Top 8 Reasons to Work in Ad Operations

Even as the global economy limps along, the job market in digital advertising and Ad Operations specifically has never looked so bright, and anyone looking for their first job would do well to consider ad technology as a place to start their professional lives.

So why exactly would you want to work in Ad Ops?  Here are some of the best reasons as I see them:

1. There’s no better place to learn about digital advertising than ad operations.

Because the Ad Ops department controls and operates the ad server as their primary responsibility, almost everyone else in the company depends on them for something.  Whether it’s the marketing team trying to get an internal promotion live, the finance or billing group needing accurate historical reports, the business development team trying to evaluate and implement a new technology, or just the day to day interaction with the Sales team to understand what clients want, Ad Ops is an information hub within the company, and a key resource for getting things done.

From a strategic standpoint, virtually any new technology, from workflow management to analytics to data management eventually needs to interact with the ad server, so Ops is inherently at the center of those conversations and product rollouts.

2. Ad ops is challenging – no matter what your skill set, it forces you to develop lots of new ones.

Ad Operations is the primary bridge between the business groups and technical groups within a company; as such, the people who work in Ad Ops are among a rare breed that need both excellent hard and soft skills to succeed in their day to day jobs.  For example, working in a sales organization will teach you how to set client expectations, and keep your head above water in an aggressive, sometimes stressful work environment that demands a lot of face-to-face contact with impatient people.

On the technical side, you’ll learn how to read HTML at a basic level, almost without trying it’s such a critical piece of the job.  Moreover, you’ll get a sense for how coding languages like JavaScript and Flash work, how to look for problems within the code, and solve those problems.

There’s a project management piece to working in Ad Ops as well, since the department often plays a big role in implementing new technology, and is looped in on software builds and site updates.  In these situations, Ad Ops tends to represent the business and sales needs of the organization to the technical groups, which can be strange, because the business and sales teams usually think of Ad Ops as representing the technical side of the organization.  The truth is though that Ad Ops has their feet in both areas, and learns to think about things from both perspectives, giving them a unique, consultative strength.

Finally, there’s no doubt that Ad Ops is a great place to build an analytical skill set, and learn how to work with data to answer questions.  Chances are you’ll be familiar with a number of reporting systems regardless of your job function and will be adept at using the more advanced features of Excel.

3. Ad operations is the ideal platform for just about any job in digital advertising.

Since Ad Ops develops a broad range of skills, it creates lots of options for career advancement.  Aside from all the vertical opportunities within an Ops department, such as leading an Ad Ops group outright, or moving into a management position in the yield and pricing groups or billing groups, Ad Ops veterans often transition into client service leadership positions at technology companies because they understand the products so well.  They can move to formal project management jobs, really implementation specialist roles, because they understand how to roll out complex technology integrations that require inter-departmental teamwork.

Transitions to the sales or marketing groups are also common because Ad Operations people have such a solid foundation in reporting, analytics, and how to optimize campaigns for performance.  Finally, there are all kinds of horizontal opportunities, too, where talented Ad Ops people move from the publisher side to the technology or agency side, and vice versa, or go from a display advertising focused job to one centered on mobile or social advertising.  The possibilities are really exciting.

4. Major job security – virtually everyone is hiring and there aren’t nearly enough qualified people.

Practically speaking, there are a lot of jobs available in Ad Operations, at almost every level of experience – and that includes no experience.  In fact, Ad Ops tends to have an outsized amount of job opportunities at the junior and entry levels and is a great place for inexperienced workers to get their foot in the door, and find some early success.  If you’re looking for your first job out of school, consider working as a trafficker, who are the implementation foot soldiers of any digital media organization.  Working as a trafficker will teach you everything from how an ad server works to how to debug a flash file, not to mention deal with an impatient sales rep.

5. As a strategic team, ad operations is only getting more important within digital media companies.

Advertising has been statistically smart for decades, but has only recently sought to be technologically smart, too.  From a macro perspective, this means there is a big shift happening in the types of people and skill sets required to succeed in the industry.  Namely, there is an enormous need for a new breed of flexible, tech-savvy workers who can still work in a client-facing organization; people that blur the line between the business and technical side.  Ad Ops plays a central role in developing those types of people, and over the relatively short life of the digital advertising industry has developed into the ideal training ground for future leaders.

