Ad Operations People: We Salute You!

Originally published 12/21/05

When our sun grows ancient and cold, and the inhabitants of this planet leave for a place far more hospitable, chances are one of the last lights flickering will be shining on an ad operations person trying to wrest the last impression out of a campaign.

Exaggeration? Of course. But I guarantee you that on December 31, 2005 every online publisher will have staff who are engaged in that very same activity.

So for this holiday season and those ad operations people in the far-flung future — we salute you!

Consider this my open holiday card to all of you in our industry, a card that acknowledges all that we can be thankful for, a card that reviews some of the past year and asks what you would wish (editorially speaking) for in 2006.

The year in review, and the year ahead

When we’re in the midst of all the year end activity it’s easy to slip into the old cliché, “the more things change the more they stay the same.” But there are intriguing hints that next year may see some more dramatic trends. Next year, I think we’ll get some new toys in our ad ops stockings:

Inventory management is on everyone’s mind. At a recent IAB conference, the following question was posed to a room full of ad operations professionals: “How many of you make use of the inventory management tools provided by your ad serving company?” Not one person raised his or her hand!

And this is the year when many, many publishers are finding that the biggest challenge is… there is no inventory left!

So the need to be more accurate in inventory management has never been greater. Who is going to step up to the plate and deliver the flexible, site centric inventory management tool that makes us less reliant on spreadsheets and more confident in an intelligent solution? Watch out for a couple of new tools coming out in the marketplace and make a wish that they deliver.

Ad serving has advanced to the stage that it is so reliable we count on it the same way we count on seeing a page of content when we type in a URL. The main stalwarts of the ad serving business — and they have been around for the last few years — are thankfully still here. But we may also see the field get more crowded as some upstarts make inroads. We may even see some new players make an even bigger splash by entering the field. If so, 2006 could see a dramatic change in this landscape. I won’t name names (since I don’t aspire to reporting for the National Enquirer), but keep your eyes and ears open in 2006.

Video. If you are looking for entry into an area that will be in constant change for the next five years, get involved in video. Our entire landscape is going to be changed several times as we strive for consistency and standards in video ad delivery, reporting and pricing models. Then, get ready for it to change again as true convergence in broadcast and internet media begins.

Just when you thought internet media was safe because we finally agreed as an industry on the definition of a banner ad impression, get ready for the same dialogue on video. Frankly, I call it the holiday present of job security — we will need experienced ops people to figure this out over the next few years, and as we all know they (I should say “we”) are in short supply at the moment.

Speaking of jobs — the best gift for 2006 will be the excellent job market. But we have certainly paid our dues in the past. Who remembers the climate in 2000 through 2002? That pitiful person on the street corner in a raggedy coat, talking to themselves, glancing furtively with rapid, unfocused eye moments, gesturing aimlessly to nobody in particular? Why, that was probably one of our ad ops or ad sales brethren during the bust. Look at us now.

On the other hand, let’s not get too smug. In the interest of self preservation, I would urge you all to look out for bright, young protégés to mentor and get them involved in your business. The flip side of being in demand is that you will be overworked. At some point, no matter how highly you are valued, it won’t be enough to compensate for the long hours spent doing the jobs of two or more people.

There’s much to be thankful for.

Pragmatically speaking, it’s hard to stop and take the time to be thankful for anything in Q4 other than just getting out at the end of the day alive and with sanity intact. But if you take a step back then it’s clear that there truly is much to be thankful for, and I’ll help you out.

In order of importance:

Our family and friends. Father, mother, sister, brother, spouse, child. We all can count on at least one of these individuals for support and affection when all else fails. They won’t berate you for taking too long to test an ad tag, or blame you for late creative. Remember that between now and the New Year.

Our business. You are engaged in an industry whose rules are yet to be written. You are part of a future that pundits can only guess at. Chances are the next 10 years will be filled with invention that will challenge and stimulate you. You will look back in 30 years the same way your parents did at the early days of television or grandparents did with radio — and know that you helped create the future. You will not be bored.

The ad ops teammate who covered for you when you went on vacation earlier this year, or when you came down with the flu, or had family business to attend to. The teammate who perhaps mentored you, or showed you the ropes when you were new, or even referred you to a new job in a more pleasant (or at least more lucrative) environment.

The sales person who said “thanks” for your efforts at getting the campaign live in less than three days, or for the monitoring and optimitizing you did that led to a big renewal, or for wrestling that big rich media ad unit to the ground and getting it live in time for a key promotion.

Finally, I’d like to thank all of you for your comments and input this year in response to my articles. I can’t tell you how gratifying it is to receive the 10 to 15 emails after each article with comments like “we’re glad someone finally wrote about this” or “we were just discussing this topic at our staff meeting”. It’s kind of like cheap, anonymous group therapy, isn’t it? (Well, it is to me).

What do you wish for in 2006?

So now I’ll ask — what do you want to hear about in 2006? Oh, I have my own ideas. The advantages of a local versus ASP ad serving product. The implication of new targeting tools on ad operations like behavioral and bid management tools. But, what is on your mind that I haven’t yet covered? I’m interested. Drop me a line.

For reference, below are the topics and articles that I did cover in 2005. Keep the links handy if you want. Think of it as a refrigerator magnet for your desktop on ad ops matters.

Above all, have a great holiday season filled with family and friends, and complete with the knowledge that while your job may be stressful, it reflects well on your desire to stretch your intellect well beyond your comfort zone, which makes you a risk taker, an adventurer and a pioneer. Sounds good to me.

Best wishes,
Doug Wintz

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