At Risk Management – How Every Ad Ops Department Should Start Their Day

Digital media is notoriously difficult to manage – not only are there technical and administrative challenges with getting a campaign live, but as the inventory is so perishable, campaign delivery can be tricky.

Underdelivery Despite Capacity

It’s no secret most publishers on the internet have plenty of inventory on a site wide basis, but often struggle with meeting campaign goals as they add targeting restrictions, frequency caps, competitive separation requirements, or have to deliver to a specific geographic area.  Not only that, but in many cases publishers and advertisers have a need to actively track delivery trends to ensure campaigns deliver as expected, and meet their goal within the scheduled timeframe.  Ad servers generally fill this role when capacity isn’t a problem, but when there isn’t enough supply to satisfy the demand, it falls on Ad Operations to prioritize delivery, and optimize problem areas.

But when there are hundreds or thousands of campaigns running at a given time, all with different goals, targeting requirements, and flight dates, how can anyone make sense of the data?  Many publishers have an inadequate process, relying on billing of financial reports to surface problems, or pawn the delivery management onto the sales team, which rarely has the expertise to effectively address the problem.

A far better solution is to build a simple report, a dashboard really, and use it as front line tools to catch problems early, before they spiral on for days.  This report is typically known as an At Risk Report and in many cases can not only save revenue, but time, frustration, and significantly cut down on the finger pointing that Ad Ops groups often face.

Building an Effective At Risk Management Report

The At Risk Management Report is the most critical day-to-day report for most sophisticated publisher-facing delivery management groups.  The primary job of this report is to create a ‘delivery dashboard’ of sorts to catch all campaigns that are not delivering to their expected quota, allowing Ad Ops to flag issues early, and optimize as necessary.  Some ad servers, such as DFP, offer this type of report, pre-built, with many of the necessary pieces of data, but if yours does not, it is usually simple work to get create the report yourself. In either case, I recommend simply getting the raw data and moving it into Excel, where you can apply your own custom filters and calculations using Pivot Tables.

The first step in creating an At Risk report is to pull the right data.  At minimum you’ll need advertiser / order / flight or campaign / start date / end date / targeting requirements / priority / ad size / flight or campaign status, as well as delivery information to date and the flight or campaign goal. In addition to those pieces of information though, consider adding other fields like sales rep, trafficker, site, or paid rate (be it CPM, CPC, CPA, or something else) to help route issues to the right contacts later. (more…)

The Year in Ad Ops 2011 – MRAID Specs Released

Even though it’s been the ‘year of mobile’ for the last decade, mobile advertising really did seem to reach a critical mass this year, as many publishers sold some of their first campaigns, and marketers moved more share of budgets to the mobile medium.  From an Ops point of view, this was also the first year for a lot of organizations to come to terms with needing a real process around mobile campaign implementation on both the mobile web as well as in application environments. As it turns out, getting ads, particular rich media ads to work in an app is fairly complex, requiring a higher level of technical expertise than desktop advertising.

Thank goodness then for the IAB’s release of the first set of development specs for mobile rich media APIs, known as MRAID and written in partnership with ORMMA to unify the industry’s approach to in-application advertising and simplify the implementation of mobile rich media.

Why is MRAID Necessary?

Thanks to some of the security features built it to smartphones, a layer of software called a software development kit, or SDK is typically required in the app to allow ads to expand over content, play sound and video, and do other things that are fairly standard in a desktop environment.  An SDK is nothing more than a block of code that a vendor like a rich media company might write to get their products to work in other applications, so the application developers don’t have to write the code themselves.  The problem is that every ad server and network has their own proprietary SDK for publishers to implement in order to get their ads to work, which usually requires an update to get released through the app store, which typically takes a few weeks.

Publishers not only have to do some development work to make this happen, but they then have to ensure that it doesn’t break the app itself before releasing it and then have to support updates to the SDK, basically forever, since not all users will update their apps, so legacy SDKs will stay in place long after a publisher might remove a vendor’s code from the most current version of the app.

So, with all that headache, the IAB took up the challenge to set some standards for SDK development, creating an open standard for rich media APIs to communicate with a mobile device, which is what an SDK does. By standardizing the API code, publishers can hopefully move to an SDK agnostic place, where they can use one centralized SDK that works with all rich media, and not need to support multiple piece of vendor code to enable ads. This is a big deal for the Ad Ops community and the Ad Tech community, who have struggled under the weight of technical problems to get campaigns live and facilitate mobile ad budgets. Hopefully MRAID makes a huge dent in those operational problems, and makes it faster and easier to get campaigns up and running, which should encourage advertisers to put more money to work in mobile.

