In these challenging economic times, everyone is looking for ways to cap costs. One of the options online publishers will consider is outsourcing various elements of ad operations. As a long-time supporter of internal ad operations departments and staff, I will give a shout out and say there is nothing like a well-run group of dedicated internal professionals handling your valued advertising clients.
However, under the right circumstances, outsourcing may be a wise choice -- the options range from simply increasing the capacity to handle heavy influxes of campaigns, to the total outsourcing of an entire department. For instance, smaller publishers may not wish to place their media revenue future in the hands of a single, internal ad operations staffer. If you fall victim to the "hit by the bus" syndrome (you lose your only ad ops person), it's more than likely that no one else at your company who knows how, or even what, the ad ops person does. Then you are truly up a creek without the proverbial paddle, unless you have some bench strength in outsourcing.
If you consider outsourcing, think about this: Just as your own employees need guidance, clear direction, and management, so do outsourced organizations. Even the most self-reliant and self-directed employee needs to know the who, what, when, where and why of your organization to do an educated and competent job. Same goes for any outsourced extension to your current operations. They are just as important as your in-house employees, because they will be responsible for helping you deliver contracted revenue.
Here are some tips for publishers considering outsourcing.
Provide a sound foundation and education
Make sure the outsourcing group has a clear understanding of the organizational structure of your company, who their touch points will be, and be sure to actively manage those lines of communication. Set the stage, and be transparent. Nothing is more disconcerting from the ad ops perspective than engaging in a dialogue with a contact you know nothing about, whose authority and standing on the client-side is a mystery.
Actively manage the outsourced group as an extension of your staff
Handing over the keys to an untrained and inexperienced driver is a recipe for disaster. Yes, you hired the outsourced group based on their experience and professionalism, but they will need time to understand the particular needs of your business. Regularly scheduled meetings and briefings are a must.
Articulate any special standards and practices your site needs to adhere to and share them
If there are specific restrictions on ad types, advertiser categories, or exclusive sponsorships, pull those together before getting the outsourced group engaged, or you will be managing from one fire drill to the other. Try not to make up workflow and process on the fly with only minimal foresight and planning. Subjecting an outsourced group to a workflow and process which is essentially a moving target just erodes confidence and causes confusion.
Document the workflow you expect to be followed
What is the specific sequence of events you expect to be followed in processing an order? Who will manage and approve inventory; the publisher or the ad ops group? How will contracts be submitted; in a series of freeform emails and calls, or with an insertion order template? How will requests that violate business practices (overbooking, bonus impressions) be handled if they end up in the outsourced group's lap? Who will be the "decider" for the go/no-go in those situations? What are the expectations on pacing and monitoring? What is the billing sequence going to be like, and when do you expect the month to close?
All of these items are part of publisher-side ad operations and should be documented so your outsourced group can "follow the dots" and get things done according to your needs.
Provide alerts on site changes
Include the outsourced group in any plans to change sites or tagging structure. There is often a misconception that a change on the site (layout, tags, etc.) requires minimal changes in the ad server, when in fact it may require a series of changes and/or coordination and timing with other parties. Don't let a new site go live and then ask, "Why aren't I seeing any ads on the site?" Engage your outsourced group to be a team member when new sites/sections are deployed.
Be supportive of the outsourced group, as you would for your own employees
Publishers who treat their ad operations groups with harsh words, disdain, and neglect will quickly find themselves asking, "Why is there so much turnover?" Manage your outsourced group as you would a valued employee. Motivate them by making them a member of the team and congratulating them when they have succeeded. If they have failed (which they undoubtedly will from time to time), work with them to button down the process.
On the flip side, outsourcing groups need to be just as proactive in understanding their clients' business. Here are a couple of tips for them.
- Make sure you ask a publisher all the questions necessary to give you clarity about their organization.
- Understand the standards and practices that are important to the integrity of the publisher's business.
- Uncover the key issues that are must crucial and learn how to handle them.
- Help document the workflow to make sure you are singing from the same hymn book.
- Respond to errors in operations without defensiveness, but with more proactive measures to button down the operations process.
So as you can see, outsourcing is not just a simple matter of turning over the keys and telling your supplier to drive safely. But why should it be? You are entrusting them with your clients and your revenue. Forging a close alliance is crucial.