A Software Platform That “Thinks Like a Media Company”
[Sponsored] Media Services Group’s Élan sales, billing, and fulfillment-management product drives revenue and cost savings for UBM.
UBM is one of the storied names in B2B media. And like many media companies, it’s gone through a pervasive evolution in the last decade. It’s adjusted to external changes — as new digital channels have disrupted old print models and created vast new opportunities. Internally, companies have had to radically rethink how they organize themselves. And like many others, UBM has responded with new technologies, new processes, new workflows and new hierarchies. It hasn’t been easy. Everything from sales to content creation, marketing to events, is now multidimensional. Without technology-based workflows, companies face massive amounts of time-consuming manual work, missed opportunities for growth, and revenue slippage through lost invoices and the like.
And then for UBM specifically, it’s been a period of growth and M&A, meaning the often difficult integration of different companies — with different cultures, different processes, different technologies and different decision points. In that context, it’s exceedingly challenging to manage sales, billing, insertion management, product fulfillment and ecommerce. But UBM has done it, successfully, working with Media Services Group Ltd. and using MSGL’s Élan software solution to manage it all.
We asked UBM VP Media Operations at UBM Life Sciences Francis Heid for his take on how his company makes it all work.
Folio: Advanstar (acquired by UBM in 2014) had been using the MSGL ad-management solution for 10 years. Take us through the benefits and features of the MSGL product.
Francis Heid: Probably the biggest benefit over the years has been Élan's multimedia contract capability. As customers (and sales reps!) become more interested in presenting orders across brands, delivery channels, and over extended campaigns, we have found that Élan’s capability makes it simpler to present a single invoice for multiple products, and to present installment-type invoices, and to report revenue across a diverse portfolio of products.
Folio: What are the critical functions for using the MSGL ad-management solution, specifically focused on the unique characteristics of B2B media?
Heid: UBM (and before it, Advanstar) use Élan for print and web ad billing, as well as subscription and single-issue fulfillment. To the company, we present Élan as a one-stop shop for billing and fulfillment of all types throughout our diverse portfolio of products.
Folio: What is the scope of UBM’s usage of the product? Elaborate on the numbers, such as insertions, clients, UBM brands on the platform, and media channels affected.
Heid: We started off with Élan doing print and web ad billing, as well as subscription and single-issue fulfillment. We are still doing those, but we have added levels of complication to the work. On single-issue fulfillment, we started off primarily with print products coming out of a single warehouse. Now, we’ve diversified and added digital fulfillment to the model. Even the print-product sales process has changed: More UBM book sales are being handled by Amazon, which establishes a customer rating for all of the vendors they work with. We use a third-party company called HCL for content management and product fulfillment. Élan — with HCL using Élan’s capabilities to its greatest extent — has helped us improve our Amazon customer rating. This means that Amazon presents our products (such as auto-repair manuals) higher on the screen when customers search for products like ours. We have also been able to set up digital subscriptions for customers who buy access to our websites. For this product, where financial revenue is reported on a deferred basis, and where customer fulfillment is handled completely differently from a print subscription, we are using Élan’s print subscription module as our base. Over the years, we have added new products to our Élan databases and will continue to do so over the next year.
Folio: How has MSGL helped UBM drive growth?
Heid: Knowledge is power — and money! The more we know about our customers, the better we can fulfill their needs. UBM has taken data in several different formats from Élan and used it to track changes in advertiser spend so that we can further develop products that our customers want. Élan has been very flexible in helping us to deliver that information to the right person and at the right time. MSGL has worked with us on a ‘datamart,’ with data fed by Élan to another pre-established SQL database. We use a tool called Informer to automatically schedule and prepare reports with data from Élan. And, finally, Élan has pre-determined reports in the systems, which provide key information to salespeople, production personnel and corporate management.
Folio: How has it helped reduce costs?
Heid: The primary savings to date is in personnel and system expenses. Prior to our usage of Élan, we had two different systems: one for ad billing, and one for subscription and single-issue fulfillment. The great thing about Élan is that it’s a single system that thinks and presents data like a media company. If you design a system based on another financial system, you have to “teach” it to think like a media company. Élan is a media system designed by people who come from a media background for people who work in a media background.
Folio: What specific acute problems has it solved?
Heid: UBM has a complicated corporate structure with various “companies” within the mother corporation using multiple billing and financial reporting systems. Élan has worked with us to develop digital feeds to the mother company’s financial reporting systems so that the various types of information that the mother corporation’s financial systems need are presented in a seamless, time-sensitive manner. Élan's corporate and programming personnel have been crucial in making these changes happen. At a 30,000-foot level, here’s how we have used Élan to improve our services:
Most important is customer satisfaction. We can present invoices in a format that our customers like. I had one customer tell me that they had not gotten the information they needed on our invoices for years. They had just silently accepted it. When we moved to Élan’s new web-based version, we presented new invoices. Because we based the new invoices off the old invoices, the customer still wasn’t getting what they wanted. But they took the opportunity to explain the problem. Less than two weeks later (mostly the time I needed to digest the customer’s request) we had an invoice that provided the customer the information they need.
Sales and corporate intelligence. As mentioned above, we have used several different workflows to send sales reps and corporate management data they need. They have then used this data to change the product we provide, to create new product, and to modify the sales processes.
Workflow simplicity. Our production managers can track not only the billing, but the status of materials using data found in Élan.
Flexibility. Élan’s corporate and programming personnel have never said no to a request. They have listened to our requests and came back with solutions to our problems. They are truly a partner with us in our business.