The Rocking Chair of Programmatic Operations

Article contributed by Matt Prohaska, Principal, Prohaska Consulting

When I was 10 years old, our family had this awesome rocking chair that, when my parents were not looking, I would try to see how far I could lean forward without my feet touching the ground and before falling over. And then I would lean backward as far as I could without falling backward. I always thought the upside of learning great balance trumped the downside of screwing up our floors and potentially my knees or head.

I hearkened back to that chair and all that leaning during moments of the Admonsters’ great OPS show in NYC yesterday and over the past couple months in working with several of our new publisher clients at Prohaska Consulting. The gap today between those that are “leaning forward” and “leaning backward” when it comes to learning and commanding Programmatic Operations is staggering. And it is why we have recently started offering this as a service to our publishers, at their request.

To those of you who have been traditional Ad Ops teammates before, or now, at a publisher, where much of your job consists of trafficking ads into your ad server and monitoring campaign delivery to make sure all line items are receiving proper pacing, I first would say, “God Bless You.” You have had often the most under-appreciated and toughest job, especially if you have managed this team before, since most of the attention only comes your way when something goes wrong and revenue is at risk or lost. It’s like being a Major League Baseball umpire, except you don’t have the upside of watching a great game from on the field. I have worked with, and/or managed, more than 300 of you with various publishers, so I know the ups and downs of the role.

If you are in this role now, I then would say, “Your job is probably about to change dramatically over the next 1-3 years.” Fortunately, the days of Ad Ops folks being looked at as only defensive-oriented and process-driven staffers are numbered in at least three ways, thanks to the evolution of programmatic selling and buying.

  1. Yield Management, for publishers leveraging in-house and out-of-house technology and data, is a skill that combines both art and science, where I would suggest only about 100 people in the U.S. know how to do it well at a senior level today with all the innovation in programmatic.

  2. Since one of the great benefits of programmatic around efficiency has to do with the speed of the transaction, with usually less work required in setup from the publisher, the back and forth emails of creative being out of spec, for example, are thankfully going away.

  3. One of my favorite phrases in programmatic that we used a lot in ad network days is “Shared Cap,” where there is one overall budget for delivery, not per line item. So if you index a 110 on one line, and 95 on another with equal weight, you don’t still owe the 5% on the second line. This provides much more inventory flexibility for publishers and much less of a time suck for delivery managers (and salespeople and media buyers).

Just like Programmatic offers salespeople a chance to spend more time on the creative, proactive, strategic, high-margin business providing custom solutions (while still handling Programmatic if publishers integrate their teams), Operations teammates can spend their time the same way if they are taught “how to do Programmatic Ops.”

The smartest publishers have already started cross-training their Operations teams, so that the same Ops lead can handle launching and optimizing a campaign from an IO, while handling Deal IDs, match buying, server-to-server, and various other flavors of programmatic direct sales. So if you’re at a publisher reading this column, are you/is your Ad Ops team leaning forward or backward? And if you’re at an agency, or trading desk, which way are your publishers’ Ad Ops teams leaning? Because balancing both will be key, but no one will want to lean too far back. Remembering from my childhood, trust me – it can hurt both your head then and career now.

Matt Prohaska is the former Programmatic Advertising Director of The New York Times and has recently re-opened Prohaska Consulting. Look for his column on the fourth Thursday of every month.