Against All Odds

On March 1, 2021, The McClatchy Company, a newspaper publisher founded in 1857, accomplished something remarkable. Despite a pandemic, financial restructuring, a sagging economy, and social upheaval, they made a radical transformation in sales and advertising operations. They accomplished this in just 7 months, across 30 markets, launching on time and with no disruption in operations. As a result, McClatchy set the stage to save millions of dollars a year.

This type of project is challenging in the best of times. How did McClatchy accomplish it in the worst of times? What made this a success despite the odds? What lessons can we take from this?


Over the course of several years, McClatchy had created a sales and advertising operations infrastructure that required the engagement and coordination of 9 vendors. The company was highly dependent on development resources to create custom solutions to make all these applications work together. Separate order management systems were required to support print and digital. There was no integration with the digital production system Google Ad Manager. All of this contributed to a fragmented infrastructure that was inefficient and expensive.


McClatchy was motivated to change out of necessity. First, creating and supporting custom solutions led to an increasing level of complexity and cost that was not sustainable. Second, the challenges of supporting a network of newspapers and preserving professional journalism are well documented and like many companies, McClatchy was in search of solutions that could make an impact. Finally, the fragmented state of applications supporting the advertising and operations business needed to be centralized and vendor solutions existed that would meet this need.


Once the project received the “green light” McClatchy’s management team helped set the stage for success, making it clear that this project was one of the company’s highest priorities. Launching on March 1 was a necessity, not an option. There were significant financial consequences for NOT hitting the date which helped drive urgency. Management stressed the need to produce a solution that supported the business, while avoiding the complexity and customization that led to the problems in the first place.  They gave full autonomy and authority to the Project Manager, enabling them to make key decisions in real time, avoiding the need for a prolonged process of decision by committee.

This type of management support and messaging is critical to the success of projects that span all business units in a company. Without it, you may have a small group of dedicated individuals driving a project, without a corresponding sense of urgency from the rest of the company. Unless all parties are pulling oars in the same direction, the project will flounder. McClatchy made sure that did NOT happen.


The search for vendors to support this transformation began with an exacting RFP process. McClatchy’s business requirements were documented. Vendors were explicitly asked “Do you support this requirement today, or not? If it is not supported today, when do you expect it to be available to the publisher?” McClatchy knew what they were getting as well as any feature gaps that needed to be addressed. As the evaluation process came to a close, references were checked, interviews with other publishers were conducted, providing an added degree of confidence in the selections.

Lineup was selected to support sales and advertising operations. They supplied a platform that enabled McClatchy to consolidate the functions of several applications at launch. This includes CRM (replacing Salesforce), digital order management, print display management, general classified management, accounts receivable and invoicing functions. Soon, additional consolidation will be achieved by supporting pre-print (insert) functionality in Lineup, followed by support for programmatic.

IntegrationX was selected to support pagination layout. One of their key benefits was their existing integration with Lineup and with the downstream print production vendor CUE. With this selection, McClatchy was able to avoid costly and protracted custom integration work. And it allowed them to keep their focus on configuring the 30 publications that relied on these systems. 

In addition to technology, both vendors brought strong teams to the project. The Lineup account team was comprised of individuals who had detailed knowledge of the product, supported by deep and relevant industry experience. They went “above and beyond” as partners. Without this level of support and expertise, the deployment would not have succeeded.

Similarly, the IntegrationX team were subject matter experts in their field of pagination and layout in support of print. Quick to find solutions to problems, they were instrumental in insuring that on launch day, 30 publishers went to press without any interruption in production and distribution to customers.


DMW MediaWorks ran the vendor review and selection process, vendor onboarding, project management, post-launch support and development. As mentioned, key to success here was management’s decision to place the responsibility for decision making squarely on the shoulders of the project manager. A team of 7 McClatchy stakeholders were designated covering the functions of CRM, ad products, workflow, digital and print integrations, business intelligence and finance. Bi-weekly meetings covered deliverables for the project as well as any risks and mitigation required to make course corrections. As the project reached the “final mile”, daily scrums were held to address issues in real time. The DMW team of two subject matter experts, had a collective 50 years of experience in managing projects focused on sales and advertising operations. Proving that it is not the number of people thrown at a project that determines its success, but whether they are the right people.


The “X” factor in the success of this project were the people at McClatchy. It is not easy to pivot from being heavily invested in legacy applications (both financially and emotionally) – to embracing a brand-new platform. It is not easy to remain motivated in the face of a pandemic AND remote work AND corporate restructuring, AND social unrest. And yet, the people at McClatchy embraced the change, remained motivated and exhibited the highest degree of professionalism. Absolutely remarkable given the range of challenges. And this is the “X” factor in the project. All the elements mentioned above could have been in place, but without the dedication and contribution of the entire staff at McClatchy, March 1 would have come and gone without achieving McClatchy’s goals.  


