How to Hire and Train an Ad Ops Team That Everyone Will Love

Where would the modern-day digital publisher be without a competent and effective ad ops team? Long gone are the days when ad ops simply required a solitary practitioner who could place a line of code on a webpage—and voilá a banner ad would appear. As digital advertising steadily moves toward a programmatic world, traffic increasingly moves toward mobile and a host of other devices, video rises as the creative format du jour, and publishers constantly battle IVT and malware, the role of ad ops has become progressively more complex. Plus let’s not forget about the massive amounts of data that needs to be analyzed to uncover meaningful insights that will lead to better targeting strategies, performance,  and ad products.

Besides trafficking and monitoring ad inventory and blocking malware, the ad ops team is also managing client concerns and working with various ad tech vendors, as well as research and sales. So it goes without saying that having the right people on your squad goes a long way to being successful both internally and externally, especially given that ad ops will always be the first to blame when something goes wrong. The right people for ad ops have a diverse skill set because they have to be both tactical and strategic—with the ability to enter data into a Google spreadsheet as well as make a presentation to the C Suite about how the latest privacy concerns might impact revenue.

Finding the Right Hires for Your Ad Ops Team

While instinct might lead you to recruit people for ad ops who possess above average technical skills, most ad ops professionals—who have been in the game for a long time—will tell you that hiring for soft skills is equally, if not more important, than technical skill requirements. You’re gonna need people on your team who are good at problem-solving, are teamwork oriented and good at communication.

Being a knowledgeable, technical whizz won’t compensate for subpar client experience, a negative attitude, or poor collaboration. It’s best to hire for individuals with a good foundational base of EQ (emotional quotient) and coach them on problem-solving, technical, and constructive conflict resolution skills. Until companies are run by robots, work is going to still be powered by humans. Those with a high EQ have more success driving collaborative solutions and remain flexible in the face of shifting challenges.

While instinct might lead you to recruit people for ad ops who possess above average technical skills, most ad ops professionals—who have been in the game for a long time—will tell you that hiring for soft skills is equally, if not more important, than technical skill requirements.

When looking for the right hire(s), here are a few questions to ask yourself about the candidate:

  • Does the candidate demonstrate elastic thinking?
  • Do they have the ability to formulate novel ideas from existing knowledge?
  • Does the candidate embody adaptability?
  • Do they have a consultant mentality—a desire to understand the business and drive conversations?
  • Having the right attitude is key, but do they have a desire to show up?
  • Do they have a curious nature—the ability and willingness to learn proactively with minimal supervision? (Micromanaging is the bane of any team structure.)
  • Are they solution orientated vs. task orientated? There are myriad ways to solve a problem; do they focus on the desired outcome? You don’t want someone who drowns in the minutiae.
  • Do they possess the ability to remain calm and professional under pressure? (An upbeat attitude needs a strong resilience to match.)
  • Do they have strong time management skills? (There is typically more work than enough hours in the day. You’ll have to set a clear vision of goals to withstand distractions from noise, lower value competing priorities and prevent your team from burning out.)

Now you’re probably wondering how you’ll figure all of this out during one or two interviews. That’s why you should consider adopting the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, and Result) method of interviewing. This method uses behavioral questions to uncover problem-solving skills, analytical ability, creativity, perseverance through failure, communication skills, teamwork orientation, persuasive skill, and quantitative skills or accuracy.

Training and Keeping Your Ad Ops Team Happy

There’s a lot of information that an ad ops team has to retain, so documentation and process is an important aspect of the job. Plus, your team has to stay on top of everything happening in the digital advertising industry. A new hire isn’t going to learn everything right away or remember everything. A good tool that gamifies the training and learning experience is Kahoot!. Quite a few ad ops managers and directors are using this tool to make learning fun and more memorable for their teams.

Once a new hire is trained, the next important goal of onboarding is getting them familiar and up-to-speed with all of your documentation. As documentation is the most vital aspect of any smooth operation, your documentation should be living and breathing in real-time, so that everyone can contribute to it and keep it up-to-date, with the last updated date and name of the person who made the update. This will ensure that when other team members have follow-up questions, they know who to ask.

Five Ways To Make Your Ad Ops Team Happy and Successful

  1. Knowledge ownership: Appoint or look for volunteers within the group to own certain knowledge/projects beyond their day-to-day trafficking tasks. Who knows what’s happening with GDPR and how it will impact your business? Or how about the latest malware scare? Who has a good grasp on VAST or header bidding? (This also works well with documentation, enabling different people to own different aspects of documentation.)
  2. Consider a pod structure: Structure two-to-three members within each pod across different coasts for different time-zone coverage and built-in contingency insurance. This removes bottlenecks in knowledge and process.
  3. Foster an expert culture: Each member on the team should be an expert on a piece(s) of the business. They become the go-to person for others on the team. Acknowledge and celebrate when individual experts bring something insightful and relevant to the team. This avoids the trap of managers always having to be the smartest person in the room.
  4. Psychological safety: Do team members feel like they are in a learning and growth environment? Do they feel safe to take measured risks and make mistakes? Do mistakes result in learned take-aways to inform smarter decisions moving forward?
  5. Avoiding burnout: How are you helping your team avoid burnout? Since the nature of the work volume is cyclical, try providing work flexibility so that your staff doesn’t feel overworked and can provide you with the support you need. Consider providing flexible work hours or remote logins to make it easier on everyone’s time and increase peace of mind. Research shows that flexible work hours increase both happiness and productivity. It also makes sense to leverage international and satellite office hours whenever possible. An additional way to make things a little easier on your team is by outsourcing support for higher volume low complexity work.

When you put together finding the right team members to training them effectively so that they are efficient, and then keep them happy, you’ll have the formula for providing exceptional customer service both within the organization and outside of it. Process and workflow define how relationships work, but people with strong communication skills who are flexible and creative are the ones who will make those processes and workflows successful.

Related: How Ad Ops Can Work Better With Sales

Related: Online Ad Operations: Properly Defined and How to Staff – Part 1