Video and Media Operations

Originally Published 08/13/05

Jon Stewart has described the internet as “a technology combining the credibility of anonymous hearsay with the excitement of typing.”

I’ll admit it. I’ve been trying to find a way to crowbar this favorite quote of mine into an article for months. I even toyed with the idea of going minimalist and just posting the quote as my sole contribution to the August column. But I didn’t think I could convince the editor that two lines of text and two pages of white space would be beneficial to our readers. Fortunately, there is a sound, rational reason to apply this quote to one of the most active, and most underdeveloped, trends in online advertising — video.

We are quickly leaving behind the era in which our medium is described, even flippantly, as “exciting as typing.” For those of us who have been in the business for a few years, the long-promised potential of video seems to have mushroomed almost overnight. Can you name one company at this juncture who has the cojones to say “video is not part of our strategy?”

Interestingly, the operations end of the business seems to have been caught napping when it comes to supplying an integrated application that combines video content management, a flexible, configurable media player, video ad serving that can be sequenced at will and back-end reporting that mirrors what we’ve all come to expect from the top tier ad delivery systems.

There are many vendors that solve a piece of this equation, but few, if any, who provide a packaged solution. As a result, these pieces need to be cobbled together from disparate service providers.

It’s like the bad old days of online advertising: no clear set of standards and no consistency in display of video advertisements. But that also means the medium is ripe for opportunity.

Here’s my wish list for consolidated video management system from a single service provider. (Sorry, but saying you have an API that allows other service providers to integrate with your application does not count.)

Manageability: A content management system that organizes and delivers both video programs and advertising to the player. Let me go to a library and pick the ads and the content from a well organized database.

Flexibility: The flexibility to sequence ads and content at will, by vertical. If I’m in Entertainment, perhaps I want to show an ad before each content clip and not worry so much about frequency capping. If I’m in Health, maybe I only want to show an ad every three content clips and impose a frequency cap as well. If I have a premier sponsor for any of these areas, I might just want to tailor the display of video ads to meet their requirements.

Customizability: A video player that can be customized to meet the needs of the publisher. This ranges from simply skinning the player, to running standard ad units in tandem with video, to configuring a play list “on the fly” without the need to undergo custom programming each time.

Targetability: Reporting and targeting of video ads that mirror the accepted standards from pure ad serving applications. By content section, daypart scheduling, geo, frequency capping. Don’t forget to throw in drop-off rates — how many people view the entire video versus only the first five seconds?

Oh, and can this service provider please also include the ability to serve standard and rich media ad units? Just like the big boys do.

Sure, it’s probably unreasonable to expect all of this from a single provider. Companies are prone to focus on a specialized aspect of media operations so they can excel in at least one thing. That’s good business practice.

But we do need to move away from the current environment of piecing a jigsaw puzzle together in order to serve up the most valuable, highest CPM inventory for any publisher.

Finally, there’s another reason to consider this topic carefully. The internet will drive the future of television. The tail is already starting to wag the dog. And in the future, when someone says “we’re live in 3, 2, 1….” a media application will start serving video content, clickable video ads, banners, ecommerce links and collecting a database of interested users.

Someone will have to power the media, and they’ll have to figure out how to make all the disparate pieces fit together.

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

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?


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.

The Mass Hysteria from Mass Acquisitions


I’m not one who gives in easily to hysteria. After all, if you work in ad operations, you eventually become desensitized to emotions of panic and horror; the same thing that happens when you watch too many violent movies. However, when the latest round of acquisitions occurred in our sector, leaving virtually no tier one independent ad serving companies left standing, the following dialogue came to mind:

Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies. Rivers and seas boiling. Forty years of darkness. Earthquakes, volcanoes…
The dead rising from the grave.
Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together — mass hysteria

(Ghostbusters, 1984)

For those of you who have been off meditating in Tibet for the last two months, I’m of course referring to Atlas’ acquisition of Accipiter, both of whom were bought by MSN; Google’s acquisition of DoubleClick; WPP gobbling up 24/7 RealMedia; and Ad-Tech being snatched by AOL. Amazingly, this happened all within the space of about three weeks.