For those readers who prefer a shorthand version as opposed to a narrative, here is a summary of the keys to success for this project

  • The vendors were evaluated based on their ability to support specific business requirements
  • Maximum consolidation was the goal, while at the same time minimizing the number of vendors and custom development
  • A common, centralized catalog of ad products was created, which served all publishers.
  • Corporate management provided clear direction and a mandate that the project was priority #1 and that failure was not an option
  • Accountability and authority to make decisions was placed squarely on the shoulders of the Project Manager, supported by the team of project stakeholders
  • Vendors worked with McClatchy as partners, treating the project as if it were their own business
  • Total commitment and dedication by every employee at McClatchy, without whom this project would have not succeeded

From a personal standpoint, as Project Manager and with more than 20 years of experience in sales and ad operations, this was THE most rewarding project I have ever been involved in. The transformation was massive despite the odds being stacked against the project. The supporting vendors were pro-active partners in the project. Most importantly of all, McClatchy employees demonstrated a level of courage and commitment that was truly inspiring, enabling this project to succeed against all odds.

New Media, Traditional Lessons

Originally Published March 23rd, 2005

I was rummaging through some old files the other day and came across some direct mail samples for an old, old client, Texaco Star Club. This was a private label auto club for Texaco credit card holders.

Along with the samples was a direct mail matrix, containing details of a Fall campaign. We had several mailing lists, four different creative executions (one with a really neat gold embossed seal) and a couple different fulfillment packages. Add it all up, and we had about 40 mail segments each mapped with a different key code.

I remember how we used to call the fulfillment house to get responses on a daily basis. Some clients would send us a faxed computer printout with the number of new apps. And how exciting was it, that three months after the mailing, we could finally judge the “winner” in terms of list, package and conversion!? Whoopee. That’s three to four months to plan and produce the mailing and three months to find out the results. That’s what I call delaying gratification.

Now of course, things are different. Then again, maybe not so much. 

Planning an online campaign still takes time– but delivery is instantaneous. And yet, we still rely on the tried and true principals of creative testing, response and conversion. The test matrix may very well resemble direct mail of old but now we live or die by the creative sword on a daily basis instead of three  months in the future.

What does all this have to do with life in ad operations? I think the point is that some advertising principles are basic and apply no matter what the medium. And the more in tune with them you are — even as a participant in ad operations — the more valued you will be to your company and the more prepared for what happens next.

So, if we just saw what happens when you go from direct postal mail to campaigns delivered on the internet at the speed of light– what’s next? I saw a preview of the next wave at this years’ Search Engine Strategies conference in NYC. With 6,000 attendees, it certainly rivaled any ad:tech I’d ever seen.

To give you an idea of what my life is like, the most exciting thing at that conference was the seminar on landing page optimization. Rooted in search marketing, landing page optimization focuses on the conversion process. If you can find page with the optimum copy, creative execution and offer– maybe you can increase your conversion to a sale by another 20 percent. In search marketing, that’s significant and it means you can spend more on your keyword buy (more than your competition) because you can afford it based on the better back end conversion.

But remember our prehistoric direct mail example? Creating different fulfillment packages makes the test matrix more complicated. Are you going to assign your web designers the task of creating several test landing pages, the modern version of the fulfillment package? Which “versions” will you decide on when there can be so many variables?

Now, there are companies that can manage that for you, like Offermatica, Vertster and Site Tuners, who presented at the Search Strategies conference. They will all create and test landing pages for you. “Big deal”, you say? Well, what if they could take 10 separate variables on the page (offer, copy, color, features, branding) and create and test all those pages on the fly against your web audience. Now multiply all the variables in your campaign and you could come up with 100s of test cells.

At the end of the campaign, and with the instantaneous compilation of results, you could know the optimal combination of creative, list and conversion strategy. And don’t think this tactic will stop at search marketing, because it is migrating to every internet based response medium.

The message in all this is that even in ad operations, you need to know the basics of direct response advertising. Knowing how to plug in a graphic in an ad server is not enough. If you don’t pay attention– one day you’ll be asked to schedule a campaign with 10 creatives, 10 lists and 10 different target pages. If you’re not aware that there is a method to this madness you’ll scratch your head in frustration, instead of appreciating that the end result will tell you and your client everything you need to know about creating success for their product.

Three’s a Crowd

Originally Published 9/14/2005

One of the most interesting things about going to interactive conferences, or simply interacting with multiple clients, is getting a bird’s eye view of our business and gaining a sense of perspective. In other words, you get to see how other people handle their businesses. The question, “is it just me, or do other people have the same problems I do?” gets answered. In the case of handling third-party served ad campaigns, the answer is “yes, everyone is having the same problems.”

This column addresses some of the issues inherent for publishers who must deal with campaigns that are served from a third party. In this day and age, everyone accepts this type of business. I’ll address this subject from a fairly top-line basis. So if you’re an executive who doesn’t understand third party ad serving, or thinks that it can easily be solved, or feels you’re not getting the full scoop from your own operations group — read on. If nothing else, you’ll get a sense of perspective.

An increasing impact

This is not a new problem, ladies and gentleman. Media operations knows it all too well, and it has been around for quite a few years. The scary part about third party ad serving is that it is increasing rapidly and absorbing a significant percentage of inventory and revenue. This creates uncertainty in revenue recognition and a tremendous amount of manual labor on the part of the media operations group as well as finance departments.

