Best Practices for Ad Operations in Multi-Platform Digital Media

Editor’s note: In April at our OPS London event, Tim Faircliff, General Manager, Thomson Reuters, gave a session on Best Practices in Multi-platform Digital Media. The transcript from that session is now available below.

Session Overview:

The role of Ad Operations is rapidly evolving as it acts as the “Engine Room” in terms of revenue delivery and optimization. Ad operations is not just about trafficking advertisements but about helping execution, customer service and business direction. Data drives our understanding of business operations and it is the ad operations teams that are holding those important data sets to inform business strategy. Aligning Ad Operations with other areas of a business, such as finance to exact operational excellence will enhance the performance of the business.  For businesses to benefit they need to re-evaluate the importance of the roles and functions involved in ad operations and position them accordingly.

Thanks to team at AdMonsters and the sponsor Auditude. How exciting to be sponsored. A first for me so am very flattered by that and the invitation to speak at OPS. The germ of the discussion like all good ones began in a pub over many drinks when we should have been at a conference… My discussion with Rob and Matt was more fruitful than that particular conference but I do hope none of you will follow my lead at this conference in going to the pub until its over later this afternoon. I of course will be first at the bar!

Thomson Reuters has been providing indispensible news and information to entrepreneurs for decades.

Successful news organizations need to constantly evolve to reposition themselves to anticipate the future needs of their media and financial clients. They need high quality content delivered in real time, at the right price. The future is a world with an array of monetization models (subscription, usage, and ad-supported) able to support a range of truly multimedia products. Our clients need information they can customize on a platform of their choosing at the time they desire. So, a complex backdrop to todays agenda let alone the macro economic and geopolitical landscape we all live within.

Before I get into the ad operations piece I wanted to give a little flavour to my role and firm as some of you ( shame on you ) may not be familiar with it.

We are growing our editorial army to ensure you have the coverage globally which you expect from us, but we are also growing our domestic offerings – which you will be hearing more about with the upcoming launch of Reuters America.  Over the last year we have hired 200 journalists.  We currently employ nearly 3,000 journalists in over 200 cities and 94 countries.  We report in 20 languages.  We are proud of that investment.

Like many news organizations, Reuters knows change and understands the importance of evolving and in some cases reinventing ourselves.

A famous bit of our corporate history took place in Germany in 1850, where Paul Julius Reuter got his start, before heading to London. Reuter used the cutting-edge content platform of the time — the telegraph—to relay news from Aachen to Berlin.  Unfortunately, that content platform wasn’t fully functional and did not extend all the way, so one leg of the journey was accomplished by carrier pigeons – perhaps the original technology hack and breakthrough in deliver.

Here we are, 160 years and many technology revolutions later – and luckily not a pigeon in sight. We live in a publishing world that is radically different than a century ago. But the feeling today is familiar – we experienced it back in 1850 and many times since – it’s a tipping point.

The tipping point is where I would like to focus today’s discussion, and I believe that it lies in the hands of our audience and how successful we are in serving them and providing a powerful and relevant advertising experience around our high quality content.

So… to the heart of the matter for today’s discussion.

Ad operations – the dynamic engine room… My attempt to place a maritime / boating analogy . The ship is the business right, with an overpaid captain (often asleep at the wheel or drunk) a second in command who does all the work and a crew of underpaid and overworked press ganged folk!! That’s you ok!! Just bear with me it gets better!!

The role of Ad Sales operations has been evolving over the last several years moving from trafficking and inventory forecasting, reallocation and opitimisation to a more dynamic function providing insight and analysis on campaign performance and site dynamics. It is this change that I want to discuss today as I see it as a fundamental part of the change to our digital businesses. No longer is it simply a trafficking exercise  – that’s part of it but only a small part . As a manager of a digital business I crave insight – not stats alone but with their meaning and potential implications clearly laid out . The engine room needs to report back to the bridge with more than just “ we’re out of coal”… the bridge needs to know when they will run out, how far to the next port, plan b etc. You get it.

Point 1 – Developing a greater level of sophistication around insight on campaigns, performance, site zones is a critical function of ad ops but, the business needs to see it in a digestible form and in a timely fashion so we can alter course (or impress our bosses with details). At Thomson Reuters, I am in increasingly reliant on such data and insight to ensure we are working at an optimal pace and not missing opportunities. I think we have all been guilty in the past of assuming things are going well until a problem occurs and then weighing in on the ops function, focusing on the problem areas forgetting the good things!