Is it really the end of the world as we know it? To gain some perspective beyond my own, I had a chance to talk to several publishers and agencies over the last few weeks.

Short term, the news generated all the intense response of one hand clapping. In other words, it was business as usual. In a way, that just makes sense. Publishers still have campaigns to serve and revenue goals to meet. Ad agencies have clients to service and budgets allocated to the distribution of online advertising. Leaderboards, skyscrapers and messaging units all need to be served.

Long term, however, it’s another story. There are several implications to the changes in this end of our business. They are as follows:


No, not individual privacy (frankly, there is none so don’t post anything online you don’t want on the evening news). I’m speaking primarily of publisher data. Now that the ad servers are all owned by other publishers or ad agencies, they have a view into CPM and pricing data that can potentially give them competitive information on online sales trends for the automotive, or business, or entertainment sectors. Keeping this data secure and confidential — even in this world of new ownership — will be crucial to maintaining the trust that is an important part of the publisher’s relationship with the ad serving companies.

Network dominance

I don’t have an inside track to the strategic plans for any of these companies. But if it were me, I’d go to every publisher and say: “We’ll greatly reduce your ad serving fees (or give it to you for free) if you give us custody of your entire unsold inventory.” This would allow Google or MSN to grow their network reach tremendously. The revenue from that growth might just offset any losses due to decreased ad serving fees. The long-term implication of this would be to further commoditize the cost of ad serving, making it even more difficult for a new and independent ad serving firm to get a foothold on the business.

Where your bread is buttered

We all have a tendency to focus on the aspects of business that can most efficiently get us the most amount of money. This is just as true for a corporation as it is for an individual salesperson. If the new ad serving owners do indeed go after network dominance by increasing their focus on gobbling up more publisher impressions, where will that leave their agency clients? Will support of agency side ad serving products be put in a maintenance mode, while the other side of the business gets all the attention?

Fox in the henhouse?

Isn’t it ironic that the new parent companies that now own the top two agency-side ad serving solutions have business models that are competitive with the very agencies they service? For example, Google is intent on fostering its self service/exchange model and rolling it out into all media forms.

Where does that leave the ad agency? I’m not arguing for one model or the other here because the answer is somewhere in the middle. But the lines are getting blurred and, long term, this may have implication on how agencies develop the operations end of their business.


One thing that may be more convenient in this whole scenario is the issue of standards related to the methodology of counting impressions, the methods of targeting ad campaigns, and of pricing. After all, if there are only two humongous ad serving companies, there’s little variance in methodology left to debate. This might leave the IAB with little left to complain about. However, consider the alternate future of many ad agencies replicating what WPP has done in acquiring an in- house ad server from 24/7 RealMedia. What if all the agencies do that or developed their own solutions: are we then headed to the disintegration of standards and a regression into Babel?

To come full circle on all this: I will admit I am engaging in a little bit of sensationalist journalism. And to be frank, I had fun doing it! Short term, it’s likely nothing remarkable happens. Is this REALLY a cataclysmic event in which the earth will open up and swallow all ad operations departments in one horrendous moment? Naw. If anything, it may be just a steady erosion, the kind that happens when you build your house too close to the seaside. The degree of danger you’re in depends on how close your house is to the water. So, what’s to worry!?

Inventory Matters

Originally Published 05/11/05

Before you pass this article by in favor of something you believe is more exciting, like streaming video ads, wireless multi-player games or interactive TV, think back to the last corporate fire drill that occurred towards the end of a fiscal quarter. This is where the CEO asks “how much are we selling, are we going to make our numbers, do we have the inventory to fulfill campaigns, what is our sell- through rate, why do we have unsold inventory and what are we going to do about it?”

