Ops Is Strategic: Navigating the Evolution of Revenue Operations

Increasingly advertising operations and revenue operations professionals are moving out of the backroom, becoming more strategic to tackle myriad challenges facing an industry plagued by uncertainty.

“Ops Is Strategic.” It’s funny how a single phrase can linger in your mind like the melodious beat backing your favorite song. 

When Rachael Savage, Senior Vice President, Ad Revenue Operations, Hearst, dropped the phrase during our fireside chat (Growing Your Career Through the RevOps Ranks) with Brooke Edwards-Plant, VP Global Ad Ops & Revenue Platforms, Condé Nast, at Publisher Forum Coronado Island, it was like a mic drop moment echoing in my thoughts. Since then, I’ve been marinating on the meaning behind those three words.

Shifting Tides: The Evolution of Ops from Backroom to Spotlight

Do you remember the days when Ops was the unsung hero of digital media working behind the curtains, in silos, creating behind-the-scenes wizardry — trafficking, targeting, and optimizing campaigns? The days when Ops wasn’t recognized for all their wins but only called out for losses or mistakes? Lately, it feels like those days are coming to an end. 

Today’s Ops pros are taking on unprecedented challenges and merging technical prowess with soft skills to be both project managers and strategists, solving complex problems and generating revenue for their organizations.

“What I appreciated about Lisa Ryan Howard, our CRO, when introducing me into the org was talking about the role that I’m in as being a strategist,” shared Savage. “We’ve got great people who can sell the thing. And we’ve got great product people who can build the thing. But the processes are just as much of the product. And if your processes are broken, or your products don’t work and there’s not that intersection, then it’s not going to have that punch you want it to.”

Ops professionals are now strategic orchestrators, crafting harmonies that resonate throughout the industry. The days of operating in isolation are over; Ops professionals are stepping up as strategic navigators, guiding media organizations through uncharted waters.

“We have our hands on the data. We see what’s happening every day. We can give the insights,” added Savage. “So billing this role as a strategist, it’s like, ‘Yes, we did it!’”

What’s driving this evolution? Privacy concerns, industry consolidation, lack of transparency, ad spend ebbs and flows, technological revolutions, and more. Ops pros are mastering these changes and adapting their skills for a new era. Also, as the era of cookieless browsing looms on the horizon, the battlefield is resetting and Ops, standing on the frontlines, must be agile and resilient to see their media ors through to victory. It’s about cultivating skills that match the evolving landscape. The tools in an Ops professional’s toolkit are expanding. 

The Intelligence of Strategy: The Marriage of Ops and Business Intelligence

But Ops professionals are more than just maestros; they’re now virtuous performers collaborating with BI to create a symphony of insights. It’s a fusion of tech and strategy, where numbers translate into strategy.

Take Jeremy Gan, SVP, Revenue Operations & Data Strategy, DailyMail.com, and Pamela Nguyen, VP, Analytics, Nexstar Media Group, on the session Harnessing the Power of Business Intelligence for Revenue Optimization at PubForum Coronado. They talked about developing data products that enable advertisers to tap into your insights as being the next level. Publishers need to transform raw data into actionable, revenue-boosting information that advertisers can readily understand and leverage. This is where the collaboration between Ops and BI becomes most powerful.

“We decided to in-house everything,” shared Gan. “We decided to build out an entire BI team, not just from a programmatic standpoint but from a direct sales standpoint, from an affiliate standpoint to today where we are future-proofing our business through analytics.”

To illustrate his point, Gan shared the story of a recent time when the publisher was alerted over the weekend from a dashboard built on their GAM logs. There was an issue, but it wasn’t GAM’s APIs or the data so they performed triage only to find out that it was an error and they fixed it. It was the adage of not just setting it and forgetting it playing out in real-time. “If we would have let it rot it could have cost us $100,000,” explained Gan.

That’s the importance of data analytics coming into play. As Nguyen explained, while BI sets up the dashboards, the analysts are diving into the data points to make everything make more sense. Increasingly, Ops is digging in to uncover those answers right alongside them. And if they’re not now, over the next few years, it will be imperative that they do.

“The next three to five years are all data-related problems that we are trying to solve — from testing cookieless solutions to data solutions. How do we AB test and how do we track against this? We need dashboards so that we can have a simple understanding of all of these things and then forecast it out,” he added.

