Consultants, in any line of business, can be a valuable resource. In the field of digital ad operations there is a small, but knowledgeable group of folks who work with any number of publishers, agencies, and application providers. However, in this article I'd like to put myself in the place of those ad operations professionals who are on the receiving end of a consulting resource, despite the fact that they might have never asked for it personally. The first notice that an outsider is coming in could be an email from executive management which simply reads: "We'd like to you welcome Mr. Jones, who will be (a) working with us on a project to evaluate workflow and process, or (b) helping us make a decision on a new application, or (c) project managing the deployment of new software."
The internal reaction to this bit of news can vary greatly, depending on the scope of the engagement.
For many ad operations groups the reaction is positive for a variety of reasons. First, the consultant could be a resource who can perform a series of tasks that nobody else internally has time for, ranging from tactical to strategic. This could range from writing business requirements for a new planning tool, to configuring an order management system, to helping evaluate new applications, to project managing the introduction of a new ad server. Second, the consultant, by virtue of the fact that s/he has worked with many clients, might have a good sense of current industry best practices, which is always a benefit. Third, there could be recognition within ad operations that things need fixing, and the consultant can be an agent for change on the team's behalf.
On the other hand, the reaction to the news that a consultant is coming to call is sometimes met with negative reactions ranging from "Oh no!" to "Why?" to "What's the problem, everything here is fine just the way it is!" Or, the news could simply inspire a long string of profanities not appropriate to write in this column. However, if you play your cards right, you can control your own destiny. Consultants can be helpful, but your goal should be to keep consultants from becoming engaged for all the wrong reasons, while retaining them for all the right ones.
Why a consultant might signal change
Look, we all know the ad operations field is complex. The applications and processes that support it are still in an adolescent stage. If this inefficiency is confined to the ad operations group, then the feeling within ad operations is "We're all in this together, we have some workarounds, and we can make do." And so it's heads down, nose to the grindstone, and live to fight another day. However, when inefficiency spreads and starts to impact other business units such as sales, finance, and reporting -- well, we all know who will be in the spotlight. Yes, you! The head of ad operations. A typical scenario is that executive management gets one story from ad operations, one from sales, and one from technology -- and none of them can articulate the end to end workflow in an organized manner. Finally, with a degree of exasperation, the management solution is to hire a consultant with an unbiased viewpoint who can sort out the stories, organize and articulate the issues, and recommend solutions.
How to control your own destiny
Ad operations can be a pretty insular place. The reason is in part due to the harsh workload that keeps everyone focused on doing the best work they can to make sure campaigns deliver per contract. But we sometimes forget that one of the most valuable assets we have is our own knowledge. That knowledge can be kept close to the vest or it can be socialized through the rest of the organization. When ad operations is able to educate executive management on what they do, articulate the gaps in process, and pose potential solutions, requesting assistance becomes an exercise in rational thinking and has a great deal of credibility -- instead of an emotional roller coaster that gets turned on and off with each crisis. If you are the author of knowledge on your company's ad operations workflow, you have a much better chance of controlling your own destiny.
However, when the solutions to inefficient ad operations are left for other people in your organization to figure out for themselves, they are likely to ask for help where they can get it. And that leaves you in a position of giving up control of your own destiny to a third-party resource from outside the company.
An external consultant will do an excellent job of sorting things out, but wouldn't you rather leverage the knowledge and vested interest you have in your own organization, and pose those solutions proactively? Granted, it's more work, but it is the key to determining the direction of your ad operations group. Then you can leverage a consultant's time to help you execute on the decisions you made, not someone else.
When a consultant makes sense
If, as a key executive in ad operations, you have begun to master your own domain, a consultant is still a great help with the following tasks:
- Obtaining an objective view of operational workflow and gaps across your entire organization, without having to pull people off the line from their day jobs.
- Benchmarking your own workflow and applications against what numerous other publishers (or agencies) use -- all of which can be done without compromising the security of either party.
- Business analysis and documentation, which could range from writing the specs for a digital media planning application to user guides for complex audience management platforms.
- Project management for short to mid-term initiatives, when long term hires do not yet make sense.
Above all, put yourself in the position of being the decision maker in your ad operations group for hiring and managing these resources.
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