If you have ever been caught in the eye of this storm, you either wish you had people who could supply this information on a moment’s notice, or you patted yourself on the back for having the foresight to staff up with an inventory analyst.

This article is about inventory, the importance of managing it and the people who can help you do that. Along the way, I’ll cite some hair-raising real life stories on inventory “mis-management” that unfortunately, you may be able to relate to.

First, let’s take a step back and put the issue into perspective.

For publishers who depend on media dollars for their livelihood, selling is just part of the equation. From there, insertion orders are routed to an ad operations group and are scheduled into any one of several ad serving applications available on the market today. Most of the brand name ad servers have a function that enables sales and/or operations to get information on available inventory. Sales and operations folks know this drill all too well. Most would also agree that inventory management systems are still a “black box” that can only tell part of the story and are at best inaccurate. They can’t take into account the day-to-day idiosyncrasies of selling in today’s market with today’s products.

Many publishers rely on their ad trafficking staff to give them insight on inventory. The problem is, most of them are so busy with the day-to-day tactical chores of receiving orders, sending them back for corrections, testing ad tags, responding to customer requests to change campaigns, that the last thing they have time for is thinking about inventory.

The job of thinking about inventory belongs to an “inventory analyst.” Unfortunately, for many publishers, this is a head count they don’t consider, or think they can’t afford. But as online media gets more complex, they will find they can’t afford NOT to have a staff position for this individual.

Now, before your eyes glaze over, I’ll relate some real life adventures in inventory terror that could have been prevented by having an individual devoted to understanding this part of the revenue equation:

  • A publisher finally gets the Packaged Goods client they’ve been dreaming of. They are interested in promoting a candy bar and want to use a rich media floating ad, displayed during the afternoon hours of 1 pm to 5 pm, to reach a youth audience just when they need an energy boost. The ad trafficker takes the order and is so busy, he just takes the order. He fails to notice that 1) the rich media ad takes a total of three impressions to load 2) there is a frequency cap of one per user per day. The campaign starts to run, and you discover that the 10 Million home page impressions you thought you had has now turned into 1 Million. The client is furious about under delivery. The salesperson is at your desk wanting an explanation. The make-good you need to run to fix this has a ripple effect that impacts every other client on your website.
  • It’s the beginning of Q1 and everyone is just getting back to work. An order comes in from a client who says, “I’ll buy every pop-under you can give me for a $5 CPM. My budget is $400,000. Just send me the IO.” The order somehow gets signed and noted as booked revenue. Unfortunately, based on the number of uniques on the site and the frequency cap and the fact that there are seven other rich media campaigns scheduled during the quarter, there’s only $200,000 worth of pop-under inventory to serve. As the quarter goes by, everyone is happy with the booked revenue. As the end of the quarter approaches, management wonders why $400K of booked revenue isn’t being delivered and comes down on the traffic department who scheduled the ads and asks them “why aren’t you monitoring our inventory?”

The solution to avoiding these problems is to have an inventory analyst on staff who, on a daily basis, monitors the site to determine how campaign delivery is matching up to booked revenue; an individual who knows how to calculate available inventory for complex campaigns that involve frequency caps, rich media, demographic, behavioral and geo targeting. The inventory analyst should also be able to create trend reports that give the business insight into how their inventory is being utilized, and recommend pricing and product strategies to increase yield.

The airlines have spent billions of dollars creating reservation systems that help them manage their inventory. Since your livelihood depends on making sure that booked equals delivered inventory, shouldn’t you consider spending slightly less to make sure your staff can give you the ability to monitor and manage your business?

