Digital Ad Operations: The Bigger Picture

Editor’s note: The post originally appeared on the UM blog.

The world of Digital Ad Operations has changed dramatically over the past year.  It was just over a year ago that we all started using acronyms like DSP, RTB, SSP, and DCO on a regular basis.  In fact, I remember having lunch with a business colleague in mid-2009 and he started peppering the conversation with a lot of talk about “DSP’s”.  I wasn’t sure what DSP stood for (yes, I admit it), but I thought it might have been Data Service Provider, which didn’t exactly make sense given the context of the conversation…but I went along with it anyway.   Nowadays, those acronyms are thrown around with dramatic regularity.

Over the past year, our Ad Operations team has met with countless new startups that are popping up out of the digital media ecosystem.  Everything from new ad exchanges to data providers to optimization engines to analytics aggregators.  These companies all bring something new and innovative to the table, along with a great deal of enthusiasm and energy.  It’s an exciting time to be a part of the Digital Media world and witness such fast-paced growth and development.  If someone in our industry were to take a 6-month leave-of-absence, there is a good chance they would be completely lost upon their return – that’s how fast things are moving.

Along with all of this high-growth comes much confusion and anxiety.  How do I know what is right for my client?  Is this service “legit”, or will it be added to the junk pile of internet startups?  How do I make sure my client is not missing the boat, while at the same time protecting their Digital investment?  Should I wait for others in my category to take the plunge, or should I be the pioneer and try something new before all of my competitors do?  These are all reasonable, normal questions that I find myself asking everyday.

I believe it is the role of the Digital Ad Operations team to help answer these questions. Of course, Ad Ops cannot provide all the answers.  But what Ad Ops can do is help our internal teams make sense of all the noise and clutter in the marketplace, and help find the right fit for the right client.  This should be done by taking a true team approach.  If our Planning teams are not well informed, then our clients won’t be either, and, as an agency, we will not be performing to the standards our clients expect.

On my team, each Ad Ops staffer is responsible for becoming a Subject Matter Expert in an area related to ad serving or targeting technology (known internally as Project SME).  For example, Christina has chosen Dynamic Ad Serving as her area of expertise, and David has chosen Video.  Some other areas being covered are Mobile, Verification Services, and Data Providers.  The list goes on.  It is then each person’s responsibility to do a deep dive on that particular topic (meet with providers, follow the news, attend conferences, etc.), and then eventually present their findings to the Ad Ops team.  The presentation and all supporting materials are then saved in a central location for the entire Digital Planning department.

Having an expert on my team for these types of topics is extremely valuable.  During the course of day-to-day business, we regularly get asked many questions related to technology and targeting.  And it’s very difficult for one person to have all the answers.  For the appropriate question, I can simply say, “Let’s ask Brooke.  She’s the expert on Research services”, or “Send a note to Kate.  She covers ad networks”.  Then it’s up to that Ad Ops Expert to work with that Planning team, and help them find the best possible solution for the client’s objectives.  There is also an opportunity to be proactive with this information, and seek out situations where we can provide value to the Planning Teams and clients directly.  This is where the rubber meets the road, and each SME must put into practice all of the research they’ve done.

Things do get a little tricky when a question comes up that crosses different areas of expertise, such dynamic ad serving in the Rich Media space.  Nothing is ever cut and dry in our industry….but that’s ok.  Situations like this present an opportunity to get two different points of view on an issue.  If those points of view are in agreement, great.  If not, it’s another opportunity for discussion and healthy debate.

Project SME also helps the Ad Ops team get out of the daily grind, and see the big picture.  It is the role of Ad Operations to focus on the small, granular details of Digital Media.  However, having each team member pursue a particular area that interests them, gets them out of the day-to-day stuff, and allows them to see that our industry is much bigger than the particular task at hand.  This helps keep the role of Ad Ops in context as we go about our daily jobs.

This type of approach is not just limited to Ad Operations, and can work in any department, Digital or otherwise.  Having a team of experts provides good depth of knowledge and ensures all bases are being covered, and it also helps each team member build and define his/her own career.