It Ain’t Automatic: The Manual Side of Programmatic

Of course, the burden falls to ops...

Ask someone to explain what “programmatic” is and they will invariably use the word “automation.” Makes sense, but automation for whom? For buyers, programmatic platforms certainly automate the purchasing of media across sites. For sellers, programmatic brings hundreds if not thousands of buyers their way without sales having to pick up the phone. 

But let’s not forget that much of programmatic is not automatic yet. Operations is still left holding the bag with a number of manual tasks in this not-quite-automated process.

I asked Craig Leshen, President of OAO for his thoughts on the matter: “At OAO, each of our clients have specific rules and requirements for managing monetization. There’s no ‘one-system-to-rule-them-all,’ which works perfectly and achieves 100% fill at the desired CPM level. Therefore publishers may elect to utilize a variety of monetization partners to help fill unsold inventory across multiple platforms (desktop, mobile, web, mobile apps, etc).  Each monetization partner has their own system, which requires time for the publisher’s ad ops team to learn and then manage on a daily basis.

“To help illustrate just how far from automatic programmatic actually is, we decided to create an infographic outlining the monetization management responsibilities handled by ad ops on an ongoing basis.” (See bottom of article as well.)

It’s critical that any ad operations team that takes on programmatic work through a number of steps:

Navigate the internal issues first.

If sales and management don’t fully understand programmatic, they certainly aren’t going to have the right expectations. It will fall to operations to make sure that the proper expectations are set and met.

In my own experience, I had to walk the company through several stages of grief until they reached acceptance (and adoption – they’re actually quite progressive now). This meant detailing the CPMs to expect, which typically were not what sales and management thought was deserved. In addition, some salespeople may think every advertiser should be on the block list. A variety of factors could contribute to how to determine who to, or not to, block but there are a lot of publishers out there who lean more towards fewer blocks than you might expect.

Every organization is going to establish different rule sets for working with programmatic tools, for reasons ranging from the company’s culture, to their sales team’s structure and experience, and even to budget constraints requiring them to only use programmatic to fill all of their inventory. Addressing that last one specifically, please remember two common phrases: “be wary of putting all your eggs in one basket” and “many have tried and failed.”

Put your partners to the test.

Knowing your companies requirements will help you better work with potential partners and you’ll need to look for a match. I hear a lot of operations people talk about solutions providers saying, “they said it could do X, however….” Some of that is promising more than one can deliver but some of that is proper expectations on both sides.

Start QA-ing quickly

We’ve written about this before – how essential it is for operations to know what is running on their sites. This process should start before day one. Guess what? It’s a process for every day after.

Start looking forward

For some publishers, trafficking the tags and collecting the checks might be the extent of what you do in programmatic. However, the amount you get paid will not be as much as it could be if you work to make programmatic work for you. 

Looking forward is about what inventory you make available and how it’s presented. Work with your partners to explore private marketplace offerings (and remember to set proper expectations!). 

What Automation?

It’s hard to say what will actually get automated.

  • block lists and CPM floors will always be an ongoing discussion
  • QA tasks can be minimized but not eliminated
  • there are always new partners to look at and evaluate
  • there are always new ways to optimize your set up
  • there are ways to generate more revenue as programmatic becomes more entrenched
  • and there will always be reporting.

The key to all of this is automating (I’d like to coin a new phrase:  “automatingish”) what you can, holding your partners accountable for what they can do and to focus on revenue. It may be that automation is not achievable in the near future, but by working efficiently, programmatic can start to deliver on it’s promise.

Managing Monetization