Prehistoric Ad Operations 2005 – 2007

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…

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…

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…

Inventory Matters

Originally Published 05/11/05 Before you pass this article by in favor of something you believe is more exciting, like streaming video ads, wireless multi-player games or interactive TV, think back to the last corporate fire drill that occurred towards the end of a fiscal quarter. This is where the CEO asks “how much are we…

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…

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…

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…

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-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…

The Mass Hysteria from Mass Acquisitions

08/03/2007 I’m not one who gives in easily to hysteria. After all, if you work in ad operations, you eventually become desensitized to emotions of panic and horror; the same thing that happens when you watch too many violent movies. However, when the latest round of acquisitions occurred in our sector, leaving virtually no tier…

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,…

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…

Video and Media Operations

Originally Published 08/13/05 Jon Stewart has described the internet as “a technology combining the credibility of anonymous hearsay with the excitement of typing.” I’ll admit it. I’ve been trying to find a way to crowbar this favorite quote of mine into an article for months. I even toyed with the idea of going minimalist and…

Finding the Best Home for Ad Operations 2.0

This article, penned over 10 years ago, tried to provide some guidance on where ad operations should live in an organization. As part of a series of retrospectives in the “Past, Present and Future” collection, it probably holds up better over time than any of the other pieces. In 2020, we frequently call this business unit “Revenue Operations”, since it encompasses all of the media and technology that has a role in delivering revenue to a company. In reading the original article (below) through again, I think most of what I said holds true, but you be the judge!

Finding the Best Home for Ad Operations (Originally Published for iMedia Connection 10/08/09)

In the past, when the subject of “who wants to manage ad operations” came up in executive meetings, the only response was the sound of chirping crickets. Ad operations was frequently relegated to the farthest reaches of a corporate floor plan. Fortunately, that time has come and gone. The consideration of where ad operations lives has significant ramifications on the ability of a company to run efficiently and attain revenue goals. The human dynamics between functional divisions are as important, if not more so, than the technology used to support them.

Ad operations is much more than just a back-office function. In fact, it is the lifeblood of any publisher who relies on online media as a significant contribution to its revenue stream. Without ad operations, sales can never make the leap from insertion order to fulfillment of contract. Without ad operations, guidelines for pricing and packaging become a moving target. Without ad operations, the balancing act between creative ad units and credible, reliable content goes off kilter.

Given this critical function, where should ad operations live in an organization? In sales? In technology? In finance? Or, does it live on its own as a standalone division? Having worked with more than 40 publishers as clients, I’ve seen it all. Even within a single company, organizational structure can change with each new management regime. Depending on the choices that are made, the results can lead to operational efficiency, or downright dysfunction.

Care and feeding of ad operations

In considering the organizational structure that ad operations lives in, the following functions need to be preserved and nurtured:

Gatekeeping: Any publisher revenue forecast worth its salt is built from the ground up, based on metrics that ad operations works with every day. What is the monthly traffic of a site, and the resulting volume of ad impressions? What is the distribution of ad impression by size, by content type? What is the typical sell-through percentage for the site? What is the rate card, and what variances are allowed in day-to-day selling? Ad operations is the last stop before an ad campaign is launched and the last chance to help the publisher manage the pricing and packaging so at the end of a fiscal year, they actually stand a chance of achieving the budget. Ad operations can help by working cooperatively with sales and finance, acting as a gatekeeper to flag contracts that don’t meet agreed-upon guidelines.

Technology: Ad operations needs to be in a position to ask for and receive the budget needed to improve the technology that runs its business. If it doesn’t have the management clout within an organization to vet out new inventory reports, or new order management and billing solutions, or sophisticated targeting methodologies, it will always be hamstrung with workarounds that are inefficient and lead to errors.

A seat at the table: Here’s what I mean by “seat at the table.” Too often, new ad product initiatives, editorial calendars that include special site sections, and management changes in ad packaging are planned in a vacuum as far as ad operations is concerned. Leaving ad operations out of the loop leaves out an important piece of the success equation, and generally results in last-minute fire drills because the maxim “the devil is in the details” was not considered.

What’s the best neighborhood?

