Today’s column is written by Jay Friedman, chief operating officer at Goodway Group.
One thing the human brain is conditioned to do is take shortcuts in making assessments and decisions. Without this, we’d be stuck in analysis paralysis even over such simple decisions as which foot to put in front of the other.
These shortcuts in assessments can color our opinions to the detriment of good sense. For example, rather than consider the various degrees of automation in the workplace, the digital advertising industry seems to have decided that automation is binary – either a human does the job or a machine does the job. But this is not accurate.
Tasks and problems exist on a spectrum. The easiest tasks to perform and problems to solve – especially highly repetitive ones - can be done by machines. The most complex tasks and problems we’re trying to solve, however, are, in fact, a very poor match for automation.
The binary thought process most of us use around automation is what commonly causes confusion, fear and panic among agency staffers. When you’re done reading this, however, I think you’ll see there is little to fear and much to be excited about.
Remember when you were 6 years old and an adult asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up? You probably said a firefighter, astronaut or maybe even a doctor, if you really liked helping people. Why are these our choices when we’re 6? Because they’re exciting.
Subsequently, as we mature, many of us branch off from these adrenaline-inducing career paths to more intellectually stimulating pursuits, such as economist, scientist or group media director for an agency. In the end, no matter what path we take in our careers, I’d bet good money that no 6-year-old has ever said, “I want to have a job where I perform the same task over and over and don’t add value with my brain.”
If you’re managing online campaigns, work in ad ops or are trading media today, you would admit, although maybe not aloud, that there are elements of your job that are neither adrenaline-inducing nor intellectually stimulating and that could and should be done by machines. These parts of a campaign are repetitive and would benefit from being repeatedly executed by an automated system – assuming the right rules are set in place and that a 0% error rate can be achieved. These are the first things we should be automating, right?
But when it comes to entire jobs and roles within organizations, it’s not that simple.
While automating individual tasks or activities will be beneficial, it’s unlikely that automation will enable jobs or entire roles to be eliminated. The problems we’re trying to solve are complex, and while automation can provide us with more accurate precision and data, automation won’t lead us to solutions.
For example, today’s media planners and traders spend a lot of time looking at reports to optimize a campaign and analyzing and shifting budgets toward higher-performing audience groups, creatives, sites and other campaign variables. They do these tasks repeatedly due to the ongoing nature of campaign optimization and the sheer volume of campaign elements to optimize. However, given the possibilities of algorithmic optimization, the easiest and most obvious adjustments are better served by delegating them to a machine.
The reason an algorithm is not the all-in solution though is because you really need the human to draw insights from the data and optimizations made in the campaign and relate those back to the advertiser’s needs. An algorithm may be able to optimize budget toward a specific audience segment for a given campaign, but only the human could incorporate a new audience strategy into next quarter’s media planning after noticing that audience was undiscovered for the advertiser.
Thus, delegating routine work to machines will not necessarily eliminate positions. In certain cases, it could elevate positions. The digital world doesn’t need fewer media planners and traders, it needs more strategic and analytical media planners and traders. And in the ideal world of campaign setup, we won’t need more ad operations managers to traffic ad tags and generate line items in a demand-side platform because these tasks will be automated.
But what we will need more of are ad operations managers who are freed up to think, add value and solve more complex technical problems facing the client or campaign. This is where the rubber meets the road for the human beings in these jobs. When you add in automation, these jobs require higher-level thinking.
So, if you’re in one of these roles, how can you best prepare yourself? Exercise your brain. One way to do this is to read voraciously about diverse topics. This is a trait many studies have found among CEOs, and I believe it is a major contributing factor to an employee’s ability to grow beyond their college education and deal with real-world problems. Fiction is OK, but try books on behavioral economics, business strategy, sales, marketing and even scientific fields, such as neurology or genetics.
In my role in hiring and management this is one quality I’ve seen demonstrated that consistently brings significant value to those on a programmatic team.