I would encourage all Ops professionals to demand MRAID compliant apps and ads in your mobile ad spec and with vendor negotiations. The good news is that MRAID has enjoyed wide adoption and compliance from the major players in the mobile marketplace from the beginning, so there is already considerable momentum here.

Read about the other most significant developments in Ad Ops in 2011:

MediaBank & Donovan Data Systems Merger
Adobe Emerged as a Major Force in Ad Tech

The Year in Ad Ops 2011 – Adobe Emerged as a Major Force in Ad Tech

I can’t think of another powerhouse corporation that has moved so quickly into the ad tech business as Adobe did this year. Before 2011, Adobe had only happenstance exposure to the market, playing a key role in things like site analytics (via Omniture), and rich media development (via Macromedia’s Flash), but didn’t have much involvement in the delivery of ads themselves. In the course of a year however, Adobe bought its way to a leadership position in data management, cross platform video ad serving, and social marketing. Thanks to three major ad tech acquisitions book-ending the year as well as the launch of an ambitious product to streamline ad trafficking, Adobe’s moves should make any Ops department sit up and take notice as one of the most viable competitors to the Google stack to come along yet. (more…)

The Year in Ad Ops 2011 – MediaBank & Donovan Data Systems Merger

If you’ve ever used Google’s AdWords product, you know how blissfully simple it is to plan, budget, buy, track, and pay for your campaigns from a single interface.  It’s intuitive enough for virtually any small business to figure out on their own, but flexible enough to scale up to the world’s largest marketers.  Compare that now to the way most agencies buy digital media from online publishers, hacking their way through Excel templates, a pile of system interfaces, gobs of email threads, and fax machine printouts with an army of entry-level communications graduates.  To get a display media campaign live, it’s downright prehistoric, and certainly one of the biggest growth liabilities to the industry.

That’s why the MediaBank / Donavan Data Systems merger, assuming it gets approved by the Department of Justice, is so significant, because it has the potential to link all the systems an agency needs to execute a media buy from start to finish, thereby dramatically simplifying the process, and making it more efficient to spend money in digital.  If you work in Ops, MediaOcean has the promise to effectively end standard ad trafficking as you know it, moving your team away from ad server monkeys to a far more strategic QA and custom campaign execution experts.

How exactly would this happen?  The vision is for these companies to combine their existing agency workflow management software, and then develop a powerful open source API connection for outside ad technology companies to build on top of their existing product.  Between the two companies, MediaBank & DDS already effectively own the market for agency workflow systems.  This is the software agencies already use to manage traditional advertising campaigns, covering everything from tracking client budgets and agency fees, to actually booking ads with publishers.  Now, the companies want to combine forces to enable those same benefits on digital channels.  Through their APIs, the systems might connect the marketer’s ad server to the publisher’s ad server, allowing a machine to book the campaign, or at least mostly, instead of a human.

In my mind, the success of MediaOcean would move the Ad Ops department in most companies to a much more strategic place in the organization, removing the need for a brute force army of traffickers, and instead creating the opportunity for more technical strategists.  By spending less time going through the motions in the ad server to get simple campaigns live, Ad Ops could transition to client facing, cross-department consultants that enable highly specialized sponsorship campaigns, cross platform buys, and provide smart optimization strategies to drive more impactful results for advertisers.  Vendor implementations, campaign measurement, campaign execution, company communication, everything gets easier.  It’s about as close to a silver bullet solution as I could think of to some of the biggest issues facing digital advertising.

Here’s hoping it works, and next year we’re talking about the impact of MediaOcean, instead of its potential.

Read about the other most significant developments in Ad Ops in 2011:

Adobe Emerged as a Major Force in Ad Tech
MRAID Specs Released

Adobe’s Vision for Ad Validation: Project Adthenticate

While new to the market and perhaps less established than AdValidation, Adthenticate is an exciting development in the ad validation space for lots of reasons.  First, it has the resources of Adobe behind it, a mammoth corporation with some seriously smart development talent which I hope will continue to build on the current offering.  Second, Adobe owns Flash, the mainstay creative format of virtually every form of desktop display rich media ad, which means it has more than its fair share of QA problems for publishers, and for which Adobe is best positioned to address.  Adobe understands this technology better than anyone else possibly could, so it’s exciting to see a technology owner enter the validation space.  Finally, after speaking with Adobe directly, it’s clear they have a forward thinking vision for where this technology can go, the potential applications, and the resources and clout to make it happen. (more…)