What is the best corporate neighborhood for ad operations to live in? Let’s take a look at the variations and consequences at play in creating an org structure that includes ad operations.

Reporting to IT (technology)

The technology department is a crucial ally of ad operations. Changes to site ad tags and the implementation of targeting options ranging from behavioral to cross-platform (overlying external cookie databases on your own base of users) is impossible without help from web developers and programmers.

However, when ad operations is rolled into IT as a functional division, the results can be less than stellar. In this scenario it’s been my observation that ad operations consumes only a small percentage of IT’s attention. Ad traffickers can be isolated from sales and viewed as another form of sysops, instead of a more strategic partner in the achievement of revenue.

Summary: IT is a crucial component in managing the technology associated with ad operations. But its focus and prioritization of other functions and its distance from the sales process makes this a less-than-ideal home for ad operations in a company’s organizational structure.

Reporting into sales

In an ideal world, this model results in a cooperative collaboration between sales and ad ops. Ad ops becomes an “FOS” (friend of sales). Sales looks to ad ops for guidance, making sure it is armed with accurate information certifying that what it sells can actually be delivered. At the end of the day, its success is our success, and there is acknowledgement of that all around. I’ve seen this work at publishers, provided there is agreement and buy-in on pre-established guidelines for pricing, packaging, and inventory usage.

However, there is a flip side to this state of nirvana. The most disruptive variation of this model occurs when unchecked selling occurs regardless of forecasts on available inventory, and there are a lack of checks and balances covering proper pricing and packaging. At this point, ad operations becomes a simply an order taker, inventory is oversold and under-delivered, and the resulting fire drills end up taxing the entire company.

Summary: Reporting into sales can work, provided there is agreement all around on checks and balances associated with pricing, packaging, and inventory usage. Absent this dynamic, the effectiveness of ad operations can falter as it descends into the role of an order taker, instead of a strategic partner in the attainment of revenue goals.

Ad operations as a stand-alone division

For a mature and established publisher, setting up ad operations as a peer group to sales, and having both divisions report up to a common executive is one of the more effective options. In this scenario, executive management has agreed-on guidelines for the selling and operational procedures needed to attain a budget goal. Ad operations has the ability to act as a gatekeeper in support of sales and the rest of the company. It has enough seniority and visibility to lobby for and request new technology that will make it more efficient. And, it is more likely to have a “seat at the table” on a cross-departmental basis, so it is engaged in the preliminary planning stages of any initiatives having to do with ad-supported products.

Is there a potential downside? Yes. If this scenario creates an “us versus them” scenario (ad ops versus sales), it will be counterproductive for the entire company. This model depends on collaborative cooperation between two groups with common goals — sell and deliver the revenue necessary to meet annual budgets.

Summary: This is perhaps the most efficient way of ensuring that what sales sells can actually be delivered according to pre-established corporate guidelines — provided, however, that this is accomplished in the spirit of collaborative cooperation, and not combativeness.


As organizations become larger, there is more room for variation in their structure. Some companies split the functions of ad operations among various divisions. Pricing, packaging, and inventory control are managed by a division of finance, since their focus is on making sure that budgeting, forecasting, and attainment of revenue are tracking according to plan. The development of ad products and the ownership applications related to ad operations become a part of an IT division, where they understand the interdependencies between an ad server, a content management system, and control of video assets. And finally, ad traffickers may make up what is formally called the ad operations division, with a focus on tactical support of sales.

Summary: Relatively uncommon, but potentially effective, hybrid organizational structures can work within large organizations.

If you are a startup with minimal staff, count yourself as lucky. You’re small enough that everyone reports to everyone. The consideration of organizational structure is far on the horizon and a problem that you will be happy to have when the time comes. However, there will come a time in your growth where it needs to be considered carefully.

