As we evaluate our successes and shortcomings from 2010, and set expectations for 2011, it's always good practice to review the work that your team developed, and the processes by which they did so. I wanted to take a moment to share, with the online advertising community, some of the observations and ideas that we'll be using to build a stronger ad operations process for the year ahead, and beyond. Here are five ad operations tips to get your 2011 off to a great start.
1. Review workflow, processes, and templates
In all probability, the last quarter of 2010 was a hectic time, with your ad ops teams working extended hours, implementing makeshift processes, and coming up with temporary solutions. Traditionally, workload drops drastically in Q1 and the pressure is significantly lower. Hence, the beginning of 2011 presents an ideal opportunity to review workflow, processes, and templates.
What should you be looking for? Perhaps you should check for missing fields in your IO template, or seek out a new input tool that would make it easier for your sales folks? Or, you can review templates to check if there are fields that are redundant or obsolete. You may take this opportunity to update workflow diagrams by identifying outdated steps.
But when settling down to evaluate your ad ops processes, the best way to start is to simply ask yourself if you are doing things in a particular manner because, "That's the way they have always been done"? Most ad ops teams could benefit from a thorough evaluation to learn from their experiences of 2010's last quarter. For example, you might find that there are systems you could be implementing that would ensure that when the workload increases again, your team is well equipped to deliver efficiently.
Lastly, it is advisable to review individual roles, responsibilities, and dependencies and make redundancy plans accordingly, in order to ensure that you do not have a single point of failure.
2. Bridge the gap between ad ops and sales teams
Although perceptions are fast improving, most sales folks still continue to consider ad ops as just a back-office department that simply needs to implement what they are told. Before moving forward, let's get our facts straight. Ad operations is a vitally important component for any publisher that intends to generate revenue from internet advertising. Without ad operations, a contract will never be fulfilled. Without receiving feedback from the ad operations team, a sales team will never be able to price and package inventory accurately. Without accurate analysis from the ad operations team, a publisher will not be able to derive the right balance between creative ads and reasonable content. This must be understood in order to get your sales team on the same page with ad ops. You might have to establish processes for both to follow, but it is crucial that the communication channel between ad ops and sales is fluid and works both ways. Ad ops teams need to educate the sales team about their capabilities, and sales teams need to make ad ops team aware of what the market wants.
3. Have a contingency plan
Even at the best of times, it can be difficult to run a lean and efficient ad operations department. Add in variables such as high turnover, unplanned leaves, and fluctuating work patterns, and it can become an impossible task to manage delivery as per expectations. It is also a difficult task to make top management sit down and understand the importance of skilled professionals in ad operations, and why they often merit such high salaries.
The solution is simple: Consider outsourcing ad operations, either partially or completely. However, in doing so always ensure that the control stays with you. There are many advantages to outsourcing -- such as lower costs and fewer employee retention hassles -- and if your chosen outsourcing partner works in a different time zone, then this business arrangement may actually result in quicker turnaround times.
One thing worth stressing again: Do not lose control of ad ops when outsourcing these responsibilities! You need to retain at least a few ad operations professionals in-house that are constantly on top of the outsourcing vendor, ensuring that expectations are set accurately and delivery commitments are met in a timely fashion. Many companies also opt to outsource only during high workflow periods, which is typically referred to as overflow services. In this arrangement, you pay your outsourced vendor a low monthly retainer, utilize them when needed, and get billed on a per-placement basis.
4. Define career paths of ad operations professionals
Ad operations is not a stress free business. It is just the nature of the work that ad ops teams do that they are going to be subjected to unrealistic expectations from time to time, and are going to be held responsible for mistakes that aren't entirely their fault. Wrong creative, wrong click-through URLs, broken pages, or wrong dates; the finger is always going to be pointed at ad ops first.
But good traffickers take this in stride and learn to perform well regardless of external circumstances. A good trafficker is smart, meticulous, self-motivated, and technically capable. However, you can keep him performing at optimum levels only if he knows he is heading somewhere in his career. He needs to have possibilities open for him to venture into team management, strategy planning, inventory management, or even sales. You could do well to document career paths within your organization. It's also a good idea to keep job descriptions updated: It's a tedious and often painful task, but it can be helpful in that it can reveal overlooked skill sets and responsibilities, and gives your team a 'future' that they can visualize.
5. Stay current with industry innovations, and don't be afraid to experiment a little
Ad operations is a dynamic industry. What may have been good for you a couple of years ago may not necessarily work today. The industry as a whole is taking shape, transforming from a disorganized mess into one that now offers standards and guidelines for all to follow. In the ever-evolving world of ad operations, it vital that you keep yourself aware of the latest offerings from various solution providers. Be it workflow management tools, innovative rich media formats, or video technology integration, every publisher needs to adapt accordingly in order to maintain a competitive edge.
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