6. The industry is growing at an incredible pace and diversifying into new areas that all need Ad Ops leaders.

Ten years ago digital advertising was a $7 billion dollar industry – this year it will be a $30 billion dollar industry, and five years from now it’ll be a $50 billion dollar industry.  Now that’s growth.  You only need to read through the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s Ad Revenue Reports to see the industry has grown at a double-digit clip almost every year, resilient in spite the tough economy, and that’s not likely to quit anytime soon.  And within the industry at large there are pockets of mega-growth, such as mobile advertising, real-time bidding platforms, data management, and social media – all of which are still in their infancy, in need of Ad Operations expertise and looking to hire.  As employment opportunities go, both for today and in the future, you really couldn’t ask for a more perfect storm.

7. Ad operations has a great community built on cooperation.

More than other areas of digital advertising, Ad Ops has a tight-knit community.  The amount of interaction and cooperation between companies between ex-colleagues, conference acquaintances, or friends of friends is surprisingly high.  Can’t remember how to append the click-tracking code in Dart Enterprise?  Post it on the ad ops subreddit, send a request out on LinkedIn to one of the many Ad Ops groups, ask a question on an Ops related topic in Quora, or just IM an old colleague.  Chances are someone else has faced the same issue before and is willing to offer some advice same day, or even walk you through it. Ops people love to solve problems and help each other, and are usually more than willing to share that information to anyone who wants it.  Worst case scenario, reach out to me directly on this site through the comments and I’ll try to help you!

8. Ad Ops is Fun!

Part of the reason people want to work in advertising in the first place is they think it will be fun.  You know what?  They’re right.  Advertising is a blast, and digital is the best part.  Offices tend to start later in the morning, the dress code is relaxed enough that virtually everyone outside sales wears jeans to work, and the industry tends to be young and energetic.   It’s not surprising to see people with a beer on their desk on Friday afternoon, especially if you work at an agency, and there are frequent industry events and sponsored happy hours that allow people to network and kick back a bit.

The major difference in digital is that you get to sit on the leading edge of innovation; you get to be part of the real-time invention of an industry, and work for exciting companies that are changing the world.  Could there be anything more fun?

Next: Must Know Ad Ops Resources

19 comments

  1. I have to say…this article is great. I’ve been in ad ops for 12 years now and we’ve always been a pretty short supplied commodity, but of late, the need has exploded! As a consultant, I’m finding that the number of folks out there trying to get their sites monetizing is steadily increasing, yet ad ops is still a terribly under-appreciated and under-valued field. Maybe we’ll be getting our day soon! 😉

  2. Hi Ben,
    I wanted to quickly thank you for this article.

    Previously, I was working at an online gaming company in a SEO/Strategic Marketing position where I interacted with two great guys who provided ad ops services.

    Unfortunately, due to downsizing I lost my job a few months back. Now I’m considering a position in Ad Ops as an opportunity has arisen, but I find myself a little worried about the technical aspects of the role which has caused some hesitation. Your article has countered that hesitation and convinced me that I should go for it.

    Cheers and all the best.

  3. Hey Ben,

    Excellent post, I didn’t find out what Ad OPs was until I read some posts from a quick google search. The post is very informative. I recently graduated last summer, and have been searching for media jobs since. Any advice on the best entry level position jobs to get into Ad Operations? Thanks in advance.

  4. Hi K –

    Ad Ops is a great place to get started in media – typically the entry level roles you see are something like ‘associate’ or ‘coordinator’ jobs that have ‘ad ops’ in the title. These are basically what people in the industry call ‘trafficking’ jobs, which handles the task of executing media buys. A trafficker would handle campaign setup in an ad server, implement and troubleshoot ad tags, keep an eye on campaigns to make sure they are delivering, optimize the campaign as necessary, and sometimes tackle reporting and billing issues. The role tends to work as support to a sales group, so sees a lot of what advertisers buy, but has the opportunity to learn a lot about the technology behind the scenes.