The insights drawn from data aren’t just statistics; they’re the heartbeats of strategy. The insights derived from BI are the compass, guiding Ops professionals toward strategies that resonate with audiences and advertisers alike.

Ops Is Failing Forward: Stepping Stones to Success

Thinking about how the nature of Ops is evolving and the example that Gan shared relating to the dormant dashboard that glitched over a weekend, I’m reminded of something that Edwards-Plant shared about the nature of her job as VP Global Ad Ops & Revenue Platforms at Condé Nast.

“Ops is failing forward,” explained Edwards-Plant. “Something is always broken horribly. And you have to fix it and just pray you don’t break the same thing twice.”

Ops isn’t immune to this aspect of growth. In fact, it’s embracing it. Ops professionals are the pioneers of trial and error, turning missteps into stepping stones. They’re not afraid to take risks, because they know that even failures are valuable lessons on the path to success.

“The reality is that this business changes so fast —  the way Google reads the algorithms has changed, the DSP algorithms have changed, and then there’s SPO — there’s so much being thrown at you that everybody feels a little bit like they’re not doing it right,” expressed Jana Meron, Strategic Advisor, Lioness Strategies, during our chat, Focus on Your Users, Clean up the Bloated Digital Advertising Ecosystem. “The reality is, you’re doing it right for what you know. And then we call somebody and we say I need to get better.” 

Getting better in Ops is about calling on and collaborating with your partners, both externally and internally. It’s about peer-to-peer networking and learning from everyone’s mistakes as well as their successes. 

Uniting Voices: Ops Is Community

Ops isn’t just about data and spreadsheet formulas or APIs and code; it’s about people – your team, your partners, your audience. It’s a symphony of collaboration, where product, client services, sales, business intelligence, and even editorial, come together like various instruments to complete an orchestra. Ops is community.

It’s like what Edwards-Plant talked about when she expressed how important it was to bring herself out of the backroom. “One of my first three priorities when I first joined was introducing myself to every salesperson I support or every sales leader I support. Which is something most operations folks don’t necessarily do,” she said. “You don’t want to meet a seller for the first time when you’ve broken their very expensive sponsorship. That is a very bad way to meet people.”

“They’re human, we’re human. I have found that one of the most powerful tools in my job is having allies on that side of the aisle and them seeing me as somebody who’s there to help solve their problems, and not tell them no. It’s important for your career to get out of that room on the side where you’re up getting creative and go meet the people and be a part of the organization.”

Outside of the organization, community is about networking. And networking isn’t just a buzzword; it’s a lifeline for Ops professionals. They gather at events like AdMonsters PubForum to forge connections, share ideas, and elevate their careers. Community fuels individual, professional, and business growth; igniting innovation. When we talk about Ops, we’re not just talking about isolated individuals; we’re discussing a tribe of experts collaborating to elevate the industry.

Ops is community isn’t just a catchphrase; it’s the lifeblood of strategic evolution.

What’s next for Ops?

The crystal ball might be foggy, but one thing is certain: Ops will keep evolving. 

“We built our businesses in silos because first we had to get a website, and then we needed a subscription business, and we had an ad business. And it was good that all of those things were built in silos because we were able to grow them pretty significantly,” explained Meron. “But now, we should be managing revenue, both horizontally and vertically so that everybody in the company is aligned and understands how one snippet of code on a page might impact subscriptions or commerce or ads. But if we aren’t having those conversations at the business level, we end up with our systems unable to talk to each other.” 

Today, all of these systems within the publisher org need to feed one another more than ever. Ops should be the heart pumping blood throughout the publisher’s body, building allies across sales, dev, product, data, subscriptions, client services, marketing, and anyone else who will be impacted by the momentous changes impacting the advertising ecosystem.

Ops is strategic isn’t just a statement; it’s a paradigm shift. It’s a transformation, a journey from behind the scenes to center stage, from managing the tech stack to composing compelling strategies. It’s about converting data into narratives that drive decisions. It’s the recognition that a strategic approach is essential for navigating the complex currents of modern media.

If the past has taught us anything, it’s that Ops professionals are more than equipped to tackle whatever comes their way. Ops isn’t just about metrics and campaigns; it’s about people. It’s about forging connections, learning from failures, and rising collectively.

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