Burn Out in Ad Operations 2.0

“Burn Out in Ad Operations” was written 15 years ago. In it, I bemoaned the fact that ad traffickers were over-worked and under-appreciated. At the time, the article really hit a nerve, and it was clear from the many responses that this group of talented individuals was hurting and wanted recognition. Does this still apply today as it did 15 years ago?

In the 2005 article, I said that this was a group that deserved more respect:

“By far, the most over worked, under-appreciated, misunderstood resource in any online company is the ad trafficker. This is a job that can transform the most intelligent, rational, motivated and conscientious individual into a high-strung, irritable, error-prone employee. And THIS is the individual who is responsible for taking every bit of revenue your sales group generates and making sure it delivers as promised, on time, with accurate reporting.”

In fact, I now lead any current training with the statement that “not a single dollar of revenue can be realized unless an ad trafficker does their job”. If anything, the importance of the ad trafficker has only increased, there are several reasons for this:

“….the ad trafficker also bears the brunt of minute-to-minute problem solving. Orders are written in haste, and the trafficker is the one who needs to clarify and correct it so it can run. Creative is late, and the trafficker must make up the time and delivery. It doesn’t meet specifications and the trafficker becomes the intermediary between a confused salesperson and an irate advertiser.”

Today, the stakes are even higher. Ad code is now peppered with references to third party verification vendors who record their version of delivery based on specific geo targeting, viewability, or valid/invalid human trafficking. All of this means constant monitoring of delivery discrepancy.

How do you keep traffickers and for that matter digital media planners motivated? In 2005 I theorized that:

“One of the keys to keeping an ad operations organization fresh is to furnish a career path for your employees. An ad trafficker might graduate to a senior inventory analyst; or they can be put in charge of managing the development of new ad products.”

Thankfully some of the companies we work with have applied this approach. The concept of rotating employees through various positions seems to keep them stimulated and motivated. Moving from a linear focus to digital (or vice versa), from trafficking to planning, from creating placements or line item to troubleshooting sophisticated ad code – all of that creates more challenges, opportunity and satisfaction.

If anything, ad trafficking has become more difficult over the last 15 years. Nowhere else is this more evident than the convergence of digital and broadcast. In our work setting up a streaming DAI (digital ad insertion) network we know how crucial it is that each endpoint (from IOs phone to Roku) needs to be associated with a placement (line item) in the ad server. Additionally, each placement must have an ad tag, targeting and revenue allocations configured properly. Then all of this needs to be validated with testing across all devices and reporting.  Nothing complicated about that, right?

Between the proliferation of third party measurement and the growing number of devices and associated end points requiring maintenance, the trafficker must be even more of a multi-tasker and critical thinker than ever before.

In short, I’d say my observation from 2005 was pretty obvious. It was a no-brainer then and it is now. Take care of the folks that take care of your revenue.

Burn Out in Ad Operations (Originally Published for iMedia Connection 6/8/05)

By far, the most over worked, under-appreciated, misunderstood resource in any online company is the ad trafficker. This is a job that can transform the most intelligent, rational, motivated and conscientious individual into a high-strung, irritable, error-prone employee. And THIS is the individual who is responsible for taking every bit of revenue your sales group generates and making sure it delivers as promised, on time, with accurate reporting.

So, why is the position of ad trafficker so tough? And why is this position typically neglected and mismanaged? And finally, what can be done to make this crucial role and department more rewarding to the individual and more productive to your company?

First, let’s take a look at what traffickers do. They are smart, learning and operating ad serving systems with the requisite technical knowledge needed to schedule several different versions of target ad tags. They are troubleshooters, receiving creative, sending it back, making sure it clicks as it should. They are customer service people, often interacting with their peers in agencies, at publishers, et cetera in a manner that must reflect the best interests of your company.

Unfortunately, the ad trafficker also bears the brunt of minute-to-minute problem solving. Orders are written in haste, and the trafficker is the one who needs to clarify and correct it so it can run. Creative is late, and the trafficker must make up the time and delivery. It doesn’t meet specifications and the trafficker becomes the intermediary between a confused sales person and an irate advertiser. The publisher tells the client that there is a three- to five-day turnaround time for campaigns from receipt of creative. The sales organization can demand it be turned around in an hour. The work is stressful, relentless then ultimately mind numbing. The trafficker is frequently on the low end of the pay scale, gets no commission, but is responsible for making sure that all contractual commitments are delivered as specified.

This puts a sales/ops organization in a difficult predicament. Ad traffickers are not easy to come by — so the tendency is to keep the good ones where they are. Eventually, however, the repetition and stress outweigh the incentives to the employee and they become unmotivated, burned out and eventually leave.

So, what can be done about it?

One of the keys to keeping an ad operations organization fresh is to furnish a career path for your employees. An ad trafficker might graduate to a senior inventory analyst; or they can be put in charge of managing the development of new ad products.

If they have the mindset and make up, some can even migrate into sales and do well at it, since they know the business from the ground up.

In the meantime, while you’re keeping your current staff motivated by moving them into more challenging positions, make it a point to actively keep a pipeline open with new ad traffickers — in fact, you might consider graduating one of your current staff to be a trainer!

Finally, recognition among peers is a highly underestimated incentive. Don’t discount “star” awards for work above and beyond the call — with a monetary value. Engage both the sales and operations groups to create the sense that “we’re all in this together” instead of “us versus them.”

The key to keeping this valuable talent motivated is to give them something to look forward to. Furnishing recognition and a career path is vital to preventing burnout among this important resource, which after all is responsible for delivering the revenue your company lives on.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s