For established companies, organizational structure has an increasingly important impact on efficient operations. If the status quo is working just fine, I’m the first to say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But if the signs of inefficiency are clear, consider the impact of ad operations and its current place in your company. Sometimes moving from one neighborhood to another can work wonder

6 Things A Publisher Does NOT Want to Hear

Over the decades of working and consulting in online and internet business, I’ve heard some pretty weird things coming from vendors. So whenever I come across behavior that just seems wrong, I try and make sure I file it in the “mistakes not to make” folder. Here are some things I know rub publishers the wrong way:

We’re Really Busy Right Now. I get it, who isn’t? But if I’m the customer (publisher) and I’m paying you (the vendor), WTF? If you’re too busy, maybe you’re understaffed which makes me wonder about your ability to scale. I get it, resources are limited across the board, but there are much better ways to handle this. How about, “I’ll have a schedule for this requested task to you by COB”. Then you can regroup, address bandwidth issues internally (and not in front of the client) and in responding, you’re providing them a solution

We’re Getting Too Many Emails. Literally, I had a vendor complain to keep them off email strings because they were getting too many. Boo-hoo. It’s the price for having customers. And who knows, you might actually learn something!

Here’s a Link. This is a classic response to a request for more information. What does it say about the vendor? They can’t take the time to answer you in their own words. Or they don’t understand the topic and hope you’ll figure it out for yourself. Not a satisfying experience to a customer.

What’s Your Business Reason for Doing This?  This is really a nuance, but most often the intent behind the statement is “I don’t think your process is valid” or “I don’t want to do it and hope that I can talk you out of it”.  Again, a nuance, but a much better way to getting the question out is to ask for an example to illustrate the request, or a “use case”. I know, I know, splitting hairs here, but words matter. Well, at least they did as of 2012.

I’ll Have to Get Back to You. I don’t object to hearing this once in a meeting, but if I heard it 3 times in the same meeting, which I have, I would think that this vendor is 1) not prepared for the meeting and 2) doesn’t know their own product. If the purpose of the meeting is to inform, be prepared to do so.

Is This Project Worth Our Time? Ahh, one of my favorites. During a new business pitch, asking if the project is worth their time because they are busy and have to prioritize their work. Honestly, part of the job is called business development. Sure, you might not get the business today, but you might tomorrow, or next year. And we should be building our customer relationships over time, not because we need to close out the quarter.

In closing, I’d just like to say that we should be thankful for being engaged in a client’s business, and not the other way around. 

The Stress Pandemic

  • How can you “keep it together keep it together kept it together keep it together?”

As if things weren’t stressful enough already in our connected world, add in murder hornets, pandemic, political dysfunction, economic uncertainty, fires, and hurricanes. That’s a cocktail that can pop anyone’s cork. And yet in the words of Kit Ramsey from Bowfinger, we are expected to “keep it together keep it together kept it together keep it together.”

So, how do you handle that stress? I’m happy to share some personal tips.

[Disclaimer: while the views expressed reflect the author’s personal aspirations, he cannot guarantee 100% compliance with his own advice.]

Don’t Send That Email! …sleep on it. I must admit I’ve seen this elsewhere, but good advice, nonetheless. Resist the urge to “fire back” an email at someone whose tone or demeanor you don’t like. These escalations never go well. Instead, sleep on it, or at least let it rest for a couple of hours. Think of the consequences to your action and make sure you get the result you want instead of an escalation chain of angry emails.

We All Live in Glass Houses. A campaign goes haywire, and the finger pointing begins Whether you are in sales, ad ops, editorial etc., before you start casting blame, look to yourself. For example, is targeting activated and applied in the ad server? Is that missing creative hiding somewhere on your desktop? You should be starting with an implementation checklist that you routinely use in making sure YOU are in compliance. It’s not a good idea to start tossing bricks, if your house has a lot of picture windows!

