Craig Leshen is the president of Outsourced Ad Ops, a company that provides websites and agencies with around-the-clock ad management. Services include online ad trafficking and ad inventory management and forecasting. Leshen was formerly with Hachette Filipacchi Magazines where he was their manager of ad operations, and then at Phase2Media as director of ad operations.
Dawn Anfuso: Please give me a little background on Outsourced Ad Ops.
Craig Leshen: I started the company back in '03. I knew that it was hard for publishers and agencies to find knowledgeable, good people with technical skills and an understanding of all the operations involved with ad trafficking. We opened our doors with one client, and have added on many over the years, while staffing up accordingly.
Anfuso: What makes a good ad trafficker? What traits should that person have?
Leshen: Remember, this is a service business. The three most important things are: 1) customer service, 2) customer service, and 3) customer service.
As far as employee traits go:
Number one is attention to detail. The person has to make sure everything is done correctly, and done in a fashion that benefits ROI.
Number two is good technical skills. Having technical skills is a plus so the person can become someone who can help out in all aspects of ad ops. Whether it’s an html creative, a Flash creative, or a new type of rich media creative, technical knowledge is needed in order to make sure the creative works properly. If a creative needs to be fixed, an ad trafficker should be able to examine it, determine what the issue is, and then either fix it themselves, or inform the client that it needs to be fixed before they post it on their website. This is also important from a set-up standpoint too. Technical skills will play an especially key role this year due to an expected dramatic increase in video advertising.
Third is follow-up skills. This job requires making sure everything is being delivered, on time. Creative is often extremely delayed, so the person has to be organized enough to follow up with everyone involved to make sure the job is done accurately and efficiently.
Fourth is good Excel skills-- a strong knowledge of the basics. In ad ops, you're always asked to put reports together; typically advertiser reports, forecasting reports, monthly delivery reports for a site, pacing reports, et cetera. The reports must be accurate and in an easily readable/understandable format. Excel skills are a must.
Finally, if the person wants to move up the ranks, he or she should have some management skills, or at least a good foundation to help develop management skills. For the most part, this can typically be learned on the job, but the drive must be there.
Anfuso: What's the biggest challenge for an ad trafficker?
Leshen: I would say staying motivated. Often times, if you are a trafficker in a company, you have two choices: being a trafficker or a traffic manager. Your career path may include becoming director of operations. But many traffickers feel like they can't go anywhere. Part of what we do at Outsourced Ad Ops is to provide the opportunity to grow not only as a trafficker, but also as an Ad Ops professional. We've tried to solve these problems, give our employees the incentive of "you can move up the ranks, make more money, work with multiple blue chip companies." Traffickers are intelligent people that enjoy creative problem solving. They like to get involved in all aspects of the business, and help out wherever they can. So we give them the opportunity for all of that. It enables them to avoid falling into a zone where all they do is sit and program all day long, which can happen if they don't see an upward path to take. Get them on the phone with clients. Get them involved in company and client meetings. Motivate them!
Anfuso: What are the advantages and disadvantages of having staffer ad traffickers vs. outsourced ones?
Leshen: I strongly believe that most companies want a hands-on feel; sales people like to walk down the hall and talk to the trafficker. That's the biggest benefit of having an internal person.
The disadvantage of hiring your own people is that it's hard to find good help, at a reasonable price-- especially if you're a small company. You want to make sure you get a high level of expertise, but you can't necessarily afford that.
We try to address both of those issues. Our goal is to provide the service in such a way that the company thinks of our people as their people. We received a great testimonial from AT&T, which says: "We feel like you're right down the hall." That's exactly how we want all of our customers to feel.
Today, for example, I went to a client's office and brought four people over. We helped the client design new financial reports, new inventory analysis reports, and so on. We knew that's what they needed-- like they had an employee right there.
Regarding the pricing issue, that's a big thing for us. We price on work flow, not on hours worked. So since companies don't have to pay overtime, our cost often is the same or even cheaper than the cost of having an in-house person. And we can help them out in times of spikes, saving them from having to scramble to figure out what to do if their one or two internal employees are already maxed out.
Anfuso: How should a company go about making the determination of whether they should employ their own traffickers or outsource? Is it strictly a financial issue?
Leshen: There are several different reasons why people come to us:
- Some companies are new. They don't have the internal knowledge to carry out these tasks and need someone to do the job and do it well-- immediately. We take charge. We assign an account person, a lead trafficker and two back-up traffickers. So we'll give them four traffickers for the same price or cheaper as hiring someone in-house full time. Worried about what to do when your internal employee gets sick or goes on vacation? Not anymore.
- We've worked with clients who have people on staff that are maxed out, or the company is expanding and they need to add more people to the mix.
- Some clients have tried hiring, but they just can't find anyone.
- Sometimes, it's an overflow issue. Companies with tons of remnant inventory and lots of house ads might not have the time to handle all aspects of ad trafficking. They have hundreds, or even thousands, of insertion orders which they're managing, and just don't have time to handle it efficiently in house.
It's rarely a financial issue that prompts outsourcing. It's usually more of an efficiency issue. We try to make everything as efficient and streamlined as possible. It's not something you can learn overnight. Both Michael Alania, our VP of ad operations, and I each have 10 years of experience in the field, along with the rest of our team comprised of former employees at ad systems, publishers and agencies. We have the knowledge, expertise, and experience companies need.
Anfuso: As the employer, how do I make my ad traffickers, whether staffers or not, happy and productive?
Leshen: As I mentioned earlier, give them the incentive that there's more-- that they can climb in the ranks, learn more, work with interesting companies, et cetera. That's the critical thing.
Like I said, these are smart people who like to use their brains. Keep their minds active-- an active mind is a happy employee.
And like with most employees, their job satisfaction goes through the roof when they get compliments from clients. A few kind words go a long way. When they have a sense of gratitude, they know they've achieved something valued not only by them, but by everyone around them too.
And finally, keep them entertained. Keep it fun. Like in the late '90s before the bubble burst-- frequent company lunches, gifts, bonuses, extra days off, and whatever else you can come up with to make sure they're excited to go to work in the morning.
Dawn Anfuso is senior editor of iMedia Connection.