Imagine that at the end of the month reporting revenue numbers and having to apply the caveat that they are not really complete and you won’t know the real numbers for another couple of weeks. This is a problem that many, many publishers are currently grappling with. 

This is going to get worse before it gets better because, from the advertiser and agency side of the coin, third party ad serving has a huge benefit: it consolidates both distribution and reporting so they can reach scores of publishers using a single ad serving application. Even I have to admit that it makes sense — it just creates complication we all have to resolve.

The nature of the beast

For publishers that are media based and rely on CPM campaigns to drive their business revenue, the complication falls into two basic categories. First, you have campaigns that are delivered by your ad server and for which you are paid based on your delivery numbers. Second, you have campaigns that are redirected and served by a third party and for which you are paid based on their numbers.

Believe me, the numbers never match.

A typical contract with a third party stipulates that if there is less than a 10 percent discrepancy in the delivery numbers, the publishers numbers are the basis for payment. But often the discrepancy is larger — and thus begins the process of reconciliation.

Whose numbers are right, what revenue was actually earned, and how much do I recognize that as a publisher?

Basically, how does the third party campaign work? Instead of scheduling a graphic image in the publisher’s ad server, the trafficker schedules a third party ad tag.

Here’s what happens when the reader (consumer) of your publication types in your URL: They get your content page, which includes your ad tag. The ad tag on that page requests a campaign from your ad server. The ad server gets the third party ad tag, which “calls” for the ad image from the third party server and delivers it to your content page.

I always like to think of the analogy of runners in a relay race. They pass the baton (the ad tag) from runner to runner. The only risk is that the baton gets dropped. Here are some of the reasons that third party numbers don’t jibe with publishers

  • “Breakage” in the handoff from publisher tag to third party tag (The baton gets dropped)
  • ” Differences in counting ad impressions. What is an impression? Is it when the publisher simply “asks” for the ad image from the third party or when it is fully displayed?
  • ” Differences in the method of counting unique viewers or in applying frequency caps to campaigns
  • ” Third party targeting criteria that are never shared with the publisher and may significantly increase the discrepancy of counted impressions, such as screening IP addresses.
  • ” Spiders and bots, programs that crawl the web looking for content and links, can artificially generate ad impressions.

“Do ya feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?”

Side note to those uninitiated execs who are tempted to say “That’s it, we’re not going to accept third party advertising anymore – they can go on our numbers!”

Okay, now imagine turning away $100,000s in revenue per year, because that’s the business you’re going to lose. So face it, third party advertising is here to stay.

What are the solutions?

Today, most publishers handle third party served campaigns in one of two ways.

1) Campaigns are set aside for revenue recognition in following month. By that time, discrepancies are resolved and numbers agreed upon.

2) Campaigns are recognized immediately based on the publisher’s numbers and reconciled in the following month.

Both are manual processes. Neither method will be satisfactory as the number of these campaigns increases.

Hope is on the horizon

There are indications that several parties are starting to take this problem seriously. This includes companies that supply contract management solutions, billing/invoicing applications, the IAB and perhaps even agencies and clients:

  • The IAB “Measurement Task Force” is standardizing the definition of a delivered ad impression, and this will help reduce discrepancies. (It’s amazing that we as an industry are just getting to this. “we” meaning all of us)
  • ” It has become standard for third party ad servers to supply log-ins for clients and publishers to view “their” impression counts on a real time basis. That’s okay, although in many cases this simply let’s you see how far off you are in your impression counts — on a real time basis.
  • ” Some contract management applications are actively pursuing the ability to log on and download third party results automatically. Imagine being able to press a button and consolidate all third party results into a single spreadsheet. We can only hope that agencies and advertiser will actually let them — they should!

The best of all possible worlds

 accept the fact that discrepancies will always exist. Just let me view them quickly, evaluate them, resolve them, and report third party revenue at the same time I report everything else.

What I’d like to do is access my “Third Party Central” application and configure it for all the third party advertisers I work with. I’ll upload the campaign information including start/end date, impressions and CPM and include the URL, ID and password that will allow me to automate log on and access the actual results from the third party.

At the end of the month, I’ll press an “import” button and download everything. The UI will show me booked impressions, my ad server’s impressions alongside the third party’s. It will show me the percent discrepancy and sort the campaigns by acceptable and unacceptable margins.

Now I have the information I need without doing hours of research. I can easily spot the campaigns that are out of compliance in terms of discrepancies. I can compile a history — giving me the routine ability to accept third party campaigns or put others on a watch list because of unacceptable discrepancies.

Not too much to ask, is it?

Closing the Vast Agency- Publisher Knowledge Gap

Originally Published 09/20/09

When it comes to ad operations, nowhere is there a wider knowledge gap than between publishers and agencies. And I’m not just talking about discrepancies in third-party ad serving. That’s the least of the issues. Over the past three to four years, I’ve had occasion to work on both sides of that fence. When I asked my publishing colleagues how ad operations works on the agency side, I received a shrug of the shoulders. When I asked my agency friends if they knew what went on behind the scenes on the publisher side, the response was “I don’t understand why it is so difficult to deliver an ad campaign in full!”