    Here are a couple examples:
    http://www.admonsters.com/job/ad-trafficker/173816
    http://www.indeed.com/viewjob?cmp=Hudson&t=Digital+Advertising+Operation+Trafficker&jk=bbc36df94694eb3e&sjdu=QwrRXKrqZ3CNX5W-O9jEvWXCypobYDKFSmxltmp36B0qwR9UMz7Y3-J1d5e7T2AwmzbEUozVNtcDpyIKFYgQR-xeT7IsjlnapR8mdFRriw57cbW7qwCQUnnMLPbzixv7R4r8_9r3kB28hVrBtL_mlw
    http://www.saymedia.com/careers?nl=1&jvi=oH44Wfwv
    http://www.linkedin.com/jobs2/view/10129336

    It looks like you’re in the Brooklyn area based on your IP, and New York is probably the best place in the world to get one of these jobs because of all the companies based here. Agencies, publishers, and technology companies all need to hire these folks. So comb the job boards, or just email the HR department at the big media companies like Fox, Discovery, Viacom, Weather Channel, Conde Nast, Hearst, NYTimes, WebMD, and others expressing interest. While everyone prefers someone with a little bit of experience, I think if you can present yourself well and show enthusiasm, you’ll get someone to take a chance on you. One good idea might be to sign up for Doubleclick for Small Business and pop that on a personal site; it’s free and will be a good way to get familiar with some of the basics. There’s also a lot of online tutorials with that UI, so you can get help in figuring out how to use it. Showing that sort of initiative to get domain knowledge will certainly make you stand out from other applicants in my opinion.

    Hope that helps, and best of luck –

    Ben

  5. Hello Ben.

    Thank you for this article. It helped me gain some knowledge about the work position I’m trying to apply for. I’m from India. I would really appreciate it if you could help answer some questions I have below. I have my Bachelors in Commerce and Masters in Commerce as well. My specialization in Masters in Commerce is Human Resource Management. I have an opportunity to work in a Digital Media company in the city where I live. I’m interested to work in this position, which is related to Ad Ops. My only concern is that I also have plans of moving to US in maybe two years, and I would like to know if ad ops has good scope outside India or will I find it difficult to find a suitable job.

    I’m also concerned that if I happen take this position as my first job that I will eventually have to decide to take a course to study abroad and then find a job related to that and the experience I have in digital media. Can you please help me decide about a suitable course? Should it be a MBA in Marketing or a different stream? I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you.

  6. Hi Sherly,

    Ok, so your first question seems to be “are there ad ops positions in the US?” and the answer to that is yes, most definitely and at every level of experience, though I would stress that they are clustered in the major cities, particularly in New York. I’m not sure you could move anywhere in the country and find work as easily as you could in say New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Atlanta or Los Angeles. It would be a good idea for you to research the job boards and see where the jobs are as you decide where you’d want to live here.

    Your second question seems to be “what academic courses will qualify you for Ad Ops work” and I wouldn’t say there are firm requirements there. People in ad ops come from a wide variety of skillsets, though I suppose something in Marketing, Math, Statistics, or Data Science would probably put you on the best path. As the industry keeps shifting toward programmatic channels, analysis and optimization are the key skills sets that companies want to hire in my view. I’m not sure an MBA is worth it for ad ops in particular, though it could be valuable for other jobs in digital media. The more quantitative skills you have, the more options I think you’ll have.

    Best of luck!
    Ben

  7. Hello,

    I might be a little bit late- 4 years late I guess- Wanted to reach out as I am looking for a master degree program and I am not sure which one would be ideal for a person working in ad ops

    I have been working in ad ops for 2 years now and I need to get a proper master degree program that would add value to my resume in this field

    Thanks,
    Mira

  8. Hi Mira,

    To be honest I’m not sure I’d pursue a graduate degree if you want to stay in Ad Ops. For one, I just don’t think you need it to move up in the industry, and I actually think it could hurt you to stop working in such a fast moving space for multiple years. I think employers value hard won experience in their Ops people vs. academics. In looking over the LinkedIn profiles of the senior Ad Ops folks I really respect in the industry and lead global teams at the largest and most influential publishers I would say only 1 in 10 have a grad degree, and most of the time that looks more relevant to career path they had before they really got involved in Ops.

