Ad Ops: Publishers’ Unsung Heroes

celiawuThe Sell Sider” is a column written for the sell side of the digital media community.

Today’s column is written by Celia Wu, managing director of publisher services at The 614 Group.

It’s Friday at 7 p.m., right before the Memorial Day weekend. Who’s left in the office?

Most likely, it’s someone from the ad operations team.

This is not an uncommon occurrence. Publishers’ ad ops staff are often the last ones out of the office, following through on their commitment to make sure everything is greenlit for those campaigns starting on Sunday at midnight or the beginning of the month.

Digital media is 24-7, but ad operations staff can’t be. I believe the punishing schedule, thankless tasks and narrow understanding of ad ops’ many contributions lead to a high turnover rate. As the industry’s dependence on data-driven decision-making grows, so does the potential for burnout for the men and women charged with interpreting it to ensure successful delivery of online ad campaigns.

How can publishers recruit the best ad ops teams and avoid losing them because of burnout? The responsibilities carried out by ad ops staff don’t fit neatly into the typical Monday-through- Friday workweek schedule. Of course, ad ops teams have rules to deter the last-minute panic requests, such as a three- to five-day turnaround request time. But how often are these turnaround times actually observed and followed? It may vary by company and circumstance, but we can all attest to sending or receiving the “Urgent! Must launch tomorrow!” or “Was supposed to launch yesterday!” requests.

Getting final creatives for a campaign is a multistep process, with common deviations from the standardized process triggering further delays along the way. Are creatives from the advertiser final? Did the agency send clear instructions to the publisher that follow the IO agreed upon?

Typically agencies work late, which means creatives arrive even later. Then, creatives have to be tested and put through a quality assurance (QA) process. Creatives broken? Not rendering? Need to add some secure code or viewability wrappers?

Every change may involve going back to the proverbial drawing board or the publisher’s order management system to be processed. These frequent last-minute changes to campaigns create a domino effect on the workload and deadlines that end up on ad ops’ desk, pushing the hours an ad ops staffer needs to stay behind even later.

Without ad ops, the campaign cannot go live. And without ad ops constantly collecting data, publishers wouldn’t know how those campaigns performed.

Stand By, Stay Up

Ad ops staff are invariably asked to be on call 24/7. With many campaigns launching at midnight and needing live QA, bleary-eyed ad ops professionals stand by with engineering, sales and editorial staff to ensure a successful launch.

In addition, there are the escalations that occur which drag ad ops pros out of bed to make changes for campaigns, such as a food recall or carmaker scandal. Depending on the severity of the breaking news events, advertisers will ask for their campaigns to be pulled or changed, and these requests must be honored, no matter if these events happen in the middle of the night, weekend or holidays.

Ad Ops Staff Are Human

How can the people who are on ad ops teams keep up with these demands? They inevitably do – campaigns consistently get flighted successfully, optimized and renewed – and the seamless online advertising experience that consumers see belie the occasional chaos and troubleshooting that went on behind the scenes.

What can publishers do to head off ad-ops burnout? Can they leverage the interesting and forward-leaning work around new technology and business models that this industry affords us? Is the digital media industry doing a good enough job in recognizing the pivotal contributions of ad ops?

There are no easy answers; the reality of ad ops work is that it is 24/7, but human beings are not. Ad ops teams need family time, weekends, vacations and holidays, too. Publishers need to take a more progressive approach toward managing their ad ops teams, recognizing that the hours ad ops needs to be “on” may fall outside of the traditional workday.

Publishers should adopt a flexible approach. This is a no-brainer, but allowing flex hours and work-from-home options, especially when nighttime and weekend coverage is required, would go a long way in building and sustaining team morale. It would send the message that the publisher recognizes and values ad ops when they often deliver above and beyond.

Publishers should also establish clear escalation and decision paths. When a campaign needs to be pulled or changed, it is ultimately an ad ops person at the end of a frantic discussion that needs to execute on this. Having a clear escalation path and shorter decision tree that includes ad ops from the beginning is critical to ensure timely action.

Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize. There are many teams and steps involved in launching a campaign, and the demands often come from all corners. Give ad ops members exposure to the business priorities so they can triage accordingly. Putting out multiple fires at the same time can be draining. Making ad ops privy to the business priorities makes ad ops an important stakeholder, rather than just a responder to requests.

Engage ad ops in rules setting. Inventory rules and settings are always evolving, but we need them to be clearly documented and communicated in order for teams to function seamlessly together. Getting ad ops input to rules creation and documentation will help get everyone on board and on the same page.

Finally, publishers must improve the QA process. Many campaigns must be pulled due to broken creatives or creatives not rendering correctly. These last-minute requests to pull creatives can be minimized by vetting creatives and their settings upfront during QA.

Ultimately, working in ad ops should provide greater job satisfaction and career growth in digital media. Ad ops works across teams to accomplish important goals. Ad ops is exposed to new technology and stand at the forefront of industry evolutions and changing business models. Let’s not burn out our ad ops teams. The industry must work hard to retain and train ad ops professionals, and recognize the pivotal work they do.

Follow The 614 Group (@614group) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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