Online Ad Operations: Properly Defined and How to Staff – Part 3

Focus and Clarity

Employees perform better with focus. Mixing different job descriptions that might sound like they can co-exist, such as a web producer and a traffic manager in the same role, can create tremendous difficulties that will inevitably result in employee retention challenges and failing campaigns.  I call this the “Swiss Army Knife” philosophy, where a company disguises the fact that they do not want to invest in enough staff to meet internal workload demands by stating that multitasking is a desirable trait capable of quality results.

The facts are quite the opposite. Doubling Ad Operations up with web producing, billing, or any other function will lead to a higher probability for error, miscommunication, time management conflicts, and as I stated above, irreconcilable priorities.

For example, if a web producer needs to finish building a microsite by end of day and suddenly a sales rep calls and says their targeted CPM campaign is failing and it needs to be rebooked by end of day, how does one person prioritize these two important assignments? Probably both cannot be done by the same person on the same day, and tomorrow may have other scheduled priorities.

Ad Operations workload comes in spikes. On many days there are a lot of requests and all of them are important, but they cannot be adequately managed if the same worker must multitask with other job descriptions that demand her attention.

I have also seen non-technical employees such as content editors field trafficking requests, but they aren’t equipped with the skills and experience to diagnose an ad that isn’t rotating evenly enough, or why a third party ad has an unsightly 30% discrepancy rate as of last week. This person might be inclined to simply blame the ad server(s) because there is nowhere else to turn, and over-use customer support which may drive up ad serving costs and even lead to an incorrect solution to the problem (if any at all).

Psychological research published in 2001 by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and in 2009 by Stanford University demonstrate that multitasking does not increase productivity. The 2001 study stated, “subjects lost time when they had to switch from one task to another. Because time costs increased with the complexity of the tasks, it took significantly longer to switch between more complex tasks. Time costs were also greater when subjects switched to tasks that were relatively unfamiliar.” 1

With regard to the results of the 2009 study, co-researcher Clifford I. Nass at Sanford University bluntly stated, “Multitaskers were just lousy at everything.” The study’s lead investigator Eyal Ophir stated, “We thought multitaskers were very much in control of information. It turns out, they were just getting it all confused.” 2

Ron Ashkenas, who cited the 2009 study in his blog for Harvard Business Review, wrote, “If dozens of people are reducing their effectiveness by multitasking, then the organization runs the risk of being tied up in knots.” 3

This is not to state the opposite extreme: that all multitasking should be avoided. That is not possible, nor is it practical. However the tasks assigned to an employee should have a strong relationship with one another. It is easier for a traffic manager to be interrupted from running an inventory forecast by a request to switch out a live ad, than to be interrupted from switching out a live ad by an urgent request to write new XML for a critical glitch-fix in the company’s proprietary content management system (CMS).

The strategy is to take advantage of an employee’s natural skill sets and interests with tasks that are as closely related to it, and each other, as possible.

–to be continued–


1 Executive Control of Cognitive Processes in Task Switching, by Joshua S. Rubinstein (Federal Aviation Administration) and David E. Meyer and Jeffrey E. Evans (University of Michigan). Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance 2001, Vol 27, No 4, 763-797: 2001.

2 Cognitive control in media multitaskers, by Eyal Ophir, Clifford Nass, and Anthony D. Wagner. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: 24 Aug 2009.
Also see The Mediocre Multitasker by Ruth Pennebaker. The New York Times:  29 Aug 2009.

3 To Multitask Effectively, Focus on Value, Not Volume, by Ron Ashkenas. Harvard Business Review: 10 Sep 2009.


Editor’s note: This article is #3 in a 5 part series.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 4 | Part 5