Ladies and gentlemen, this is like living in a suburban community for 10 years and never getting to know your neighbor’s first name. Really!

In this article, I’ll start by discussing the trends taking place behind the scenes at agencies, why publishers need to know about them, and the future implications for their businesses. For some of you as readers, this is not new — but for many on the publisher side, and specifically in ad operations departments, it has remained behind the veil for too long.

Publishers, don’t be clueless

I am definitely a charter member of the “branding has value” club. A publisher’s job is to supply quality content that attracts a valued audience and deliver that to an advertiser. But to ignore what is happening behind the scenes at agencies in terms of measurement and metrics is simply being clueless. Don’t you want to get the license plate of that truck before it runs you over? Or are you intent on habitually crossing the street without looking both ways? Even while we continue beating the drum for branding (and rightfully so), we need to understand what happens on the buy side.

Let’s take a look at some of the metrics at work, behind the scenes, in agency ad operations:

Attribution modeling

One of the more recent and advanced sets of metrics used on the advertiser side is attribution modeling (also called engagement mapping or “path to conversion”). This helps determine how many ad exposures preceded a conversion, when they happened, and what ad product they were associated with.

For instance, a unique consumer might have been exposed to a specific advertiser’s creative (a retailer, perhaps, like Hugo Boss) in the following sequence, and produced the following results:

Tuesday > 12:15 p.m. > view a leaderboard ad > impression exposure

Tuesday > 5 p.m. > view a skyscraper ad > impression exposure

Wed > 8 a.m. > search Google, see text ad > click > welcome page of Hugo Boss, no further action

Wednesday > 5 p.m. > Navigate directly to welcome page of site > Men’s suit section > shopping cart > $650 purchase

So in this sequence, the agency would see that several ad exposures influence a purchase, not just the click. All of this would be tracked by the initial cookie dropped on the user’s browser when the person sees the first ad exposure. Branding may be contributing to more conversions when combined with search. And the final action by the consumer may be a result of the entire media mix, not just a single ad exposure.

Ironically, there is interest among agencies grounded in search engine marketing for this metric. They may actually try and get their clients to spend more money on display than they are used to because the ultimate mix that leads to a conversion includes several types of ad products, generating both impressions and clicks.

Is this model prevalent at every agency, with every client? Of course not. However, the data are being collected, analyzed, and presented. The more analytical agencies and staff will certainly present it as justification for a media plan, and that may actually be beneficial to publishers because the ultimate “mix” will include branding.

Long term implications? If this analysis catches on, it may mean more frequent campaign revisions as agencies start to define certain types of ad impressions as being contributors to a conversion — and ask publishers to change a campaign to achieve the best blend. More frequent campaign revisions would call for applications on the ad operations side to process and document those changes more efficiently.

Conversion: Time lag and frequency

Less exotic than attribution modeling, these types of reports are in use more frequently at agencies. They are used to help fine-tune the length of a flight and the frequency of ad exposures.

For instance, a time-lag-to-conversion report would contain the following metrics, informing the advertiser as to how many consumers who saw an ad three, five, or 10 (frequency 10) times actually converted:

Placement A:
First ad display > No. of imps > uniques > clicks > unique clicks > post-click event

Second ad display > No. of imps > uniques > clicks > unique clicks > post-click event

Third ad display > No. of imps > uniques > clicks > unique clicks > post-click event

… and so on

This report would track the frequency of up to 10 ad displays and the resulting impressions, clicks, and conversions (or any post-click event) by frequency level.

This type of data forces the agency to look at the correlation between ad frequency and conversions, and avoid the “conventional wisdom” that a frequency cap of three is the most efficient path to conversion.

In terms of time lag to conversion, the advertiser is measuring the chronological point in the timeline of a campaign at which a consumer converted. Was it during the first half hour, day 1, or day 30? The report structure looks like this:

Placement A > No. of imps > No. of conversions @ first hour = 5 > Day 1 = 10 > Day 2 = 6… Day 30 = 1

Again, the quantitative data here might be counterintuitive. The best duration for a flight might be 10, 20, or 30 days — it depends on what the data show. Conducting an ROI analysis would show the agency the optimum duration for a campaign.

More-conventional metrics

Among the more-conventional metrics expressed as important by agencies interviewed include:

Re-targeting. This involves the retargeting of people that did not perform an action or conversion, and sending them an ad with a specific message designed to prompt them to take action.

Testing (AB/multivariate). Some agencies rely heavily on simple A/B testing, which creates two separate landing pages, splits the traffic between the two, and tracks conversions to see which versions gets the best results. Multivariate goes beyond A/B testing and enables several variables on a single web page, analyzing the results to arrive more quickly at the optimal design. The implication for publishers is that it may place them on the receiving end of revisions designed to leverage the results from the multivariate testing.

Publisher overlap. When running campaigns across several publishers, the agency may look at how many unique users overlap from one site to another.


The use of cookies, tracking pixels, and site analytics are increasing the amount of data a digital advertiser has to work with. Short term, the ability for most marketers to assimilate and rapidly act on these data is lagging behind the volume of information. However, agencies are using at least one of these types of reports on a regular basis. So, this is the beginning of a slow but inevitable trend toward more sophisticated analysis.

