Daniel Davies is Director, US Ad Operations at agency trading desk Adnetik.
For eons (at least as measured in online advertising years), the traditional roles of agency buyers and publisher ad ops have been carried out in a very segregated fashion. Media Buyers hold their plans close to the chest, divulging only the bare minimum to so-called partners on the vendor side. And likewise, operations folks have tended toward a curtained approach to campaign implementation, offering insight to strategy only insofar as required. But with the arrival of exchange-based buying comes a fundamental change in this dynamic, operationally, communicatively, even philosophically.
As the availability of data and exchange inventory increases at a near exponential rate, reluctant buyers are finding themselves met with the at times daunting, though increasingly necessary, task of sorting through myriad approaches to harnessing the exchanges. Now that many agency buying teams are putting heavier budgets into DSPs, trading desks, and the like, their erstwhile partner – the Operations Associate – is being leaned on much more as a true collaborator, in lieu of the old need-to-know basis of years past. Agencies are finding that they need to be more open, transparent, and involved in what goes on behind the ad operations curtain.
But that door swings both ways; not only will the agency need to be more open, but any DSP/trading desk "ad opper" will need to work much more closely with the buying team, on a daily basis. Because of the greater complexity involved in exchange-based buys, the agency is going to take a much greater interest than, say, they might have taken in a network buy back in ’07. More scrutiny, more education, and more collaboration. In the coming years, the once siloed roles of Ad Ops and Buyers will begin to meld, which will require greater divulgence by both sides.
In the old days a buyer could work with a half dozen networks, almost without a second thought. Very few agency people asked questions about where networks sourced their inventory or data from. It was rare that any thoughts of site or data overlap factored into planning decisions, or that scrutiny went any deeper than which networks have performed. But with the greater access brought by the exchanges comes greater potential for duplication, so any digital buying team worth its salt is beginning to delve into the intricacies involved in this very efficient, yet potentially redundant field.
The first step here, in many cases, is education. Whether this comes from the agency, itself, or from a trading desk partner, it is not viable for Buyers to live in the dark about the underlying elements and tactics of exchange-based campaigns. Data collection, media sourcing, brand safety, and algorithmic learning need to creep into the vocab of agency folks, so that deeper, more insightful conversations are possible. And so that the agency can keep Operations on task.
The DSP/Trading Desk Ad Ops Side
As this level of knowledge becomes commonplace within the agency environment, operations associates will become a fixture of any good buying team, and an essential one, at that. No longer can a planner simply throw out a broad set of instructions and keep his or her fingers crossed that the tactics are being carried out and the plan optimized. Working with a DSP or trading desk will require that the entire agency team be versed in the daily goings on of its campaign, including things like how domain lists are being made and targeted, what data is performing best (and where it came from), how retargeting is segmented and customized, and what can be done to gain a competitive edge in a marketplace that is becoming publicly accessible. Basic questions, like where and how data and content categorization came to be and what steps are being taken, daily, to optimize the campaign.
Holding on to that aging schema of vendor vs. agency that many of us digital folks cut our teeth on will only result in further opacity for both sides. The agency won’t have visibility enough to make smart choices, and Ad Operations won’t have the breadth of knowledge necessary to run effective campaigns on the exchanges. In the coming months and years, I see this relationship less resembling the old cloak-and-dagger, poker game style of interaction and more resembling the way an agency team relies on its Analytics, Research, or Trafficking departments: as just another arm to make sure it is sourcing every possible tool on the belt in order to make a campaign flourish.
As with any fundamental shift in dynamics, it can seem at first like a monumental undertaking, to both the Buyer and the Operations Associate, shifting from the comfortable status quo of what we’ve known for years toward an ostensibly more work-intensive model. However, the main goal of this new collaboration is not only to create greater efficiencies of performance within this changing market, but also to ultimately make the agency’s job easier and more effective. In order to do this, both sides are going to have to pull back the curtain a bit and reach across the aisle.