Ops Turns 10

Note: Gordon McLeod passed away this past week after a long fight with cancer. I had looked forward to sending him a note when this article was published. Now I can’t. Gordon, you’ll be missed.

The day before Ops 10 years ago, AdMonsters Founder, Bowen Dwelle, had an epiphany: Ops is Sexy. We had never discussed this kind of messaging before. All I knew is that I was going to find myself in front of a few hundred people (Ops was much smaller than it is today), the largest crowd I had spoken in front of at the time, and tell everyone they were sexy. For those that were there, you’ll actually recall Bowen, Matt O’Neill and I starting the conference with a skit. A SKIT ABOUT OPS BEING SEXY. Hamilton we were not.

Oh, Ops how you’ve grown.

After thanking us for calling him sexy, Gordon McLeod, then President, WSJ Digital Network and our first keynote, set the stage for what Ops would become. What exactly did Gordon talk about at that very first Ops ten years ago? I’ll be honest, I don’t exactly recall–the infamous Ops after-parties have hindered my ability to accurately recall such details. I remember it being funny, insightful and on point. I do have the description which is as timely today as it was then:

The evolution of the roles and responsibilities of digital ‘Ad Ops’ teams have changed dramatically from their origins in ad trafficking. Today they must tackle myriad new issues around data, privacy, targeting, mobile/app delivery and analytics, yield optimization and a host of new platform opportunities from iOS to Android, from RIM to Windows and more. Gordon will present his views on what it takes to successfully staff and run ad ops teams in this challenging new environment.

Gordon nailed it. It was time 10 years ago to elevate the operations conversations to industry-wide conversations. More people wanted to talk about operations and more importantly more people needed to talk about operations. Our goal was to help make those conversations happen and it’s the reason AdMonsters moved from our Publisher Forums and Leadership Forums (more on that later) to Ops–because it was time.

As a conference and as a discipline, Ops took off. Sexy wasn’t descriptive enough: Ops is Essential became more fitting a message. As digital advertising came into its own, it was clear that great salesmanship alone wouldn’t ensure success–you needed to execute some very complicated processes on evolving systems and be aware of a myriad of topics. That’s Ops. To be in operations, you need a law degree, a statistics degree, coding and a hell of a lot of patience. People needed a conference that could touch on all the topics operations people on both the buy side and sell side had to deal with.

To Gordon’s point–we at AdMonsters started to struggle with covering so many pressing topics at one event. So after a few years in a small space on Mercer St., we reached a go-big-or-go-home moment and moved to the Metropolitan Pavilion so we could house all the tracks and sessions we wanted to cover. Even with a bigger space, one day wasn’t enough and so we added an additional half day with the Leadership Forum to bring more senior operations people together and then we added Programmania, for people who dream in pivot tables and bidding strategies.

I’m proud of the evolution of Ops (the conference). I’m always pushing for the roll-up-your-sleeves sessions–the sessions no other conference would dare run. Gavin, on the other hand, is a journalist who is fascinated by our industry. He hunts down the topics and the interesting people who are leading our industry in new directions. Our newest editorial team member, Lynne, is adding brand new perspectives on topics that Gavin and I never considered. The result is an amazing mix of sessions and speakers and an event that has its finger on the pulse of what is going on for people in operations–whatever flavor that might be. (Just look at this year’s Ops agenda, and you’ll see what I mean.)

Gordon’s kick off of Ops signaled a sea change in how we think of our roles. There is so much to be done and to learn in ad operations, it really creates an opportunity to create your own role–to build a career in a never changing field. Ops is your chance to explore those opportunities.

Plus don’t forget: Ops is sexy.

Related: A Dozen Reasons Why Ops is Sexy