Digital Media

Politics is Driving Need for Publishers to Build Around-the-Clock Ad Operations

Shawn Riegsecker is founder and CEO of Centro, a media logistics company.

The 2008 election ushered in an era of internet-based voter engagement, but that was about a million years ago in terms of how quickly the web has come to dominate nearly every aspect of campaign strategy, voter opinion gathering and messaging machinery.

Today, if marketers, publishers and brands want to profit from what’s already been hailed as America’s first truly digital presidential election, then we too have to be prepared to service the 24/7 candidate and political party campaigns that want to turn on a dime their estimated $9.8 billion for targeted advertising to support the 2012 campaign.

At Centro, the largest digital media logistics provider for federal and state political candidates and
causes, we know that during what is anticipated to be the most expensive campaign season in United States history, political clients will be searching for publishing partners they can trust to get time-sensitive messaging into the marketplace on very short notice. This means the digital publishing industry needs to improve operations if it wants the trickle of political dollars to turn into a flood.

Recently, we submitted a hard-hitting piece of political creative to a well-known news website. Three days in advance of the start date, the site accidentally ran the creative live carrying with it competitive ramifications. The mistake was caught around 8 p.m., but though Centro started scrambling that minute, we couldn’t get a hold of any of the sales or ad operations representatives at the publisher. After emailing every contact and calling every number we could think of, we finally got a hold of someone at the site’s newsroom at 1 a.m. and at 1:30 a.m. the ad was removed – after running for more than five hours.

This can’t happen.

Political teams, like many advertisers that want to pounce on the very latest thing everyone’s talking about, are built to react quickly. A story breaks, a gaffe is committed, a phrase trends on Twitter and a full, tightly-messaged multi-media campaign – from concept to creative to media planning to launch – needs to be up and running, within 48 hours in many cases.

Not being able to service these timelines can cost valuable new revenue opportunities, so if your site is looking to attract political advertising, it’s important to mirror political staffers’ always-on, always-ready-to-react planning habits.

We know this is a tall order for traditional print and broadcast organizations that are struggling mightily with fewer resources. But the truth is that digital is the future – and operations and processes need to reflect that by embracing a “digital first” approach.

Following are a few best practice tips:

Be always on: In daily print and broadcast, there is always someone in operations “on call” 24/7, 365 days a year, for problems, changes or last minute opportunities. In the very best case scenario, digital must have the same level of service. It’s no longer good business to have your operations staff go home at 5 p.m. and remain unavailable for issues. The days when one could log-off on Friday afternoon and have no one available over the weekend are gone. Build a calendar that specifies who is responsible for each window of every 24-hour period.

Prepare to respond to emergencies: Build an internal system for responding to issues. One idea is to create a ticketing system so that one email triggers emails or text messages to people on duty. In past election cycles, Google’s Elections and Issue Advocacy team has created an email alias for ad approvals and launches, plus they’ve coordinated schedules to ensure that a member of their team will always be available to respond to immediate campaign requests quickly, seven days a week, from 6 a.m. to midnight for the final months leading up to an election.

Over-communicate your plan to clients: Publish your customer service plan on your site and inform clients of who to call and when. Be sure to clearly define “emergency” with your sales and ad operations teams to ensure that afterhours escalation processes and policies do not quickly become a catch all for non-urgent issues.

Train team leaders: Managers are not immune to the new wave of responsiveness; they should be trained in basic ad operations tasks, such as pausing or deactivating ad creative. The reality is that in times of crisis, even with an established after-hours process, managers will most likely be called upon to help resolve issues.

Minimize (or eliminate) hardcoded ads: It would help if publishers minimized, or completely eliminated, paid ad placements that are hardcoded to their pages because when something goes wrong with creative that’s not served via the publisher’s ad server, they risk substantial delays in being able quickly respond to urgent issues. Most current-day executions (including reskins) can, in fact, be defined as ad positions in publisher ad servers, allowing for much quicker trafficking and issue resolution.

Having a great plan in place goes far beyond just knowing what number to dial in the middle of the night. For client emergencies to be properly addressed, publishers need to empower their ad operations employees to make quick decisions without the fear of reprisal by ad sales staff or management. If an employee is correcting an error, responding to an urgent client request, or protecting revenue, team leaders should be confident in the first responder’s decisions by knowing they are acting in the best interest of the business and the client.

Bottom line: We’re advocating for more than just steps that will allow the industry to become responsive to political needs. It’s a framework that will allow the most reactive publishing companies to reap the financial benefits of their ability to execute quickly and provide a far superior level of customer service to all of their clients.

Use this election year to put a response system into place. We promise you’ll endear yourself to political advertisers – and anyone else demanding superior customer service.

  • Joanna Bloor

    I’d add a couple of other categories to the list. Entertainment clients, App developers and all those broadcast dollars moving to digital. Video creative coming in on Saturday for a Monday run is an ask on the table. Now balancing “coverage” vs full time staff in the office on Saturdays and Sundays is the true balancing act.

    • Shawn Riegsecker

      Joanna, thanks and I totally agree. When I worked for a daily newspaper many, many years ago, we always had a skeleton crew in Ops working on Saturday and Sunday for last minute creative, additions or changes. This would happen for all types of clients. And the web is more 24/7/365 than a daily newspaper so it would make sense to have coverage more than M-F, 8-6. The good news is people back then had to be on premise. Today, technology allows us to be “on call” remotely in case of emergencies. We just need to know who is on duty in case something arises.