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Let’s be honest; ad ops are one of the most critical roles within a publishing company. Even so, many in publishing still don’t fully understand how intricate and complicated ad ops really are.
It’s truly an intersection within your organization where sales, technology and billing all converge. And for those who actually work in ad ops, you need to speak the language of the various departments with whom you collaborate, while navigating the demand for inventory in a dynamic environment. Further, the role continues to get harder and harder, thanks to the addition of programmatic buying and selling, regulatory issues like GDPR, combating non-human traffic, achieving viewability thresholds and on. To say that it’s a high stress position would be an understatement. Ad ops are the air traffic controllers in the world of digital advertising.
Typically though, high stress jobs are among the most important and ad ops are no exception—though it’s often a misunderstood and undervalued role. Trafficking teams do far more than just drop creative into an ad server and wait for a goal to be met. The knowledge required by such a team isn’t just about what platforms they know how to use, but being able to think critically and apply problem-solving solutions. While the basics of targeting, trafficking, reporting and communicating are all core skills, these are most efficiently put to use by a team that also has a degree of knowledge about the broader technical picture: the fundamental interactions between their site, their browser, their serving platforms and the client’s supplied materials.
Given the importance of the ad ops role, more publishers are evaluating how their own group should be staffed and organized. Publishers must take into consideration whether or not the ad ops team has been given the resources and organizational support it needs to thrive. Further, publishers must consider the intersection between sales, ad ops and finance, and facilitate effective communication and process workflow between them.
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A good operations team must have a seat where the process begins—at the sales table. All involved parties are best served by including their voice, because the success of the implementation and the ability to recognize the revenue in full all starts at the RFP and the response that sales provide. This becomes especially crucial if the organization lacks a dedicated digital sales planner to help guide proposal development. In such cases, the role instead falls to the ad ops team, that best understands the inventory, how it’s built into the site and how it can—or cannot—be targeted.
Because of such knowledge, ad ops are best suited to prepare the sales person’s expectations, to express why an RFP may work or why it may not or to express what needs to change. In extreme cases, they serve as a gatekeeper to prevent sales from inadvertently making promises they cannot keep, thus disappointing both buyer and seller when a campaign falls short of objectives.
As an example, a salesperson promises a hefty ROS goal, one that is met only by serving to every possible ad slot. At some point into the campaign, the advertiser wants KPI thresholds improved, but the only way to do this is to allocate out of some ad units. In doing so, however, the publisher is forced to shut out a portion of the inventory that was necessary to achieve the campaign’s allotted goals. The trafficker is the front line in understanding such competing needs—and they are not uncommon scenarios.
Publishers will find that adhering to a more collaborative process will pay dividends over the long-run and could help in retaining talent across departments.
Ad ops talent isn’t necessarily easy to find. Qualified professionals are in short supply, in part because it’s a high stress, often undervalued role that can eventually lead to burnout. If publishers are fortunate enough to have a solid ad ops team, as with any department, it’s important to be aware of staff wellbeing and foster a supportive environment to reduce the cost and downtime associated with turnover, rehiring and training. This perspective will benefit the publisher as well. An engaged, talented and focused ad ops team is one that directly and positively impacts revenue.
So with that in mind, what’s the best way to build a sound ad ops organization?
Ultimately, the right ad ops solution comes down to the size of your operation, what kind of content you produce, who your audience is and the scope of your digital product offerings. This isn’t a situation where one solution works for every organization. It’s a question each publisher can only answer through a systemic review of their own requirements.
Begin by self-educating, attending conferences, communicating with like-minded professionals and consider hiring suitable consultants to guide you through the process. You should also conduct a self-assessment or analysis by identifying your strengths and weaknesses. Look at your workflow and talk to your teams—sales, IT and finance.
All this will help you understand where you are and where you’d like to be, helping you identify the next steps in the process as well as determine whether or not your existing ad ops team has the skills that match your needs. For some publishers, that may mean hiring a consultant, starting from scratch or outsourcing their ad ops altogether. For others, bringing in additional talent, implementing new platforms or otherwise refining an existing team structure is all that may be needed.
Whatever path you choose for your organization, it’s worth bearing in mind that this process takes time and requires patience, but it’s an essential step in building a successful digital sales model. In an industry where nothing stays the same for very long, ad ops will continue to be an important piece of your organization, so it’s essential you get it right.