Watch Out for the Glare of Shiny Objects: Change and Consistency in Ops

Holding Down the Ops Fort Amidst Rapid Change

It’s been 14 years since Craig Leshen founded OAO. In digital media years, that would be… what, like 40? What we’re trying to say is, Craig has seen a heck of a lot in that time. In his role leading up OAO’s efforts to provide ad ops support to a variety of digital businesses, he’s had a unique viewpoint into all the trends that have made waves in this industry over the years.

Craig spent some time talking with Rob Beeler this week about what he and OAO have been seeing lately. Their conversation turned up perspectives on trends in ad ops, recent changes in impression tracking, the evolution of direct deals (and how they’ve impacted the day-to-day lives of ops teams), the reasons why a company needs to be selective about the tech they integrate, and how to make the best use of your resources.


ROB: Okay, three recent topics discussed at OAO… Go!:

CRAIG: DFP moving to downloaded impression tracking; DSM being sunset in a little under two years; and direct sales trafficked traditionally, versus programmatic fill, versus direct sales running programmatically.

ROB: Publishers have been calling me about DFP’s new impression counting methodology. Talk to me…

CRAIG: It solves things and it complicates things, but the impact will vary by publisher. The publishers reaching out to us the most about it are the ones that have been using DFP to serve ads into their email newsletters. The move to downloaded impression tracking means newsletter impressions served via a simple Google Publisher Tag (GPT) will no longer track impressions and clicks.

ROB: Mmmkay. [Shifts in chair] What can publishers do to combat this issue?

CRAIG: In lieu of switching ad servers, or getting another ad server to handle your newsletter ads and using DFP everywhere else, the OAO Ad Products team has developed a solution that will allow for downloaded impressions and clicks to be reported in DFP, with just a little bit of code implementation. It’s business as usual from both a trafficking and reporting standpoint.

ROB: Everyone talks trends in ad tech. Talk to me about trends in ad operations.

CRAIG: We’re seeing across our business—a good snapshot of the overall industry—that [a] programmatic numbers are increasing, and [b] there’s still a ton of money being spent on direct advertising. You just don’t read much about direct advertising deals in the press. We’re seeing some of that direct business moving into programmatic via PMPs or PG deals, but a large amount of direct deals are being sold by publishers and then deployed directly in their ad server.

Direct deals come in all shapes and sizes, from local to national, through programmatic and direct sold. How these sales are made really affects ops. Standard ad formats are still the bread and butter, but you’re seeing a lot more with outstream, custom products, sponsorships, and other newer or non-standard revenue formats. The trick is for publishers to figure out where their time is best spent, on what tasks, and how that correlates to revenue.

ROB: Talk more about how direct deals are evolving.

CRAIG: A significant amount of our clients are large publishers, and they are always pushing the envelope, trying to present their inventory in the best possible way to agencies. As such, the direct deals they strike are only getting more complex. It helps to add a bit of special sauce to make that direct deal that much more appealing to the advertiser—the ability to run interesting ad units, new products, or enhancing value using audience data; overlaying audience data, either with a DMP or from data available for use via your ad system could identify new opportunities for your sales team to offer media buyers. Publishers can also share their data to a media buying platform via a DMP or other platforms with that capability, and execute buys for the agencies. The work publishers can do through customization and audience, makes having hands-on relationships with their advertisers that much more important; cultivate the relationship, generate more business.

ROB: Margins are too tight to just throw bodies at the growing complexity. How should operations people keep up?

CRAIG: Don’t ask your astronauts to make the coffee. Let them fly the rockets. Meaning, utilize technology to help streamline your operations and put your personnel’s time to better use. Our platform, iAdOps, can make time consuming tasks like running advertiser reports, taking screenshots, monitoring campaign pacing, pulling third-party reporting, and checking viewability stats, take seconds or minutes instead of hours. Efficiency technology enables your ad ops team to save time by taking simple yet labor intensive tasks off their plates, allowing more time to be devoted to complex tasks. With that, these complicated tasks are not things you can handle by just throwing more bodies at them; you need highly skilled people with the know-how to get the job done.

ROB: That echoes my mantra, “automate or delegate.” Nice. But isn’t it still cheaper to offshore?

CRAIG: Offshoring is one way to go, but our clients have come to us because they want that hands-on, feel-like-you’re-right-down-the-hall type of relationship. OAO turned 14 this month. We’ve spent years streamlining how we work, our process, and our organization as a whole. We’ve built our own technology to make us that more efficient, brought in additional tech from outside, and are continually evolving our model to ensure we’re always able to provide our clients with the ever-growing ad ops stack. Relationship structure. Experience. Proven track record.  Partnerships in place. Staying apprised of latest developments in our industry.  Those are the things publishers should be looking for when evaluating ad operations services firms.

ROB: Publishers’ ad stacks often crumble because the solutions they build upon are acquired, pivot or shut down—Google’s DSM, for example. How should publishers work with ops to structure their tech knowing that pieces might need to be changed out?  

CRAIG: Publishers need structure. You can change windows, remodel floors, paint walls, and even change wiring, but a building’s structure needs to remain in place, and sometimes even get reinforced. As a publisher, you select your ad systems, hire your personnel or an outside team, and stick with them. Be flexible with all the other stuff that goes into it. Switching to a new Order Management System (OMS) is not an easy task. They can tie into finance, sales and forecasting, and are usually used by large organizations which adds additional layers of complexities. Publishers who use DoubleClick Sales Manager (DSM) should spend time properly evaluating their organizational needs and nuances. Is a DSM alternative necessary or is this an opportunity to reevaluate your workflow? At this point if you’re a publisher who heavily relies on DSM, then it’s probably too soon to move away from using an OMS altogether, so looking at other order management systems makes sense. If you were just dabbling with DSM, then now would be the time to see if you really need it or if you can come up with a new way of working. A combination of re-working process and using other technologies that can handle some of the tasks from DSM might be enough.

There are lots of ad tech add-ins publishers can implement—almost too many. If publishers moved onto new technology as quickly as press releases came out about them, they’d need to constantly be staffing, and they’d drive their teams crazy. Buying everything in the store isn’t necessarily going to get you where you need to be, and trying to do too many things at once can add chaos to an organization. Simply put, continue doing what you do well, find ways to streamline it, then add to it… intelligently.

ROB: Right, RTB isn’t Real-time Buying of Technology. Not every new product launch means you have to do an integration. Build with change in mind, but slow and steady wins.

CRAIG: At the pace this industry moves, “slow and steady wins the race” still means you need to move at walk and run paces, but not necessarily sprint 100% of the time. Echoing what I said a minute ago, don’t sign up for everything, but think about what you need to do, and then look to build in what you know will help. A good example of something to keep an eye on and then pounce on when ready would be Google’s announcement that they’re going to offer more data insights to publishers, and will release their answer to header bidding to the world in 2018. Those are things to pay attention to, and will most likely help any publisher that uses DFP.

ROB: Definitely.  All of us will be keeping an eye on that.  Exciting stuff.  Happy 14th Anniversary OAO!

Craig:  Absolutely, and thank you! Cheers to the next 14, and the next 14 after that!