Discrepancies on Display: Ad-Juster Talks Visualizing Campaign Numbers

Discrepancies in campaign reporting may be an ever-present scourge–but let’s not mistake them for a force of nature beyond anyone’s control. As the digital ad ecosystem evolves and gets smarter about its business, there’s more value at stake with each impression.

That said, managing discrepancies can feel like a long slog. All those rows of numbers! All those data sources! One of the common refrains in ad ops today is that ops people need to reduce the time they spend on these manual tasks, so they can spend more time thinking and working strategically. But it’s not as though publishers are swimming in fewer numbers than they were a few years ago. If anything, the opposite is probably closer to the truth.

We knew the Ad-Juster crew had been developing new tools to help publishers manage this knotty process of managing reports and understanding discrepancies. So, I got in touch with Calson Lee, Ad-Juster’s Director of Product, and Product Manager Daniel Dowling to see what they have in the hopper. I was curious about Calibrate, Ad-Juster’s new tool for bringing together data from disparate sources and presenting it in one dashboard. But Calson and Daniel had quite a few other thoughts about workflow, the state of the viewability battle, and why spreadsheets themselves are not the enemy.

Simplifying the Complexities of Digital Advertising

BRIAN LaRUE: Can you give us a quick overview of what Calibrate brings to the table that publishers don’t already have in their toolkits?

CALSON LEE: After working with so many publishers throughout the years, Ad-Juster has really gotten to know what the day-to-day workflow looks like for an ad trafficker or an account manager, managing and optimizing campaigns. We built Calibrate to facilitate that workflow—to give a clear view of what’s happening in these campaigns in a very visual way. We want to show everyone who works in ad tech, especially on the operations side, that there’s work they can do more efficiently if they weren’t bogged down in spreadsheets. So we laid out a UI that breaks down day-to-day workflow.

We’re not trying to remove Excel. Excel is here to stay, but there are some efficiencies we can gain using a dashboard like we’ve built out in Calibrate.

BRIAN: Any other publisher pain points you were looking to address with Calibrate, other than reducing that over-reliance on Excel?

CALSON: As a trafficker, you’re spending a lot of time digging through spreadsheets. But the headache is not the spreadsheet. The headache is the job itself—campaign optimization. When we look at discrepancies, we’re looking at publisher and agency numbers across all the campaigns we’re running. For large organizations, that’s a lot of rows in a spreadsheet. We want to help solve the problem of over-buffering. No one has the time to get drilled down into individual campaigns and troubleshoot discrepancies. With Calibrate, we can help speed things along and focus on this particular problem: How do I monitor discrepancies in an effective way, and then know what to do about it?

BRIAN: Excel is pretty manual, but at the same time, it’s really flexible. What’s the benefit of complementing it with another tool, then?

CALSON: The way I’d think about it is this: Excel is the Swiss Army knife of analytics tools; Calibrate is a power drill. What would you rather use to put together your furniture?

Ad-Juster already works with this raw data, and we have for a long time. We want to focus on what’s important: the pacing, the discrepancy, and the revenue and impressions at risk. We built Calibrate to focus on those four aspects.

Right now, to calculate those things, you need additional columns in Excel, and you need to write out formulas to put them together. In this dashboard, we not only calculate these things automatically just like you’d do in a spreadsheet, but also it gives you a timeline view, rather than rows of numbers. You can see when campaigns are about to end, the size of the bubble will tell you whether there’s significant or insignificant impressions and revenue at risk, and different colors will tell you what’s wrong with different campaigns. Is it over-delivering impressions because you booked it too much, or is it under-delivering impressions because it’s under-pacing and you’re strained on inventory? We wanted to visualize it all in the dashboard, rather than having someone spend additional time crunching through lines in spreadsheets.

BRIAN: In the webinar you did with AdMonsters a little while ago, you talked about the volume of data involved in understanding discrepancies. You had pointed out how the agency data needed by publishers in order to optimize campaigns is available, but publishers don’t have a mechanism for getting it. What can publishers do to pull in that data, and what’s Ad-Juster doing?

CALSON: Put in a good process for login management. Every publisher organization has its own workflow, but it’s common that the person who’s doing the campaign optimization, who’s looking at the booked impression, is the trafficker. Traffickers may not have ready communication with the agency. But traffickers can’t do their job effectively if they don’t have access to agency data. There needs to be someone in the organization on the publisher side pinpointing which agencies are giving them trouble in terms of getting access to the data.

The communication points are definitely there. When these deals are being negotiated, the account manager or sales person has to work with the agency directly. Traffickers need to know who to talk to in order to get that visibility into the agency side. And the person who will have the most leverage on the publisher side is the account manager or sales rep who sold the deal. They’ll want tell the client that in order to fulfill all of their contract requirements, they need access to the right data.

BRIAN: What’s Ad-Juster doing to pull in data—not just from the ad server, but from third-party vendors and elsewhere—into one point of reference?

CALSON: We really want to make it easier for publishers to run efficiently. For Calibrate and other workflow tools we’re looking to build in the coming year, it is a requirement that we have access to all the data we need to optimize.

I’ll give you an example. I need my publisher ad server data and my agency ad server data in order to calculate the discrepancy between the two. But if I want to talk about the pacing, or the revenue at risk, I need to know about the contract. That contract information probably does not live in the ad server. There’s another system of record storing contracts—maybe the order management system, which is where the sales reps and account managers are. So the tools we built out address the idea: Aggregate all your data first, from the ad servers, ad quality vendors, the CRM or OMS. Then you can start looking at additional insights or efficiencies, and you’re ready to do campaign optimization.

BRIAN: I saw Ad-Juster just released a new ebook. What points in the book do you want to underline for publishers right now?

CALSON: This ebook talks about Calibrate, and it speaks to why discrepancies need to be addressed. When I first started at Ad-Juster, it was very common to see highly discrepant campaigns. These days, even though there are so many more things to optimize off of, things are definitely getting better. But just because it’s getting better doesn’t mean the problem has gone away. There’s still a significant value lost through latency between platforms, or through bad tags set up by agencies. Those translate to real dollars. Also, publishers are seeing CPM rates and overall revenue going up, while inventory is more and more constrained. The over-buffered impressions—what people used to call remnant impressions—that used to get thrown away are now very valuable.

BRIAN: What else is Ad-Juster working on now, for workflow or to answer publishers’ questions?

DANIEL DOWLING: Ad-Juster has been looking at the data we manage, and the solutions large publishers tend to build and smaller publishers wish they could build. I come from the publisher side, and I know how publishers actually leverage data. We’re currently planning a follow-up tool to Calibrate, designed to bring in as many players as possible and facilitate communication. We want to align third-party data with first-party data, and play with visualizations in a high-quality, XLS-portable data representation. Again, we’re not looking to eliminate Excel. We’d like to eliminate the VBA macros, the one-off processes, the constant crunching of Excel sheets, which cause problems whenever some formatting change happens. We want to integrate the Excel in a way that provides full value and allows clients to schedule reports, move data back and forth, and view the data directly.

CALSON: I want to talk with publishers and dig into the problem of viewability — the demands of viewability are unmanageable. The way that the industry bills on viewability needs to be standardized in some way. It can get really, really confusing when you start adding all these different vendors and their numbers. People are scratching their heads already about what metric they’re supposed to be sending back to the client to collect their bill on. No one’s even looking at how to optimize it. The discrepancies for viewability are very, very high. Maybe publishers need to push back on agencies to get this process going. I’m very excited to talk about this at the Publisher Forum.