AdOps: Stop Running From the Ugly Truth

A few weeks ago,, in collaboration with Operative, asked AdMonsters to help reach out to our community of ad ops professionals to complete a survey on the issues facing Ad Operations. Mike Leo and Lorne Brown from Operative presented the results of that survey at DPAC a couple of weeks ago. The link to the full presentation is here and you can even watch the video. Mike and Lorne provided some great insight and their example of the processes behind a purchase at Wal-Mart compared to a purchase of online advertising, demonstrates where we truly are as an industry. For all the coolness that is online advertising, we aren’t even close to playing with the big guys.

As I reviewed the presentation, I was thinking about what our members will be discussing at our upcoming events like the US Publisher Forum and OPS and the challenges they face daily. It occurs to me that when Ad Operations is empowered and given the proper direction and resources, it lays the foundation for a digital company to succeed. But for many Ad Ops leaders, the direction is unclear and the resources don’t exist. What is left is a department being pulled in multiple directions as it tries to grow revenue through innovation while simultaneously being forced into processes and systems that can’t support it. The result: Ad Ops simply trying to run away or at least stay ahead of the large underlying problems they need to solve.

I don’t think Mike and Lorne will mind if I’ve come up with my own thoughts on how we address the “crisis” that faces Ad Operations:

Excel needs to be relegated to the role of a sticky note: a useful but temporary solution. Like any addiction, the dependence on Excel needs to be addressed. There is no going cold turkey, but organizations need to get used to the idea that the end product of a process or executive decision cannot be an Excel spreadsheet. For all the beauty of a spreadsheet, it will mask the true value of the data it holds. Instead, invest in the infrastructure that allows data to flow more freely to where it will provide the greatest return.

Don’t have brain surgery while running sprints. The fact is that many publishers are attempting to develop revenue from so many different channels or products, they don’t have time to put the systems in place to support them. Forty-two percent of the respondents to the survey identified that requesting inventory numbers was a strain on their department! The long term value of solving or minimizing the inventory reporting problem will most likely be greater than rushing another product out the door. Of course, one can’t expect for a business to come to a complete stop, so perhaps the best one can hope for is surgery while at a light jog.

Put the Stress on the word “Management” in “Ad Operations Management.” If your strategy for selecting the person to head up your Ad Ops department is to use your best trafficker, you are making a mistake. If you do not have a plan in place to develop the management skills of your Ad Ops leader, you are making a mistake. The role has fundamentally changed and it requires someone with both a passion for the technical stuff and a good head for business. Having true management talent on the operations side is going to allow you to succeed at getting in place what you need for the company to succeed. So make sure you support your operations leaders and groom them into business leaders.

There is no doubt that our industry is changing and has enough change ahead that it is easy to excuse our lack of efficient processes. But going back to Mike Leo’s point: the problems we face aren’t unlike problems other industries solved 20 years ago. It’s time to draw up some blueprints, and start focusing on more efficient solutions. Let’s stop running ahead of the problems and deal with them.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on DigiDay:Daily.