    Rather, I think you can add value and distinguish yourself working for a variety of companies – work on the tech side, the pub side, the buy side – working across a variety of technologies – work on mobile, on video, in native, on display – and right now, on programmatic technologies, ideally at market leading companies. Show you can manage projects start to end, you can lead a team, you’ve got a broad and deep understanding of technology and you’ll have companies tripping over themselves to get to your door.

    If you wanted something related to the field, I think Data Science would be a pretty great option, but only if you want to be on the software side of ad technology or part of the analytics arm of an agency or large publisher.

    Good luck!
    Ben

  9. Hi Lynn,

    Good question! I’m emphatically on the “yes” side, in fact I think Ops is only getting more important and critical to digital organizations. There’s just a ton of work to do and challenges to address that Ops essentially owns. What to do about the shift to programmatic, the shift to mobile, the impact of social, native, video, ad blocking, viewability, the list goes on! If Ops isn’t going to solve those problems who will?

    Basic media traffickers may not be a sustainable profession in the long term, but tactical problems solvers in the ad tech space are growing more valuable by the day; you just have to make sure you’re a person that can think creatively and learn new things and you’ll be indispensable in my view.

    Ben

  10. WOW!! Ben, I really appreciate the knowledge you have shared in this article. Respect!!

    I am a novice in this field and I want to start learning Ad Ops and be successful. I don’t know where to start from, neither practically, nor theoretically. What is the first step you suggest I need to take or possibly start to learn. I read a lot of stuffs and watched videos and know the basic concepts of the mobile advertising, native, display, the ad servers, how they work, CPA, CPM, CPC, etc. But seriously I dont know what skills should I develop first, is it programming, like HTMLor any which I have no idea, or Trafficking or as you mentioned before Double Click for Small business or? Please guide me so I know that I have to overcome this and that to reach their.

    Thanks and Regards,

  11. Hi Nion,

    Thanks! My recommendation to you would be to learn how to traffic first – mastering the ad server is the core responsibility of the Ad Ops team and when you start your career you’ll likely spend a lot of time managing tasks in the ad server, and most likely, DFP. So read the system documentation, get familiar with how to set up a line item, look at how to use the Inventory tab and setup ad unit hierarchy, commit the ad server decision logic to memory. All that stuff will be really useful to you, and most ad servers work very similar to DFP since it is the market leader so the base knowledge should serve you well no matter what system you end up working on.

    After that, I’d try to educate yourself on the basics of HTML and to a lesser extent, JavaScript. You don’t really have to be a master at these out of the gate, but you should get over any intimidation factor and at least familiarize yourself. Take a few hours and take the codecademy courses, which are free.

    Best of luck!
    Ben

  12. Hi Ben,

    I have been in digital media sales for many years and have a deep understanding of the industry, programmatic etc. I have however always stayed out of the weeds from an operations / DFP perspective. In my current role I am finding a need to gain more technical knowledge of this side of the house. Any suggestions on training resources online that could be of help?

  13. Hi Rob,

    Publisher University from Google is probably your first logical stop – it offers a variety of materials, from videos to hands on / interactive labs. Most Ad Ops people will find it quite basic, but if you’ve never ventured down this path before it’s a good starting point to get the fundamentals for DFP and AdX.

    Best of luck!
    Ben

  14. I am constantly looking for ways to stretch and grow. I think it sounds really appealing to work in ad ops. There are many directions to go within media and I think that the more well rounded you are the better. Ad ops could be a really good next direction for me to take based off of what I have learned in this article.

  15. Hi Ben,

    I am also working as an ad operation executive and loving my job but I just wanted to know the salary structure, means after two or three years, what would be my salary as per your review?

    Thanks,
    Bushra

  16. Hi Bushra,

    Hm, I think this is difficult to say; salaries vary quite a bit based on company and especially location. I suppose I would say many ad ops careers tend to pay 1.25 – 1.5X entry level salary after two or three years. So, if you were making $40K to start, you’re probably making more like $50 – 60K after a couple years on the job.

  17. Hi Ben.

    Thanks for this article! Very, very useful to fill in the gaps of a quite lacking job advert. Heading for an interview tomorrow for an Ad Op-job and this article reassured me this is something I would both love doing, and be suitable for.

    Hoping for the best!

    Thanks,
    Runar

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *