Author Archives: kwoxford

The best just got… cheaper!

Mobile conference apps combine the abstract book with the facilities of a phone or tablet. That makes business sense – apps are far more convenient than a book, CD or a USB stick and they can be kept up to date throughout the conference cycle.

But they can cost a lot more than print, which is why it’s usually only larger conferences that can afford them. We think that’s a shame.

Well, not any more!

Our great mobile app, Confer, is already the cheapest full-featured conference app you can buy, but even at under £1,000 it’s beyond the budget of a lot of conferences. So we’ve taken all of its best features and combined them into a superb package for less than £500.

And we’re throwing in a couple of great goodies too. Once you’ve added the programme to the app using our easy-to-use back-office software, you automatically get an online version for display screens, laptops and so on, plus a single-click download in Word format, ready for final editing and printing.

What’s not to like?


And they’re off!

The first conferences to use our new abstract submission system are up and running, and the system is proving to be every bit as good as we had intended.

The submission forms are attractive and easy to understand, providing a smooth and reassuring experience for authors.

For the British Nuclear Medicine Society, for example, we’ve implemented a “smart” form that guides the author along. If they say that they have a conflict of interest then a new mandatory question appears asking for details, and until it’s completed the abstract can’t be submitted.

Or if they want to choose a subject category that’s not in the list of options then – and only then – there’s a box to enter the new category. Most authors won’t need to fill in this field so they won’t ever get to see it.

We’ve also solved the awkward problem of consistency in author affiliations. Once an affiliation has been entered it’s available to select from a drop-down – no re-typing, no mis-spelling. Authors and affiliations are correctly linked, automatically.

Once more unto the breach

When I sold up and left my former company several years ago I thought that was the end of my 10-year involvement with abstract management.

I was wrong.

I’d set up Oxford Abstracts to pioneer low-cost abstract submission. Now, I wanted to do the same for conference apps, hence Atanto.

My mistake was in seeing apps and abstract management in isolation. They’re the two ends of what is, basically, a publishing process. And publishing is something I’ve been involved in all my adult life.

Abstracts are submitted, collated, reviewed and accepted… and then what? They must be published to the conference delegates either in print or, nowadays, as an app.

My app clients have started asking for a complete package and I can’t see any abstract systems out there that fit the bill. They’re too expensive, or too restrictive, or badly supported. They mostly use old technology. And they’re all as ugly as sin!

Good design is more than just prettiness, it’s central to productivity. I like products where the user knows almost instinctively what to do, where things are obvious and straightforward and there are no traps and dead ends. Atanto’s app has a reputation for being attractive and easy to use and I don’t see why an abstract system shouldn’t be pleasing to the eye either.

The technology is important too. Our new abstract system is mobile friendly, fast, robust and very secure. It’s also extremely flexible because it uses the most modern data storage technology. The Cloud at its best.

So, here we go again.

So that’s what social media is for!

ABO @aborchestras Jan 22
Coming to #abo15 next week? Want all your delegate information on your tablet or phone? Our conference app is here!
Kevin Appleby @kevinmappleby Jan 23
@aborchestras Congratulations on a brilliantly clear, easy to navigate and informative app. The perfect #abo15 companion.
Tim Davy @timdavy Jan 25
Downloaded the @aborchestras Conference app. Looks great and very easy to use! Looking forward to the conference in @sage_gateshead
Catherine Arlidge @Cath_Arlidge Jan 27
Loving the @aborchestras conference App, available now! #abo15 Let the tweeting begin!
Jon Jacob @thoroughlygoodJ Jan 28
Really impressed with the @aborchestras conference app for #abo15. Clear design delivering useful information. Nice work people.
Music @BritishMusic Jan 28
Looking forward to catching up with all at ABO Conference starting today! Nice app, by the way
Vicky Shilling @VickyShilling Jan 28
There’s an #abo15 app?! *installs*
Ed Milner ‏@emilner Jan 28
@VickyShilling there is indeed #modern

How about a free conference app?

Your pitch to sponsors probably already includes putting their name and logo into the conference app. That’s all very well, but by treating the app as if it was just a brochure or a flyer you might be missing a trick.

Most apps will have a list of sponsors and exhibitors, and some (like ours) give prominence to sponsors on the front page. But there’s a lot more scope for advertising than that and it can bring in serious money – more than enough money to pay for the app itself.

IMG_0195First, there’s the simple banner ad at the top or bottom of a page. It can be linked to the advertiser’s website, of course, but why not put a special page for the advertiser inside the app for a fully integrated feel?

Then there’s the full page ad, usually implemented as an “interstitial” – that is, an ad that appears from time to time when the user goes from page to page in the app.

IMG_0194And, our current favourite, how about inserting the sponsor’s logo into the programme listing, next to a sponsored session? That’s what we did recently with our app for the ESCP 2014 conference. Our client sold advertising packages that included dedicated pages and inline logos, with in-app alerts shortly before the sponsored sessions.

In-app advertising commands excellent prices, anything from $100s for sponsor logos for a small conference through to maybe $5,000 for a package deal for large conferences. The great thing is, it’s permissive advertising: delegates use the app several times a day to check on their agendas, and on each occasion they see the advertiser’s message.

It doesn’t take much effort to make enough money for the app to pay for itself with plenty left over for pizza.

Would you like an own-brand app?

We’re now offering our clients the chance to have a fully own-branded app for no extra cost (and as you know, the cost isn’t much in the first place).

There’s more to app branding than meets the eye.

It starts with the icon on your phone or tablet’s screen. Then there’s the “splash” screen that you see for a few moments when the app starts up. And then the Home screen where users access the app’s functions. Then maybe a dedicated page or two inside the app. And finally the look of the app pages themselves.


Until now we’ve been offering most of this but not all. Icon, splash screen and Home screen are all strongly branded but the look of the app pages has been generic. We’ll now adjust the look of the pages to match your brand colours and typeface, even going so far as to change the colours of built-in components such as the toolbar at the top of the page – usually it’s a tasteful and conventional blue, but for one client we’re even doing it in brick red.

And we’ll make the app look as if you built it yourselves, with your logo in the most prominent place on the Home screen and information about you embedded in the app and linked to your website.

Or… we can do the same for your main conference sponsor. I bet they’d like that.

How to make your app a hit with delegates

We’ve accidentally carried out an interesting experiment.

Two virtually identical apps for two very similar conferences taking place at almost the same time. The first was by anybody’s standards a great success with a 65%+ take-up rate by delegates, even though it was competing with written material and a memory stick. But the other app didn’t do so well.

What was the difference? Why did one of them succeed while the other struggled?

The first app was launched almost two months before the conference. It was well publicised on the conference website and on social media – Twitter and LinkedIn. Right from the beginning the downloads started. Steadily, a few every day. By the time the conference came round most delegates already had the app and were receiving conference news through it. The app was heavily used during the conference and the delegates were happy.

The other app should have been handled the same way, but the programme needed major changes so it was decided to wait until everything was finalised, just a couple of weeks before the conference. But then in the last-minute rush it wasn’t much publicised, so most delegates didn’t know about it until the conference started.

With hindsight the solution was simple and the lesson is clear: launch the app with a preliminary programme and update it later. Engage the delegates early.

So we’ve proved that delegates strongly prefer an app to the alternatives, but they need to be told about it well before the conference. Otherwise in the hustle and bustle they’ll just grab the printed material and make do. And that’s an opportunity lost to put a smile on their faces.