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It's Time to Rethink Your Digital Ad Operations Workflow

The stakes in ad ops keep rising. Complexity and innovation are driven by the demand-side. More and more contracts bill based on 4th-party metrics like viewability or demographics. Publishers must keep up by inventing new workflows and chasing new data sources without time to think strategically about ad products and organizational structure.

With such a busy day-to-day, there is little time to proactively communicate with agencies and advertisers about revenue-generating activities like creating innovative ad products, optimizing campaigns, and testing more effective buying strategies. Instead, publisher ad operations are left rushing to meet new demand, worrying about campaign under-delivery, and struggling to maintain a reliable workflow.

Yesterday’s resources are stretched too thin to keep up with today’s demand. But before a better solution can be introduced, we must take a close look at the day-to-day process of issue resolution.

Where do the hours go? Battling in the trenches, of course…

Resolving issues consumes the lion’s share of your team’s day so it’s important to breakdown each step of the process:

    Collecting reports: Track down logins and pull spreadsheets of data from local, 3rd party, and 4th party (viewability, demographics, etc.) servers—in some cases, this may involve 10 or more data sources.
    Matching & normalizing: Get all of this disparate data into a single excel file using whatever manual process—pivot table, vlookups, etc.—to match up creatives from 3rd and 4th party servers to local servers. This may require matching 50,000+ line items.
    Analyzing reports: Filter and sort the master campaign data sheet, hoping no errors were made, and look for discrepancies or other issues. Dissect the data and prioritize the most pressing problems for the day.
    Identifying critical errors: Take your prioritized issue list and investigate possible causes.
    • Double check your reporting for missing data (forgot to pull a report, different time periods).
    • Look for multiple tags for the same publisher placement, tag data from 4th party instead of 3rd party, check audit history in your local server for updated tags.
    • Make sure the same tags are running on your local server as on the 3rd party server by matching ad IDs.
    • Audit large files that increase load time.
    • Check intermediaries/4th parties, like ad verification systems, that can block an ad call between systems.
    Communicating issues internally & externally: After issues have been prioritized and possible causes identified, communicate this info internally to the right members of your team and/or externally to the agency or advertiser along with all relevant data to explain the situation.
    Confirming and monitoring repairs: Once a resolution strategy has been agreed upon and documented, check that the change has been made and that it’s reflected in the delivery data.
    Prioritizing KPIs and repairs: Top KPIs and related priority-repairs may be part of a campaign kickoff discussion with the advertiser, and may change later depending on the goals of the publisher. A supervisor will need to manage workflow and bandwidth of the team relative to a fluctuating workload. Establishing these will immensely help publishers achieve client and revenue goals.
    Billing reconciliation: Make adjustments to lines or campaigns based on billable metrics (usually referencing 3rd or 4th party) and prepare the reports for upload to a billing system and/or share with the advertiser or agency.

Looking at the entire picture, you can see there’s a lot of intricate steps and they can’t all be done by one person. The processes you need to follow are often different for each campaign and require different people and data. This is very difficult to manage manually with spreadsheets, shared docs, and ad hoc solutions—it’s a complex endeavor and fraught with errors.

However, like it or not, this is how you and your team spend most of the hours each day; and worse, the associated labor cost eats away at all the hard work you’ve done to drive revenue for the company.

So, how to get out of the trenches and start winning the war?

It starts by knowing how much time the entire process of issue resolution, above, takes your team—what we’ll call, Time To Resolution (TTR). TTR reflects the efficiency of your team and the service cost of successful campaign delivery. From our 10 years of experience with large publishers, we’ve found that this is around 7 hours a day per person (which is why a 40-hour workweek in ad ops is unheard of).

The importance of tracking your team’s TTR is probably best illustrated with an example: let’s imagine fictional XYZ Publisher. They are a comScore Top 50 publisher and do $100M in direct-sold revenue. From our experience and industry analysis, we know that this requires, on average, 147 people combined in ad ops, account management, sales, and supervisors.

