The Publisher’s Guide to Surviving December

Monsters weigh in on end-of-year strategies

December is upon us and everyone is scrambling to either hit or exceed revenue goals for the year. Unfortunately for many publishers, one thing is working against you: declines in traffic. It seems people still prefer to be with their families during the holidays instead of visiting your site – the nerve! 

We took it to the Monsters to weigh in with their best practices for December campaign management, and they did not fail to provide.

Start With Sales

Digital strategist John Gomez says sales is the first place to turn: “A sales team who is aware of the typical peaks and valleys a site will encounter with traffic, will play a huge part in helping to manage that risk for ad ops by 1) managing expectations with the clients; 2) not booking campaigns with aggressive delivery goals and 3) proactively working with clients to optimize inventory.”

Look Year Over Year and Adjust Forecasts

When December comes blustering in, Wiley & Sons Advertising Operations & e-business Specialist Stefanie Petesic says her team doesn’t “do anything special, but we do estimate low traffic based on past years’ performance. Most of the campaigns that are booked for the end of the year have a monthly impression guarantee, with December set to up to 10% less than the months before.” Another publisher chimed in that they adjusted by 25%.

“We compare the dip in traffic of the past couple of years and then apply a decrease to our inventory availability output based on that information,” comments Kimberly Lauterbach, Director of Sales Operations for iVillage. “While DFP only gives you the past 16 months, we keep all the YOY reporting with our Business Intelligence group.”

An anonymous Monster adds: “We’re still in the process of implementing Yieldex, but they allow for seasonality (provided by the publisher) to be layered over the forecast that they generate. So while the ad server may not front load based on an anticipated drop in traffic, the number of impressions sold in the first place should be in line with what would be available in December.”

Monitor Delivery Manually

“Typically whenever something is put into our order management system (DSM in our case) with a Dec. 31 end date, we actually put in Dec. 15 and in the ad name comments section of DFP we write ‘end 12/31,'” says Gina Pelusi, Senior Ad-Operations Specialist at Remedy Health Media. “In the second week of December we pull a report based on that criteria and move out the end dates – usually a week or so at a time.”

Anticipate How Weekends and Holidays Impact Traffic

“We look at how the days fall,” comments Bryan Moffett, VP of Digital Strategy/Ad Operations at National Public Media. “With Dec. 31 falling on a Monday, it’s going to be critical that all campaigns hit their goals by Friday, Dec. 28. That gives the ad server a day or two cushion when traffic dips. So, we will set the end dates to Dec 28 for high priority campaigns that can’t extend, and then before leaving the office on that day, extend them again with some bonus through Dec. 31.”

Adjust How Roadblocks Are Sold

“The harder challenge is roadblocks,” Moffett adds. “Many advertisers want homepage or section takeovers around Christmas, which really complicates the picture amid falling inventory. We limit the number of roadblocks to one per week in those final weeks, and never on Friday.”

Think Beyond December

According to Catherine Beattie, Senior Director, Digital Advertising Operations for Tribune Interactive: “At the beginning of each year we adjust our ad server (DFP) for all of our top sites manually by telling the ad server to look at last year’s data for a certain time period and then increase that number by our overall site increase year over year. So in January 2012, we set up manual adjustments for Memorial day, 4th of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s to tell it to look back at the week or two-week period in the prior year, depending on the length of the holiday, and use that for inventory. We do this every year and have been for the past four or five years.”

All Together Now

Claire Sunley, Head of Ad Operations at Haymarket Media, comments that, “DART has a function where you can input your own forecasting data so you can make your own seasonal adjustments directly into this ad server. This together with a combination of front loading, pre-Christmas end dates, plus smaller campaigns booked for the post-Christmas week, ensure that you can keep all of the revenue on the table and not experience any shortfalls.”

Mobile Makes It Up?

Finally, the rapid ascent of mobile traffic this year (especially as a percentage total site traffic) has certainly turned publisher ad op heads. But according to our sources, mobile traffic hasn’t compensated for the seasonal desktop drop. 

What’s your experience? Answer in the comments below or add a response to this forum we just opened on the topic.