Regardless of whether a publisher is a start-up or an established company, no one is exempt from challenges related to managing digital ad operations. Just when you think it’s safe to assume that publisher X has it all together because they are ranked in the top 50 in Comscore or Nielsen, or they just received another $20 Million in funding because their business model is all the rage, you uncover a major gap in a their process or technology. However, there are some simple steps every publisher can take to improve their process.
We would all like to think that once a campaign is trafficked in a reputable ad server, we are in a “set it and forget it” mode. Nothing could be further than the truth. That’s why most established ad operations departments hold regularly scheduled pacing meetings, which includes representatives from both sales and ad operations. During the pacing meeting, the rate of impression delivery at the line item level is analyzed. Frequently, an index called the “OSI” is utilized. The OSI (On-Schedule-Indicator) uses an index of 100 to show a campaign that is pacing to meet delivery goals. Anything below is likely to under-deliver. Anything above is likely to over-deliver. The components of the OSI include the start/end dates, impression goals, current daily rate of delivery, the daily rate that the line item should have, the time left to fulfill the campaign, and the projected delivery at the end of the campaign assuming nothing changes the daily rate. The best pacing reports will also show revenue at risk.
The pacing meeting uses this type of data to determine which campaigns need to be adjusted to meet their contracted goals. The objective of the meeting is to avoid the following grim scenarios: 1) reaching the third week of a four week campaign and realizing you have only delivered 25% of the intended goal, and 2) failing to deliver in-full the revenue that sales worked hard to create for the company.
If you are a start up, the pacing meeting is a relatively low-impact way to prevent fire drills associated with discovering, at the last minute, that you may not deliver what your advertiser requested. If you are an established company and you are not doing this, it may be the reason why it is so difficult to reconcile what is sold and what is actually delivered.
Tracking Third Party Delivery
It’s well documented that when multiple ad servers are used to deliver a campaign, discrepancies in reporting ad impressions will occur. If you’re lucky, the discrepancy is less than 10%. But that is not always the case. Monitoring discrepancies is important because agencies frequently take the position that invoices need to be based on agency ad server numbers, also known as “third party” impressions. If as a publisher your ad server reports 1 million impressions served and that agency reports only 600,000, you may only be able to invoice for 60% of the revenue you thought you had achieved. That’s a lot of money to leave on the table – unnecessarily.
There are two methods for tracking third party impression delivery. One is to have the sales planner at the publisher request a log in and password to the agency ad server, then manually download delivery reports so any difference between publisher and agency numbers can be reconciled during the pacing meeting discussed earlier in this article. However, this is purely a manual process – one that takes time away from more important tasks such as helping sales close new business. During the billing process, this manual process extends the ability to close a month by weeks while finance waits for billable third party numbers to be retrieved. What a waste of time!
Fortunately, there are automated solutions that can help. These solutions automatically log on to both publisher and agency ad servers, collect the delivery information from both parties, and expose the discrepancy %’s on a daily basis. For ad operations, it improves the efficiency of the pacing meeting tremendously. For sales and finance, it speeds the ability to close a month with greater speed. The most well known of these applications is Ad-Juster, but order management applications are also including this feature, so ask your vendor if they have a similar solution. (Full disclosure, I have no business relationship with Ad-Juster.)
However, these applications are only as good as the data they pull in. Publishers need to commit the time and resources needed to configure them correctly, synchronize the data being pulled in from both ad servers, and integrate the data with other internal applications such as business intelligence tools and financial systems.
One of the things we frequently forget about is that all processes in ad operations are inextricably linked. If pacing reports aren’t standard operating procedure, unnecessary fire drills are created for ad traffickers, the ability of sales to attain their revenue goal is adversely impacted and clients are unhappy. If tracking third party delivery is not automated, campaigns under-deliver, accurate forecasting of realized revenue is impossible to achieve, and sales time is spent downloading reports instead of closing new business.
If you are a publisher, to quote Carly Simon, “you probably think this song is about you”. Well, that might have a ring of truth to it. But in our business, it is about all of us, because whether we like or not, the process and techniques that are key to efficient ad operations are definitely a work in process.
Doug Wintz is a contributor at The Makegood and Founder and Principal of DMW MediaWorks, a consultancy specializing in digital ad operations and technology.