Beyond Checking Boxes: Assembling an RFP for Ad Serving
So, you're about to issue an RFP for ad serving?
I'm sure these are words that strike two distinct chords, depending on which side of the business you're involved with. If you're a publisher, these words instantly scream: "Time to do some research on what's happening in the market and engage with a host of vendors to hear about their products." Oh joy.
If you're a vendor who happens to have an ad server for sale, the RFP process may be that glimmer of hope that a publisher may actually be willing to move away from the obviously inferior piece of technology they are using for ad serving.
Truth is, in today's dynamic environment, the notion of an "ad server" has changed dramatically from even a year ago. Really, it's quite trivial to serve an advertisement – getting an ad to show up on a web page is the least of concerns for most publishers. Today, the overall management of business rules, inventory, pricing, product catalog, first-party data, audience data, content matching, yield analysis and a host of other factors go into the "operations" side of managing a digital advertising-driven business.
So, it's probably a good idea to investigate what a company should be looking for when getting ready to start an RFP process.
The 'Tick' Boxes
First is the obvious: does the technology make it easy for me to get an ad to my pages? Will it work well under serious load, both in terms of requests per second but also with hundreds of campaigns running simultaneously? Does the technology handle the targeting that I'd like to employ when selling my inventory?
Usually these are the "tick" boxes on the excel sheet that many an RFP live within. They are important, there is no doubt there, but they have become commodities within the various technologies. Each solution may have various ways of accomplishing geo-targeting, delivering rich media, or breaking out placements, but at the end of the day, they all have the functionality most publishers will need to accomplish the trafficking portion of their jobs.
Second, and this is quite important, how well does the ad server tell me the future? I'm being serious here, because every publisher is looking for the most accurate forecast of their available inventory, so they can ensure that what the sales team is out marketing, will actually be what is delivered for their advertising clients.
Most ad servers have native forecasting built into the platform, but historically this function has been more around capacity, then availability. For example, most ad servers will tell you that you will have 250 million impressions to sell next month – but what is really important is, of those, how many are available within a certain geographic location? How about what campaigns are booked as sponsorships and what are booked as direct placement?
This overlapping of inventory can be very difficult to manage without full context of the competing campaigns. That's where things get a little trickier and where several companies have made their place in the market as add-ons to the ad-serving systems. The information you glean from your forecast can be very valuable, yet many ad servers don't bring in the full picture of impressions, pricing, and booked deals.
The Bigger Picture
This brings us to no. 3: how much information for your own analysis will come from the ad server, and how much will come from Excel or another system that must be integrated with the ad server?
Most publishers are quickly realizing that they host a wealth of data tied to their business. Managing inventory across multiple channels (display, mobile, video, email) and ensuring yield is effectively managed has become a growing responsibility of the operations team. Inventory, while viewed as direct and indirect in many organizations, is increasingly being viewed as overlapping and one. Which is appropriate considering that all inventory is tied to a single item, revenue.
The understanding of multiple dimensions such as pricing, sales channel, impressions and product catalog all must be available for an operations person to truly understand not only revenue implications but also profit analysis of each deal. That allows the professional to discern ahead of time that while a deal may seem exciting at one price, the packaging of that inventory and adhering to rate card may actually yield a higher margin for the business if used differently.
Holistically managing this in one place is something that must be done to ensure that proper decisions are made across various channels. The ability to analyze information in one place makes life easier and more profitable for everyone. Yet there are many RFPs still looking at components rather than solutions.
More Than Checking Boxes
So if it's time to issue that RFP for the ad server in your company, hopefully there is more thinking going into the decision than checking feature boxes around delivery. In this day and age, more weight of the decision needs to be placed on the overall business management capabilities that will simplify and propel an ad-supported business forward.
The reality is that technology is a competitive advantage in most companies and the technology used to manage the advertising business should be viewed as such. Sometimes having just what the next-door neighbor has can be more of a hindrance than an advantage.