Who’s supplying this type of functionality to ad agencies? The same providers that power many publishers: Atlas, Bluestreak, DoubleClick’s DFA, Eyeblaster, and Mediaplex.

As use of this type of data becomes more widespread, I believe the rate of campaign revisions will increase, and as mentioned previously, this will require ad operations on the publisher side and all the links in their workflow (including processing of insertion order revisions from sales all the way through finance) to be more efficient and more accurate.

Publishers could take the same metrics and do a self analysis of their audiences to model and understand the patterns of usage and response. This could in turn be used as a selling tool to agencies that are perhaps more direct response-oriented than we would like, or to suggest duration and frequency of campaigns to advertisers that need that guidance.

Long, long term, on the agency side, it’s likely that the analysis of data, like attribution modeling, will be run automatically, resulting in automated decision making on the mix and placement of ad units to achieve the best ROI. This could then be programmed into the agency ad server, which would subject the publisher to more rapid campaign changes.

Is there a danger that more automated crunching of data on the agency side will start to turn digital media into more of a self-service model? Although we can’t deny that Google has proved this out to some extent, traditional publishers and their digital media properties will have a long time to figure this out. Just remember, we’ve been talking about the “convergence’ of media for (believe it or not) 20 years now. So even in our digital world, significant change takes time. Combine that with the fact that there is a tremendous legacy and infrastructure inherent in the ad agency/publisher model, and I don’t think we’re anywhere close to “the end is near.” That’s good news for all of us who still believe that advertising at its best is a creative collaboration between the buyer and seller.

On the other hand, if we were to imagine a future, decades from now, where automation of media performance data is so current, and processed so quickly, that only machines can manage decisions on media, it might read something like this:

Local Rules for Ad Operations

Originally Published 10/21/06

In the late 1980s, the fledging online service Prodigy created local content covering the Atlanta metro market. In part, the hope was that “Access Atlanta” would entice an audience to sign up and log on. But in this chicken and egg scenario, the egg was yet to be hatched. The online audience wasn’t there because the penetration of homes with PCs was not significant. And so — although an avid local following was born — it was too small to create a meaningful audience.

Nearly 20 years later, the battle lines are finally being drawn at the local and community level. There is significant reach at the DMA and metro levels, and everyone wants to play locally with an internet presence. Newspapers, TV, radio and yellow page providers, along with pure-play internet sites– all are vying for their share of the local market and are shifting time, resources and money in that direction.

And this time, it’s not just a toe-in-the water approach. Even the traditional broadcast companies are now realizing that local internet advertising is not to be considered “value add,” but can actually become a multi-million dollar component of their revenue stream. I can tell you from first-hand experience that the last couple of years have been marked with a tremendous sense of urgency by all parties to gain a foothold in local.

From the perspective of the media operations side of the house, the emergence of local online advertising presents some fascinating challenges and opportunities.

The customers

The surge of local content is about to bring thousands of new advertisers online, many for the first time. For ad operations, it will begin to seem like 1995 all over again. “What’s a gif? How do I calculate cost using CPMs? Why can’t I see my ad online? Is .017 percent a good click rate?”

The result will be a more time-intensive customer service experience. Even local advertisers with traditional media experience in TV, for example, will feel they are in a parallel universe and need guidance. When they are used to buying five local TV spots a month and getting them, there is frequently less tolerance and understanding when the 250,000 impressions they bought turns out to be 240,000.

The inventory

Yes, we are reaching the critical mass necessary to make local an attractive proposition. But still, it’s all relative, and in terms of inventory management there will be scant room for error.

That means that seasonality and spikes in local news will affect the five auto dealers crammed into the local online metro section more than if they were advertising on say, Yahoo!. Highly competitive local advertisers will want assurances they receive the share of voice they expected and will hold sales and therefore media operations responsible.

Increased vigilance of inventory will be crucial, and will frequently call for the kind of hands-on, micro-management that current solutions (ad servers, contract management) can’t supply

The pricing

The pricing picture is unsettled at this point. For the most part, savvy internet advertisers are now used to paying on a CPM basis for graphic ads and video as rotated on major publishers. Bringing new local advertisers into the fold also brings preconceived notions of pricing from other media. The yellow page advertisers pay a flat fee to advertise in their books. Traditional broadcast looks for audience and reach guarantees.

Now add in the Google factor, which has institutionalized the cost-per-click model. This convergence of pricing models will complicate media operations’ life by creating a more complex world of product and packaging options. There’s now more to keep track of and more accuracy needed in creating IOs in contract management systems that reflect the more complicated matrix of advertising options.

The products

Local content will demand the use of multiple products to satisfy both consumer and advertiser needs. And these go beyond simple banner placement.

Looking for that plumber in Toledo? You’d better have a robust search solution with a database that covers not only downtown, but all the surrounding communities. There are several off-the-shelf directory products that provide canned listings.

But how will those canned products coexist with the need for prominent placement by individual local advertisers? There is increasing demand for a product that allows the local advertiser to book and pay for placement of their own graphic ads online (aside from current CPC solutions), which could be a hefty piece of development effort. All this means that, on the media operations side, folks will be keeping their eye on search inventory and pricing, as well as CPMs and sponsorships.