Script it Out. When you have a meeting on your calendar that you know will be contentious, or one in which you are making a big “ask” of individuals, or a meeting that has been scheduled as part of an escalation, script it out. I mean, literally sit at your computer and type out what you would like to have done by who, and when. This helps ensure that even in the heat of the moment, you can get your points across in an orderly and logical manner.

No Multitasking on Video Calls. Simultaneously trying to pay attention to a video meeting, while exchanging texts and answering unrelated emails just ads to the level of stress. And dude, we know what you’re doing! Can’t help yourself? Try folding your hands during the meeting. I know, this comes across as very, very old school, which I am, but if I hear one more time “could you repeat that question”, I mean, really!

Don’t Be Afraid to Apologize. Despite all the good intentions you might have about following the above, you are going to be out of line every once in a while. Maybe that email you sent was misdirected, inaccurate or just snarky. Maybe you shouldn’t have called out that person in front of all their peers. It happens. Helpful hint: it’s not a sign of weakness to apologize. It’s a sign that you are human, and value relationships with other human beings, and since ad operations is really about the intersection between human beings and technology, sometimes it’s just the right thing to do.

The Career That Keeps On Giving

  • There’s no such thing as guaranteed employment, but digital ad operations comes pretty close. Plus, you get to become a member of a secret society! Cool, right?!

I’ve taught many classes throughout the years on ad operations. At some point in the curriculum I go off script, get on my soapbox and pontificate on why I think this is a great career. There are several reasons for this.

You will never be obsolete. You will live in an environment that keeps changing and will continue to change. It may be hard to see that if your perspective is the here and now, but looking over the last 20 years, here are just some of the innovations we’ve had to adopt and learn.

  • Creation of the first publisher-side ad servers
  • Adoption of agency 3rd party ad servers and the “redirect”
  • Introduction of contract management systems
  • Definition of the ad impression
  • Rich media and video
  • Digital video pods and commercial ad breaks
  • Syndication and media rights management of video
  • The rise of programmatic advertising, SSPs, DSPs and header bidding
  • Adoption of viewability, verification and demo metrics
  • Landscape of OTT devices, which continues to shift
  • Dynamic Ad Insertion
  • Addressable media

You will be challenged to stretch your intellect and expand your problem-solving capabilities. Your day will fly by. You will never look at the clock and ask, “when will this day be over?” Instead, you will look up, see it’s 6PM and ask, “where did the day go!?”

You are more important than you think. Not a single dollar of contracted revenue can be fulfilled unless you in ad operations do your job. You are gatekeepers, making sure that inventory, pricing and contractual terms will enable your company to achieve its revenue goals.

There is the opportunity for career growth. There are a lot of places to go in ad operations besides planning and trafficking. Inventory and yield management. Data analysis. Project management for ad platforms. In fact, the savviest employers will make sure you rotate from one position to another, which helps build your levels of experience and value.

There is upside that is significant, and unexpected. Whether you call it ad operations, media operations or revenue operations, it’s the lifeblood of any company. And if you are working for a start-up, you’re not exempt from upside. Just ask any early stage employee at Google or Facebook. So, while you’re engaged in a stimulating job and getting paid well, you may find yourself with some unexpected benefits as well.

You are part of a secret society. Ever tried explaining what you do to friends and family? You work with internet businesses and software. You manage campaigns, you work with ad code. You’re involved in managing workflow. You get paid good coin for that. But it’s still a little nebulous to the uninitiated. So be it. You work with peers with a secret language and skill set. A secret society.

For all these reasons, if you are interested in being consistently challenged, are a geek for technology, have a moderate OCD streak, and hate boredom – this is a career that might be for you. It’ll be around as long as you want to be.

The Nightmare of Changing Ad Servers 2.0

15 years ago I wrote an article where I outlined the operational challenges to changing ad servers for publishers. Is that really still a problem? What has changed and what does it mean for the future? 

