Ops 2018: Is Everything Different Now?

At AdMonsters, we’re always looking for those inflection points in the media biz. Admittedly, it makes for a good headline. “Oh, everything is different now? Cool, I hadn’t noticed. Let me read about this.” And it’s also good for approaching business strategy—any chance to clear the air and adjust your trajectory is welcome when your work is so detailed and exacting.

So, in prepping for Ops this year, we on the editorial team were looking to find out how things are going in digital media now that everything is different. GDPR is on the books. Data vending is a cottage industry. Publishers are putting poorly-performing demand partners in the penalty box. The monster ripped off its mask in this Scooby Doo episode, and it’s Mark Zuckerberg underneath. The fake news epidemic has given ops people at quality publications a sense of moral obligation. Branded content is the new premium advertising. The buy side is in-housing tech like crazy (or at least that’s what a lot of brands are trying to communicate to the rest of the world). When you look at the last 12 months in digital media, you get this sense that there are a lot of things that used to be like this, but now are like that.

Of course, here’s the kicker—and this was one of the themes I heard at Ops—maybe things are different now in meaningful ways, but that means publishers have to come up with new roadmaps. And not everyone has those roadmaps yet. Like GDPR, for example. Turns out that if you’re a publisher and you’re still trying to figure out a GDPR compliance strategy, you’re in good company. I was hoping we’d be hearing some mind-blowing insights from publishers who had come out on the other side of GDPR, but we’re not there yet. More broadly, we’re hoping a regulatory crackdown doesn’t happen before U.S. publishers are ready for one.

How about those other “everything is different” points? Yeah, publishers are more comfortable becoming data vendors, but they still need agencies to be really clear about the data they (the agencies) need.

It feels good to underline how quality, reliable media benefits society, which gives ops people a mission greater than figuring out why their partners aren’t filling—but that doesn’t change the fact that they need to figure out why their partners aren’t filling.

Publishers might be fed up with what Facebook has done with their power as an unavoidable distribution channel—but as of right now, Facebook remains unavoidable as a distribution channel.

Branded content is big business, especially for major publishers that can launch their own creative shops, but branded content is expensive to produce and challenging to measure.

Because header bidding allows publishers to integrate more demand partners, putting one poorly-performing partner on pause isn’t necessarily so damaging to their bottom line—but it’s not as damaging to the demand partner’s bottom line, either, because they’re working with more publishers as well.

The buy side is in-housing, but that could create a talent shortage on the tech side and open the door for even more consultants to jump into the mix.

So we’re seeing all of these “everything is different” scenarios in digital, but that presents so many new and different issues to work on. Hopefully that means people with expertise on those issues have some additional job security right now. But it also means a lot more conversations between publishers, vendors, brands and agencies. (That’s good news for me, personally, because I’m in the conversation business.) New tech will undoubtedly emerge, and some of it will undoubtedly change the way publishers do business. But right now, there’s a lot of focus on the more human side of the biz—stronger relationships, deeper business partnerships, clear understanding of goals. While the tech is doing its job, it’ll be interesting to watch how these evolving relationships change ops’ people’s jobs.