Fatal Flaws in Ad Operations 2.0

Here’s another article from the archives, nearly 15 years old. At the time, I was crying the blues over vendors who did a great job selling their services but had limited success executing. Simultaneously, I cautioned publishers that these projects don’t run themselves.

What has changed over the years? In general I see more effort on both sides to ensure that ad platforms are launched successfully. I think this is primarily due to a heightened awareness among publishers and vendors, who understand that anytime you change the platforms that control revenue you are playing with fire, so best to have an orderly game plan.

If there is a more common theme I see in recent years, it would be the importance of realistic expectations. In evaluating any vendor, you are going to discover gaps. The focus should be on surfacing those gaps, so that in selecting your vendor of choice, you do so with eyes wide open. If your corporate culture works better with “out of the box solutions”- which can be less flexible but are at least a known quantity – be prepared to live with that scenario. If your priorities lean in the direction of a more customized build, make sure you have the patience to accept a more agile, improvised deployment.

If you’re interested to see how observations on this topic have changed, and how they have remained the same, feel free to read on…..

Fatal Flaws in Ad Operations (Originally Published for iMedia Connection 11/02/06)

The ad operations business is living in a state of denial which cuts both ways.

On the publisher side, there is often the belief that contract management systems, ad servers and all manner of related applications can install and run themselves. Here’s a news flash: Ad operations is not a part-time job– and yet many companies treat it as if it is.

On the vendor side, customer service is held to a bare minimum with limited consultative account management after the initial training. That’s counterproductive and a good way to lose business.

The back story

There is more activity in the selection and installation of ad operations applications than you might think. Seemingly overnight, the market turned around and the increased demand for inventory has made the management of it more crucial. The enviable problem of more sales activity has led to the need to manage contracts more efficiently. Advertisers are becoming more discriminating and demanding about ad products. So whether you’re a publisher entering this world for the first time, or a veteran on the scene simply re-evaluating options, chances are there’s a lot of introspection going on about what to do– and with whom.

Fatal flaws in publishing

Even when publishers make wise choices in ad operations applications, they can sometime make the fatal mistake of failing to support the initiatives internally. I’ve seen several instances where the “right” vendors have been selected and deployed, only to be neglected when it comes to the crucial QA function of making sure they operate as intended. If the systems are not set up properly, you are essentially throwing your money away. In some cases, the end-to-end integrity of data passing from a contract management solution to an ad server is never checked, causing inaccuracies that render the applications useless. It’s the old “garbage in, garbage out” syndrome.

Why does this happen? After all, you would never find this occurring when it comes to other publishing applications like the content management systems (CMS) that enable publishers to manage and display content. Of course, in that case, if your CMS system breaks down, everyone from the CEO to the janitor can see it screw up online.

In ad operations, however, you may never find out how badly things are functioning until you try to do your financial books at the end of the quarter. After all, ad operations is boring, detail ridden and it should be automatic. Right? Wrong! And this attitude leads to publishers virtually snatching defeat from the jaws of victory– making the right choices in applications but never making it to the finish line of implementation.

Vendor heal thyself

Of course, we all know these things cut both ways. I’m constantly amazed at the arms-length approach to customer service employed by most vendors in our business. I believe the reason is that with margins in variable and fixed fees being squeezed, the only way to keep the books balanced on the vendor side is to control costs. Fair enough. Without these businesses existing to serve ads, process contracts, run advanced ad targeting, manage yield and price optimize, you the ad operations professional would not have a job. And I would not be writing this column. (I would probably be earning $50 a night playing trombone in a salsa band.)

However, I am again amazed at a crucial disconnect. Vendors classically wait until their business with a client is in jeopardy before getting involved on a proactive basis. This is despite the fact that client dissatisfaction is painfully obvious. Many times, the signs are about as subtle as an oncoming train.

Vendors, how about asking your publishing client a few questions: “How is the integration with our application working out for you? Can we help you make sure that the data files are being passed between your systems are correct? Let me walk you through a solution we have for inventory management that would solve this specific problem you seem to be having. I would like to schedule a visit to your business to see how things are going, and see if there is anything we can do to help it become more successful. Do you mind if I interview some of your traffickers to see if there are any pain points?”

There’s not enough of this type of proactive activity on the side of vendors. And in the interest of keeping customers, there should be. On the publisher side, a lack of ownership and responsibility for key ad operations processes often leads to a physical breakdown in key systems. That lack of oversight should be remedied. But wait. On second thought, perhaps both sides should just keep doing business as usual. It will keep folks like me busy for the next decade

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