How to avoid disaster when changing ad platforms

Over the last couple of years, I have worked on several digital media projects with similar goals  -- migrate and consolidate ad platforms so that digital media operations are supported by fewer moving pieces and a more cohesive set of applications.

Sounds like a complex project, right? Well, sure it is. Projects like this reach into every corner of an organization, including the following:

  • Ad products -- revisiting product taxonomy and targeting options, which requires the involvement of stakeholders from operations, web development, sales, inventory, pricing, and business systems
  • Workflow -- revisiting the guidelines for approving pricing, inventory, and packaging in proposals and contracts
  • Web development -- testing and QA of new ad tags, a task that must compete with both day-to-day web operations and multiple technology projects that may have little to do with ad ops
  • Business systems -- end-to-end testing of the new interconnected applications, a process that requires dedicated resources many publishers do not have
  • Reporting and business intelligence -- integration of new data feeds to maintain reporting needs for sales, finance, and ad ops
  • Training -- sales planners, traffickers, and finance on new platforms (another resource that is in short supply at most publishers)
  • Campaign migration -- moving thousands of line items from one platform to another, including the search for hundreds of creatives frequently stored in dozens of folders on numerous PCs
  • Billing -- integration with legacy billing systems

Of the projects involving changes in ad platforms, many succeed and may actually exceed expectations in terms of meeting their goals and deadlines. On the other hand, there is always an outlier -- a project that has passed the planned launch date and will likely drag on for several more weeks, perhaps months.

Given the same levels of complexity in a project like this, what determines whether one company succeeds, while another one flounders? The answers may surprise you, because it has nothing to do with technology, media, or the internet. I categorize these factors into three areas: organization, sponsorship, and commitment.

Organization

For several years, I have preached the gospel of ad operations as a stand-alone division encompassing trafficking, inventory management, pricing, ad product management, and business systems. There are several reasons why this makes sense. First, all of these functions are interconnected like links in a chain, and, in order to work together effectively, they must exist in close proximity from an organizational perspective. Second, having a single ad operations group led by an executive who is a peer of both sales and technology helps maintain proper checks and balances between the need for any publisher to sell aggressively, but to do so under guidelines that make the achievement of budget (based on inventory and pricing) achievable. Finally, a consolidated ad operations division requires a lead executive who has the ability and authority to be a sponsor of major initiatives.

Sponsorship

Major projects at any company need an executive sponsor. A single ad trafficker is unlikely to push through a change or consolidation of ad platforms. If ad operations as a group are dispersed across several corporate divisions, there is no unified effort to pool those resources. There must be strong, centralized executive sponsorship in order to inform every individual that the corporate priority is to finish the job by a certain date, intercede and make overriding decisions when they are needed, and hold staff accountable for achieving agreed upon goals. The best scenario is a single ad operations division, whose sponsor is a peer amongst other corporate executives and leads the project at a high level.

Commitment

I recently attended two meetings where participants exemplified the meaning and spirit of the word "commitment." For one publisher, the project team was facing a very aggressive deadline and was cautioned by external vendors that it should reassess the project plan. The answer back was, "We have a date to make, we're committed, and it is all hands on deck until the project is completed." The other example was the absence of what was not said that was remarkable. In a discussion on an extremely complex integration, the project team was totally focused on how to implement, who was assigned responsibility, and when to complete the tasks. After leaving the meeting, I remarked, "Where is the dissention, where are the complaints?"

For both of these examples, there was an organizational structure that brought people together, strong executive sponsorship that helped guide the project, and commitment of the individuals to make the dates.

Organization, sponsorship, and commitment have nothing to do with technology, but everything to do with determining whether a complex project is approached with an "all hands on deck" attitude or a "no hands on deck" sense of resignation. Having a consolidated, stand-alone ad operations group with an executive who is a peer leader at the company and committed to timely completion of a project stands a better chance at guiding the company through successful change management associated with changing ad platforms.

Doug Wintz is the principal and founder of DMW MediaWorks.

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