The ad operations business is living in a state of denial which cuts both ways.
On the publisher side, there is often the belief that contract management systems, ad servers and all manner of related applications can install and run themselves. Here's a news flash: Ad operations is not a part-time job-- and yet many companies treat it as if it is.
On the vendor side, customer service is held to a bare minimum with limited consultative account management after the initial training. That's counterproductive and a good way to lose business.
The back story
There is more activity in the selection and installation of ad operations applications than you might think. Seemingly overnight, the market turned around and the increased demand for inventory has made the management of it more crucial. The enviable problem of more sales activity has led to the need to manage contracts more efficiently. Advertisers are becoming more discriminating and demanding about ad products. So whether you're a publisher entering this world for the first time, or a veteran on the scene simply re-evaluating options, chances are there's a lot of introspection going on about what to do-- and with whom.
Fatal flaws in publishing
Even when publishers make wise choices in ad operations applications, they can sometime make the fatal mistake of failing to support the initiatives internally. I've seen several instances where the "right" vendors have been selected and deployed, only to be neglected when it comes to the crucial QA function of making sure they operate as intended. If the systems are not set up properly, you are essentially throwing your money away. In some cases, the end-to-end integrity of data passing from a contract management solution to an ad server is never checked, causing inaccuracies that render the applications useless. It's the old "garbage in, garbage out" syndrome.
Why does this happen? After all, you would never find this occurring when it comes to other publishing applications like the content management systems (CMS) that enable publishers to manage and display content. Of course, in that case, if your CMS system breaks down, everyone from the CEO to the janitor can see it screw up online.
In ad operations, however, you may never find out how badly things are functioning until you try to do your financial books at the end of the quarter. After all, ad operations is boring, detail ridden and it should be automatic. Right? Wrong! And this attitude leads to publishers virtually snatching defeat from the jaws of victory-- making the right choices in applications but never making it to the finish line of implementation.
Vendor heal thyself
Of course, we all know these things cut both ways. I'm constantly amazed at the arms-length approach to customer service employed by most vendors in our business. I believe the reason is that with margins in variable and fixed fees being squeezed, the only way to keep the books balanced on the vendor side is to control costs. Fair enough. Without these businesses existing to serve ads, process contracts, run advanced ad targeting, manage yield and price optimize, you the ad operations professional would not have a job. And I would not be writing this column. (I would probably be earning $50 a night playing trombone in a salsa band.)
However, I am again amazed at a crucial disconnect. Vendors classically wait until their business with a client is in jeopardy before getting involved on a proactive basis. This is despite the fact that client dissatisfaction is painfully obvious. Many times, the signs are about as subtle as an oncoming train.
Vendors, how about asking your publishing client a few questions: "How is the integration with our application working out for you? Can we help you make sure that the data files are being passed between your systems are correct? Let me walk you through a solution we have for inventory management that would solve this specific problem you seem to be having. I would like to schedule a visit to your business to see how things are going, and see if there is anything we can do to help it become more successful. Do you mind if I interview some of your traffickers to see if there are any pain points?"
There's not enough of this type of proactive activity on the side of vendors. And in the interest of keeping customers, there should be. On the publisher side, a lack of ownership and responsibility for key ad operations processes often leads to a physical breakdown in key systems. That lack of oversight should be remedied.
But wait. On second thought, perhaps both sides should just keep doing business as usual. It will keep folks like me busy for the next decade.
Doug Wintz is the founder and principal of DMW MediaWorks. .