Video and/or streaming audio will soon be a must have and not a nice to have. Traditional broadcasters have a head start on content and technology. For the other local providers — print and internet-only publishers — the road is tougher. Where does the local video content come from, if not from the network mainstays? Stay tuned for the growth of independent networks of video content producers, prepared to syndicate local in the same way stringers have done for traditional print and broadcast.

The people

We already know there is a shortage of ad operations and media operations professionals. What happens when there are hundreds of emerging sites attempting to make local content work across the country?

In many cases, they won’t get the respect they deserve from ad serving companies and will find rates, terms and service unacceptable. They will ultimately put themselves as risk when they try to run the operations group with one person– just pray that person doesn’t get sick, or worse.

I think this will lead to more business for some of the outsourced ad operations groups. Sure, that’s a solution. But it also just transfers the problem of finding bright, intelligent, competent ad traffickers from individual publishers to outsourcing groups.

So, just when you thought things were getting settled, the world will become more complicated.

It’s astounding to think that the groundwork for a lot of this was laid almost two decades ago– time flies. It’s encouraging, in a way. We can all look forward to another 20 years of innovation and change.

Not a bad place to be for a career– local, or otherwise.

Protecting Your Business By Securing Workflow

Originally Published 07/11/07

Mention the word “workflow” to a room full of seasoned, intelligent executives and you’re likely to induce a mass attack of glassy-eyed narcolepsy. Nothing can put a damper on a spirited entrepreneurial discussion like visions of boxes, triangles, hexahedrons and decision trees that are conjured up by this topic. However, give me that boredom anytime over the crisis-inducing mayhem that happens when this discussion does not occur.

What is workflow? At its most basic level “workflow” simply documents a process. It’s really a graphic representation — a flow chart — of the steps required to complete a task from start to finish. For complex projects, like building a computer network or running an ad operations department, it is critical.

Many, many publishers don’t have a single staff person who knows the whole roadmap. Sure, individuals might own specific areas like inventory or billing, but few have the total picture.

This lack of documentation is dangerous in several regards. First, every action has a reaction, and it is important for the person entering contract information to know the impact that their work can have at billing and invoicing time. It’s important for an inventory staff person to understand the impact their calculations (or miscalculations) have on revenue. Second, lack of documentation can put critical knowledge of business processes in the hands (or should I say “in the brains”) of a single person.

How many times have you heard the phrase “Don’t get hit by a bus” in connection with ad operations staff? Plenty. Disseminating and documenting knowledge about how your business is run is like an insurance policy against catastrophic damage.

To summarize: Workflow. Don’t leave home without it.

What should workflow include in ad operations?


The checks and balances required to make sure timely, accurate inventory information is in play at every step of the sales process. Approvals are needed to reserve inventory if your company recognizes that practice, according to a pre-established set of business rules. Certain types of products need advanced analysis (floating ads, behavioral) to ensure accurate forecasts.

Proposals and contracts:

Thresholds for pricing and credit approvals and the business rules required to override them. This also includes the identities of the gatekeepers of this process and the time frames to accomplish approvals.

Campaign management:

A QA process to ensure an accurate launch including escalation points to ease the pain of out-of- spec or late creative. Optimization and pacing guidelines ensure that campaigns have the best chance to deliver as contracted.

Billing and invoicing:

The documented workflow that applies to your contract management process includes a “how to” on how to generate a monthly file. Create guidelines for handling unlinked products, including third- party served campaigns, month-end reconciliation rules, regulations and escalation points.

Of course, these are just a few of the items that make up the task list associated with ad operations. The flow chart associated with these tasks does not have to be indecipherable. In fact, it should add clarity by stepping through the process so that anyone can interpret it. It’s a legacy document that helps ensure uninterrupted efficiency in ad operations. And if you consider this a quick route to boredom, that’s not such a bad thing. After all, in ad operations, there are plenty of other daily tasks that keep things exciting.

Anatomy of a Project Plan

Originally published 8/10/07

How does an icon in traditional media make the transition from an outsourced ad operations solution to in-house ownership of the tools and processes needed to facilitate online advertising?

This is a story about how a logical, step-by-step roadmap can ease that transition. And in this case, how the process became relatively painless and ultimately successful.

This is one of those rare instances where the names are NOT changed to protect the innocent. So let me introduce you to Joe Friend, ad operations manager of, the flagship internet property of the 150-year-old Philadelphia Inquirer.

A change in ownership of the newspaper created a situation where ad operations, including ad serving, contract management and all associated workflow, was being brought in-house on a six- week timetable. As a former analyst at the newspaper’s technical help desk, Joe was approached with the opportunity to manage the transition and the associated ad operations department.

As in most circumstances, the stage was set with a cast of players who had varying degrees of experience. Joe was experienced in internet technology, but not so much when it came to ad serving and operations. had never managed its own ad server or inventory, but it did work with an outsourced operations group that handled all ads. In six weeks, the company needed to deploy a new ad server across the site, migrate hundreds of campaigns from their previous operations provider, provide a roadmap for process and workflow for the new internal department and train sales and traffickers.