Keep in mind, 15 years ago we had ad servers DFP, DE, OAS, AdTech, Atlas, Falk, Zedo and others. Publishers had a choice and when they chose to switch, it was a problem as outlined in the beginning paragraph:

“Changing ad servers. Those three words are enough to strike fear into the hearts of every ad operations person on the publisher side. For those of us who have had to experience the non-stop work involved in routine operations, the best of all possible worlds is when you don’t have to think about your ad server at all. When you contemplate that change, you have to think about it a lot and for a long time thereafter.”

In outlining the challenges, I listed several roadblocks including migration of customers and campaigns, integrating contract management and financial systems, commitment from senior management to prioritize the project, training and project management – just to name a few.

How does this POV hold up 15 years later? The challenges are still the same — but holy monopoly, Batman! With apologies to some of the other smaller ad serving players, there are only TWO ad servers used across our industry by major publishers. Google Ad Manager and Freewheel, with GAM having the runaway lead on market share. And when I say ad servers I mean publisher-side ad servers that specialize in managing direct sales, in addition to support for programmatic. The aforementioned challenges still persist, including (but not limited to):

  • Recalibrating the ad product catalog
  • Propagation of new ad code across all pages and ad units
  • Migration of orders and line items
  • Integration of peripheral ad systems like order and inventory management
  • Testing to ensure inventory remains in a steady state from one ad server to the next.

So yeah, “The Nightmare of Changing Ad Servers” even in a world with more limited choices still holds up today. It’s no picnic.

The Nightmare of Changing Ad Servers (Originally published for iMedia Connection 11/16/05)

Changing ad servers. Those three words are enough to strike fear into the hearts of every ad operations person on the publisher side. For those of us who have had to experience the non-stop work involved in routine operations, the best of all possible worlds is when you don’t have to think about your ad server at all. When you contemplate that change, you have to think about it a lot and for a long time thereafter.

On the supplier side, this scenario presents both a challenge and an opportunity. Companies are often tempted to stay with their current solutions simply to avoid the pain of switching. The larger the company, the greater the pain. So “conquest” over an incumbent supplier becomes more difficult. The opportunity for vendors is to become highly engaged and committed to taking as much of the burden off their customers as possible.

This column will discuss why companies change ad servers and what happens when they do. Unlike my last column (“”). An integrated contract management solution. An inventory management system that doesn’t force a publisher to rely on their own spreadsheets.

What to expect when you change

Here are just some of the action items you need to consider when you change ad servers:

  • Migrating current customers and campaigns to the new system. If you’re lucky, your new provider will help transfer data files from the old system to the new
  • Integrating any current in-house inventory management systems with the new ad server
  • Integrating any contract management and financial systems with the new ad server
  • A clear commitment from senior management to clear the decks of all other projects during this window of transition
  • A clear commitment and formal project plan from your engineering staff to make the switch
  • Communicating the changes to both sales staff and the customers themselves.
  • Training existing operations staff on the new ad serving application
  • A designated project manager in your own group

How does it affect you?

I’ve lived through several ad serving changeovers — sometimes from only a peripheral standpoint, admiring and respecting the people who actually effected the change, sometimes in the trenches. Regardless, you can’t help but remember the effort involved.

How much of an impact does this make on those involved in operations? I actually had a very weird dream last night that somehow managed to involve ad serving. In the dream, I was having a conversation with Steve Finley, the outfielder with the Los Angeles Angels about the ad serving options for a start up he was managing in his spare time. (What?!) I was looking a list of vendors he prepared for review — and about 50 more I hadn’t heard of. Where did they all come from? Sweat was forming on my brow. Then, I was interrupted by Colin Powell (hey, it’s a dream) who said our car was outside and Zbigniew Brzezinski was waiting for us so we better get going. We got in the car, Colin tried to drop me off at my house in suburban New Jersey, but the driveway was blocked by a herd of angry deer.

“Changing ad servers” in the same dream with Major League Baseball, American foreign policy and hostile wildlife?

It’s all relative.