions based on hearsay and trends. Due diligence is a critical exercise in the buying process. We’ve seen companies flock to the next bright shiny thing only to come back later and say it was a huge mistake.

What makes Advantage CS different from your rivals?

Basically, our people. Time and time again our clients praise the quality of our people, their integrity, and the “can-solve” spirit that makes AdvantageCS who we are. As a result, our clients stay with us for decades. We’ve just celebrated 30 years with a client who is currently using our latest technology. Our people are the key ingredient behind our world-class software and our top-notch customer care.

And can give you some examples of who you are working with and what the results have been?

For example we work with magazine publishers like Aller Media, Egmont and Ogden, religious publishers like InterVarsity Press and newspapers like Ouest France and Mediahuis in Belgium and The Netherlands

We also work with B2B publishers including Crain, Informa, Hearst Business Media and Thomson Reuters and scholarly publishers like Oxford University Press, Wolters Kluwer Health, and the American Medical Association. See our website for more examples and case studies.

What are the key trends you are seeing in media membership and subscriptions? 

Many publishers, large and small, are trying out the membership model as a way of increasing retention. If the brand is strong, this can be effective. People, especially now, want to feel that they “belong” to a community. The trick is to get the members of that community talking with one another. If a publisher can enable that, then the community will grow and members will stay in. But they need to form the habit of participating.

What innovations are on the horizon?

AI is being used to help inform decisions about pricing. Using it to guide price elasticity testing can really help publishers find the sweet spot for their different customer profiles. I would like to see it get even smarter though; for example, being able to tell that I’m a person who likes to learn new things and not just things I’ve indicated interest in previously. Introduce me to something I’ve not encountered before as part of the mix of content you present me.

What has been the impact of Covid19 on your business?

While our clients have perhaps been a bit cautious about spending on new development, we’re successfully finding new clients and starting up critical projects. Working from home for a high-tech company is not difficult. Some of us are back in the office which, of course, helps with the human and social aspect of working together. We’re about to have our European User Group meeting virtually, which will be interesting. It’s difficult to have a happy hour together and catch up with old friends when we’re all in our separate physical spaces. But I think we all know the pandemic and the changes it has brought, are not permanent.

Advantage CS is part of the virtual FIPP World Media Congress, taking place from 2-30 September. Dan Heffernan will speak about the problem with the AI Internet. If you have a Congress pass, connect on Wednesday 23 September at 4:30pm London time. No ticket yet? get access to live sessions and On-Demand video library here.

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