Building on that point I want to talk briefly about data. We all talk about data, internal, external  audience, campaign data and all the rest. To be clear, data to me in this context is a measure of the success of your business strategy. In this instance therefore a measure of monetisation.  Without timely data of historic activity as well as forward looking data trends (eg inventory forecasting) we are lost at sea with no reference point or horizon to baseline our progress. I see Ad ops in conjunction of course with a finance lead as the primary drivers of this initiative. They, you are closer to the raw data and activity than anyone including the sales facing teams. The expertise of business analysis around the chief revenue generating area is not in my opinion fully appreciated or indeed rewarded. In this regard Thomson Reuters don’t have it nailed yet either but I believe we are moving closer to ensuring we tackle this accordingly.


Point 2 is to establish a recognition of the ad ops function as one of expertise in data collection and analysis to inform the business strategy.

Clearly this raises the thorny issue of staff turnover in this area. It feels wrong that if on the one hand we start to think of the ad ops functions as business critical and strategy informers we as business heads are not endorsing that expertise with good career plans, strong incentive programmes and retention activities. I would argue that businesses need to re-assess the importance of roles and functions and re position accordingly. We are still playing catch up in determing the true measure of Ad ops value and contribution in other words.

Whilst, some of the tools are standard industry, each company has different models and interpretations and as such the expertise of ad ops is a specialist role too which requires investment. My philosophy generally is that it is not all about the money but recognition and a chance to share in the success of the business unit. Nothing worse than seeing sales teams smiling at a big commission package earned on the back of the solid, efficient efforts of the ad ops teams. I don’t have a general answer as each business is so different but I do think you, as communities are well placed to be a bit more demanding in this area!! Clearly I am going to regret saying that!!  Where is the ad ops trade union movement?

It would be remiss of me to address an AdMonsters group without the use of the word PROCESS. Clearly we all need varying degrees of process in our businesses and indeed our own lives. Running a digital business is no different yet at times as it is still a relatively young industry we are still figuring out processes that actually work and are efficient. This does get into the realm of people versus the machines too!! I am not proposing to speak in detail on the new trading platform opportunities for trading, that’s more for the next speaker. However, I think it useful it remember that all processes need constant scrutiny and review for efficiency. If it’s not working then kill it quickly and replace with one that works. We are all guilty of designing a process and then leaving it, assuming it will work forever when all around the times are a changing!!! Focus on process , review and renew and be vigilant and flexible in approaching change to processes.

Therefore, testing is a key behavior I would suggest needs to be part of an effective and dynamic digital business especially in ad ops. Machine automation and software packages are there to enable speed and efficiency but they need to be integrated into a work flow and process that we can design, change and utilize for the business end goal of growth and revenue optimization (hopefully). You need both automation and human interaction. Businesses cannot succeed without the other.

The next key attribute and ultimately a necessary function of a strong ad operations role is around Communication. At Thomson Reuters where our teams are genuinely global and stretched over different time zones and cultures, Communication is at the forefront of being an effective team. Our core team is based in New York. In the UK I have a team superbly led by Marianne Dias and there are similar teams in India, Japan and China. Whilst we operate 17 different sites the underlying technology and processes remain uniform across the globe albeit in multi language and multi cultures. The ad model operates a bit differently in Japan for example and there are some different restrictions in China than say the UK regarding advertising (and editorial too!). However, our ad operations strategy and tactics remain broadly the same regardless of region. Communication is at the centre for these teams (and in fact for the whole of Thomson Reuters) and the plan is to execute quickly and make the processes as simple of possible. With a uniform reporting requirements of revenue and other business KPI’s it is vital that these teams collaborate and share as much as possible on a very regular basis. It does mean some early mornings in the US and late nights in Asia but at least the UK gets a more sociable slot in a global call!! Regardless of whether your business has geographically diverse team structures like mine, Communication and Collaboration is vitally important in this complex arena.

So, what and how do we structure at Thomson Reuters – at least I think it’s on the way to best practice:

 Revenue Operations Team

  • Ad Operations
    • Sales Support: Partner w/ Sales team and determine client objectives
    • Ad Execution: QA, Implementation, and Confirmation
    • Campaign Management: Reporting, Analysis, and Insight
  • Business Operations
    • Order & Workflow Management
    • Revenue Reporting
    • Billing and Reconciliation
  • Technical Operations
    • Lead on Custom Executions
    • Troubleshooting Ad Issues
    • Streamline technical facets of ad implementation
  • Yield Optimization & Analysis
    • Data mining and aggregation
    • Statistical modelling, forecasting, and analysis
    • Pricing and Value Attribution



Tim FaircliffIn April at our OPS London event, Tim Faircliff, General Manager, Thomson Reuters, gave a session on Best Practices in Multi-platform Digital Media. The transcript from that session is now available.

The role of Ad Operations is rapidly evolving as it acts as the “Engine Room” in terms of revenue delivery and optimization. Aligning Ad Operations with other areas of a business, such as finance to exact operational excellence will enhance the performance of the business.