The project plan

The first step was to create an internal project plan with benchmark dates that highlighted the critical tasks that needed to be accomplished. Although an ad serving provider may furnish a high- level schedule, it’s really in the best interest of the publisher to take that into their own hands. After all, it’s your site, your schedule and your job at stake. You own it.

So “let’s break it down,” to borrow a phrase from the music business. By that I mean, let’s break down this project into the major tasks needed to accomplish the transition. Each of these tasks needs an owner, a start date and an end date. In the case of, here was the basic game plan:


  • Create the project plan
  • Create organization chart and define roles/responsibilities
  • Develop a process workflow that highlights how to take an order from “quote to cash”
  • Present project plan and workflow to sales and finance
  • Gain agreement on the business rules that will drive the ad operations process

Define the Site Structure:

  • Define the sites and sections that define the web properties and the types of packages that sales will sell
  • Create the ad tags
  • Technical call with ad server to discuss type of tags needed at
  • Build and distribute ad tags to web development group
  • Test tags in QA environment
  • Move tags to production server
  • Create test matrix to verify ad units and placements and work


  • Create users and set levels of permission in the ad server and contract management application
  • Create the ad products in both applications
  • Create any checkpoints or gate-keeping function

Contract Management:

  • Train operations on contract management application
  • Upload agencies, advertisers and contacts
  • QA the site structure and make sure it syncs between ad server
  • Load terms and conditions
  • Load rate card
  • Test billing output and discuss integration with current financial applications

Campaign Migration:

  • Identify all ad campaigns that cross over from the old to new ad server
  • Ensure that legacy campaign reports are archived
  • Retrieve all creatives and clickthrough URLs from old ad server
  • Calculate the impressions that need to be input into the new ad server in order to fulfill the balance of the ad campaigns
  • Book all the currently running campaigns into the new ad server
  • Create a communications plan for current advertisers advising them of the changeover and how transitional campaign reports will be delivered

Live Date:

  • Coordinate launch support
  • Create an escalation plan with key resources clearly identified
  • Develop a testing matrix for post launch QA
  • Monitor campaigns to track expected delivery and ensure they are on pace to fulfill contract
  • Monitor performance of web pages and ads

Creating a project plan helps keep things organized. Without it, all of the above tasks can seem daunting and overwhelming. Even worse, without this type of plan and the clear owners and end dates, many of the items above can get dropped. Finally, anyone else in the organization can see a clear picture of all the work that needs to get done, it’s the best answer to the question: “What do these guys do all day?”

So, how did it all work out? Pretty darn good. The best indication was the eerie quiet after launch. No advertisers or sales people asking, “Where’s my ad?” No ads obstructing editorial recaps of the latest Philadelphia Phillies games. No frustrated staff members submitting resignations. Joe had a project plan and a couple of partners to help define it and execute it; in this case DMW MediaWorks and DoubleClick.

Ad operations is not a perfect world. Post launch, perhaps the biggest challenges are associated with measuring and forecasting inventory. But ask any publisher and they’re pretty much in the same boat when it comes to inventory forecasting.

All in all, the Philadelphia story is a good one. My advice to those in similar situations is to break it down so you can plan, organize and execute effectively.

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

Publishers: Take Control of Your Inventory

Originally Published 07/03/08

Most of us in ad operations are used to creating “work arounds” as a means of solving our most pressing problems. We are frequently handicapped by applications that are limited in their flexibility. We tend to adopt the attitude that “this is the hand we’ve been dealt, so let’s try to make the best out of what we’ve got.”

In actuality, we should be defining exactly what we need in order to run our business more effectively and demand that our company support us in creating those solutions.

Nowhere does this dilemma apply more than to the challenge of inventory management. Ad servers offer a basic level of inventory forecasting, but they fail at creating solutions that are publisher specific. You may be a news, travel, weather or automotive site, and in each case the challenges associated with granular targeting of inventory, of spikes in activity that can’t be accounted for by ad servers or of calculating revenue share with affiliates call for spreadsheets and manual labor to create marginal solutions.

However, publishers can cast off the shackles of ad server dependency by creating their own inventory tools to address their specific needs. Using the ad server API, publishers can write custom programs that automate many of the most arduous tasks of inventory management.

Ad server API’s (application programming interfaces) are essentially gateways to the inner workings of the ad server. By using the API, you can access delivery data, campaign data, advertiser data, forecasting algorithms, specific targeting as defined by key values, etc. You can use the API to create middleware applications that may utilize a language like Java to extract the inventory data and deposit it into a database. The same application can also utilize a language like PERL to take that data and format it visually into the type of reports you need and deliver it to the ad operations group on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.

Below is a schematic which offers a top-line view of the interaction between the ad server and the middleware application that creates the reports:

What kind of reports can you create using this method? Just about any type of inventory report as long as the data is in the ad server. From there, it’s simply a matter of defining how you want to manipulate it. Here are some examples, all of which are currently in use by publishers.

