The Best-Kept Secret in Ad Operations

Published 01/28/06

As I’ve mentioned in previous columns, the life of an ad operations staffer is filled with day-to-day tasks revolving around the launching of new campaigns, troubleshooting creatives, revising campaigns, managing inventory– you know the drill.

Today, however, I’d like you to consider that you know far more than your corporate colleagues think you do. After all, who else has more intimate knowledge of your sites’ performance for advertisers? This includes how ad units perform in various site sections, for specific types of advertisers and at what time of the day or week. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Frequently, because of the tactical nature of our business this institutional knowledge is overlooked, or — even worse — left unsaid. It therefore becomes one of the best-kept secrets of ad performance on your site. How many times have you been at the receiving end of a new campaign and said to yourself, “Oh man, here we go again. I know from experience that this isn’t going to work.” And then you move on to the next campaign.

One of the keys to your personal success in 2006 may be your ability to translate some of these best- kept secrets into solutions that create new ad products or packages. In doing so, you could be the source for new revenue streams– a feat that goes far beyond simple trafficking of ads.

Challenging Content

Let’s take a look at an example of how your knowledge could be translated into new solutions for your company.

One of the internet’s great strengths is that it provides a gathering place for communities of users. Their value has been proven time and again. Just look at history, past and present. Geocities was acquired by Yahoo! years ago. MySpace was acquired by NewsCorp months ago. Why? Because massive numbers of like-minded users gather together in these communities, and with one acquisition a company can increase their audience significantly. Recently the phrase “social networking” has been used to describe similar sites.

From the ad ops perspective (that’s you), “communities” show a different face. Sites that are composed of user-generated content create uncertainty among many advertisers. What kind of content will their ads appear on? A bona fide travel site with information about Cancun? Or, a “Girls Gone Wild” wannabe site carefully crafted by a frat boy just back from Spring Break?

Even if advertisers are not deterred by this uncertainty, there is the matter of performance. From your seat in ad ops where you schedule ads and observe performance, you know that campaigns in a community setting have shown historically low click rates. Therefore, CPMs for community sites (and this goes for community, social networking, email, chat and message board sites) are at the lower end of the rate card scale.

Be the hero

So, given all the knowledge you have as a professional in ad operations, what could you do in this situation? The options are 1) ignore it and keep scheduling campaigns 2) be the hero and come up with some potential solutions.

Think about what you do know. For instance, you may have observed that the “community” type content you work with is composed of sections that are highly populated by people interested in travel, automotive and music. What if you could aggregate the best of that content and create front door sections to those content areas?

For instance, your publisher or director for community content could select from the best travel sites– whose content is consistently of high quality and perfect for any advertisers sponsorship. Supplement this with some data feeds with news on travel, auto and music. (This isn’t brain surgery by the way– a company called Mining Company started something similar to this in the 1990s, and it became About.com.)

Now, you’ve used your knowledge about the behavior of your sites’ content, and created viable sponsorship areas that are attractive and a safe haven for advertisers, with more engaging content and perhaps even better performance from a clickthrough standpoint.

Why didn’t the founders of your site figure this out? Maybe they were preoccupied with building the community destination. Maybe ad revenue was a secondary consideration. Maybe the site has been around for a long while and there is a reluctance to retrofit into a new model. Or maybe, just maybe, they don’t know what you know?

Summary

You’ve got more knowledge than you may be giving yourself credit for. And new ideas are not the sole domain of writers, editors and marketers. In fact, your unique perspective on the business might yield significant new revenue opportunities.

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