Taking Control of Your Inventory Reports

When it comes to inventory reports, we don’t go far enough in creating the solutions that fit our needs. As an industry, our mindset is to do the best we can, and live with the cards we are dealt by whatever ad serving solution we utilize. But the truth of the matter is that this is not a “one size fits all” industry. If you’re a travel site, you have specific issues related to targeting ads by user location, destination and behavior. Automotive sites need to consider dozens of variables that encompass the make and specifications of each car and the regions it is being marketed to.

For most businesses, canned reports, spreadsheets and pivot tables won’t cut it anymore.

Instead of restricting yourself to the limited tools supplied by your ad server, construct an automated solution that fits YOUR needs. Take matters into your hands with these steps:

Understand Your API

Most reputable ad servers have an API (application programming interface) that connects the database in your ad server and systems that allow you to create reports for your end users. Since the ad server database has all the information about scheduled campaigns, inventory volume and availability, you can create a program to access the API, pull that data out, format it into reports to fit YOUR needs and deliver those reports to your end user on a regularly scheduled basis. Part of your “to do” list is to understand your API and begin planning to exploit it to your advantage.

Configure Your Reports

Think about the reports that you need to run your business more efficiently. If you have 20- 30 site sections that are constantly in demand by sales, perhaps the greatest benefit to your organization would be to have a daily snapshot of inventory availability, looking out over the next 6 months, delivered to your desktop each day. Or, it may be that you have a network of 100 sites, each with a different revenue share percentage by both zone and ad product. In that case, the solution for you may be an automated revenue share report that combines ad server data pulled from the API, with a table of revenue share % into a single, weekly report covering the entire network.

Produce and Store Your Reports

Enlist your IT group to produce the reports you need. One method is to use the API to create middleware applications that may utilize a language like Java to extract the inventory data and deposit it into a MySQL or similar database. The same middleware  can also utilize a language like PERL to take that data and format it visually into the type of reports you need and deliver it to the ad operations group on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.

As an example of how this is set up, the schematic below demonstrates the use of middleware to extract ad server data and format the reports, the database to store them, and the webserver to deliver them to the end users.

Inventory management is too important to settle for generic reports. And since every publisher’s needs are different, it’s up to you to define the optimal requirements.

In the end, it’s far better to take matters into your own hands and design the format of reports that will best serve the needs of your business.

Your job in ad operations is to have all the information you need to certify to sales that their campaigns can be delivered on time and according to contract. That’s the primary reason why creating your own reports is vital to managing your ad operations department effectively.

Doug Wintz has been working in interactive businesses for 20 years, ranging from Prodigy, to AT&T, Softbank, Uproar and Lycos. In 2004, he started DMW MediaWorks, a consulting company focused on digital media, operations and technology. Recent clients have ranged from traditional media brands such as Turner Broadcasting, A&E, NY Times, MTV, Philadelphia Inquirer and Universal Music, to digital brands like Comscore, Jumpstart, Kosmix, Eons and Local Matters. Doug is a frequent contributor on topics related to ad operations for IMediaConnection, and teaches several seminars for AdMonsters.