Daily inventory snapshots

What cross section of inventory availability means the most to you on a daily basis? The “snapshot” approach compiles a customized matrix of the ad sizes, site placements and key values (think DMA, product attributes, etc) and deposits them on the desktop of the ad operations group. Based on the specifications of the publisher, the list of matching, booked and available impressions can be displayed over weeks, months, even a year. Seasonal trends can be accommodated by allowing the publisher to configure a table that takes into account adjustments due to specific events, traffic patterns or new site launches.

Automated query tool

Pulling inventory avails can be like pulling teeth, particularly for campaigns with multiple line items. Instead of working around this issue, why not create an in-house solution? A simple user interface can be constructed and used to query the ad server database, compiling a multi-line avails report. Further, the results of those queries could be emailed to users on completion, stored in a database so historical trends can be analyzed and re-used as a template for future availability pulls.

Revenue share reports

One of the most manual of tasks for publishers who have a network of affiliates is calculating revenue share. This is further complicated by the fact that revenue share can vary by affiliate, product and category of advertiser. If publishers apply the discipline of entering CPMs into the ad server, using the same methodology of accessing the API can yield a customized report that matches a table of revenue share percentages with the delivered campaigns by affiliate.

Gain control of your inventory

One of my musician friends uses the malapropism “What’s holding up the delay?” to describe the frustration of waiting for an event that never seems to take place. So I would ask publishers the same question. Why wait to take control of your inventory into your own hands? Most ad servers have an API, the data is there and waiting to be spun to your specifications. All it takes is the willingness to go from blind acceptance of your current limitations to creative problem solving on your own terms.

The Roadblocks to Starting Your Own ad Network

Originally Published 05/24/09

Mainstream publishers are leaping into the ad network business with increasing frequency. Why, you may ask? After all, isn’t it hard enough for publishers to fill the ad inventory on their own domains? Or have they secretly been selling out 100 percent of all their ad placements without telling anyone? If so, I hope they haven’t been taking TARP funds under false pretenses.

But seriously, there are some rational reasons for embarking on this strategy. First, creating a network of sites with similar content helps extend a publisher’s dominance in a particular category. Build a large enough network of affiliates and, presto, you are no longer the No. 25 site in MediaMetrix; you are No. 3. Impressionable media buyers will be impressed with your reach, and shareholders will be happy with your ranking.

Second, build a network now, and you’ll beat your competition to it and leave them in the dust down the road. And finally, to be fair and balanced, some publishers actually do find themselves selling out of highly targeted inventory in travel, health, and automotive, even if a fraction of run-of-site inventory actually gets sold.

For all these reasons, be they rational, sound business reasons or not, websites with a single dotcom domain are extending their reach by building networks. However, many of them underestimate the challenges associated with this model. Believe me, it is not for the faint-hearted or unprepared.

Here are some of the most unappreciated and underestimated challenges associated with running an ad network, especially if you are a publisher starting out as the new “owner-operator.”

  • The affiliate websites in your network are actually your customers. Sure, you are good to your advertisers and have experience servicing them, but now add to that equation the fact that you have 150 network affiliates all needing varying levels of support and information. Make sure you have the staff to support that, or choose a solutions provider that does.
  • Affiliates will need assistance in deploying your network ad tags on their site. Sure, you can sign 150 affiliates to your network, but can you actually get them to deploy your ad tags and on a timeline that suites your business model? Your help will be needed, and it will be technical in nature.
  • As a network “owner-operator,” you will find that each affiliate will have separate business rules dictating which ads or ad categories you can and cannot show on their site. One affiliate wants to prevent you from selling to sports advertisers, because they have a standing exclusivity with a single firm. Another site wants to bar an entire list of specific advertisers. None of this type of control will scale unless it is automated, so your network solution better supply this.
  • You will need to supply individual revenue reports showing how many impressions ran on each affiliate. Those impressions may be subject to a different revenue share depending on targeting and site placement of sales channel. Your affiliates will want to see them — and see them frequently. As a mainstream publisher, can your current ad server do that?
  • Inventory management. If you’re lucky, your affiliates will cede control of 100 percent of their inventory, in which case, you will know where you stand in terms of sold and available inventory. But in many cases, you’ll get a portion of their inventory, sometimes on an ad hoc basis as you need it. In which case, knowing where you stand on inventory will be challenging at best. Make sure your existing ad operations group is looped into this function.
  • Payments. Yes, your affiliate customers will actually want to be paid. Are you personally going to write out the checks and send them out? If not, then who will?

Your options for supporting a network are varied. Mainstream publishers can attempt to do it with their existing ad serving solution and internal support staff, but frankly they are doing it at their own peril. The danger here is that you will be complicating an already complex business model by relegating it to a series of internal spreadsheets and marginal customer support from your internal resources, which are probably already overtaxed.

Your best bet is to outsource support of your network to firms who are experienced and focused on that business model instead of using a do-it-yourself approach. Make sure you can get as close to an end to end solution as possible, ranging from deployment of tags, to customer support, trafficking and optimizing, inventory management, and billing/invoicing.

Expanding your business to a network model is not for the faint hearted, but given the right planning and resources, in can expand the reach and exposure of your core brand as a publisher.