If we assume an average hourly wage of $45/hr and a team of 147 people, the annual labor cost comes out to $13.7M/year; illustrated below:





We knew there was a large pain-point here, and an opportunity, because we saw that clients were attempting their own internal solutions, like trying to attach a general BI toolkit onto their data lakes, and hoping that this would provide an organized data platform. However, many have struggled to deliver the basics—organizing the data—and are caught off-guard by the long-term maintenance and engineering commitment that isn’t in the wheelhouse of a media business. As mentioned earlier, digital advertising is only growing in complexity, leaving publishers in a state of constant catch-up.

Additionally, we saw that TTR could be decreased by developing a better workflow that focused on improvements to collaboration and prioritization. We asked industry professionals their opinions of the resolution process.

Our survey revealed some surprising pain points. 89% of those surveyed said data collaboration is a priority in their role. However, only 22% were satisfied with support from their team to get the data they require. 88% admittedly did not have the time to prioritize troubleshooting and optimization. And finally, 73% stated that they do not have the right data to quickly prioritize their tasks. Clearly, there’s a need in the industry for a better process.

Developing a better process: Where to start?

In order to arrive at a better solution, key questions in ad ops need to be addressed:

  • How do I quickly find and fix issues with my campaigns?
  • How do I establish a collaborative reporting process?
  • How can I stay on top of how my campaigns are pacing and overall delivery?
  • How can I easily monitor and track 3rd-party discrepancies?
  • How do I demonstrate the value of the optimizations I’m making?

We developed FLOW to answer these questions and provide a lasting solution that can evolve with the industry and scale with your media operations. FLOW enhances collaboration and prioritization, eliminates the need for spreadsheets and ad hoc solutions, and makes data navigation an intuitive, visually-pleasing activity.

Automate your data foundation

We’ve used our knowledge and industry experience to provide you with an automated and resilient data foundation via our Direct Data Management (DDM) platform.

To start, we remove the manual component from all data prep tasks. Downloading, cleansing, matching, and prioritizing are all automated for you so you can skip right to resolving high priority issues.

    Collecting reports: Automatically pull from integrations across any publisher or agency ad server. No more chasing logins or reports. Get the data you need to monitor every single impression, successfully negotiate discrepancies, and finetune your campaign performance.
    Matching & normalizing: Relate publisher creatives to agency creatives through our exclusive D-FIT engine. Correlate and connect across all your campaigns in order to accurately organize, execute, monitor, and report from start to finish.
    Analyzing reports: Lay out comparison reports between your publisher and agency ad server data without having to create time-consuming pivot tables. Maintain accurate numbers with automated, always-available reporting.
    Billing reconciliation: Monthly reports and automated billing gets you paid quicker and easier through direct OMS connections.

This frees you to come in and look at an intuitive roll-up of all of your campaigns, already prioritized, allowing you to drill into the most pressing data while still keeping an eye on the big picture. FLOW’s communication tools make it easy to quickly escalate what’s important and collaborate with teammates to resolve issues efficiently. A reliable and standardized data set keeps everyone on the same page.

Turn your workflow on its head: Stop prepping data, Start solving problems.

Enhanced Collaboration
  • Categorizing users delivers the right data faster and each user can manipulate data according to what they need.
  • Multiple roles can be involved simultaneously for comprehensive input and awareness and solutions. No more siloed data.
  • In-platform alerts and reminders allow you to quickly react to high-priority requests and stay on top of changes and optimizations.

Intelligent prioritization
  • Easy-to-navigate dashboards bring campaign problems to the user instead of the user having to search through endless, chaotic data—identify patterns, trends, and the root of problems with speed and ease.
  • Issue prioritization by discrepancies, pacing, & revenue at risk.
  • Weekly, monthly, & custom-range performance reports.
  • Daily Discrepancy Reports pinpoint under- and over-buffered line items, allowing you to hone in on optimal pacing and respond faster to highly discrepant partners.
  • Data Callouts conveniently placed on the dashboard quickly alert you to top level KPIs like lines, orders and revenue.
  • Track viewability with ease and accuracy. Convenient reporting of ad-quality vendors houses all your viewability metrics in one place.

So, what does this mean for your team and your bottom line?

On average, publishers that implement FLOW see an improvement in productivity of 40%, and recapture 25% of their revenue at risk. Continuing with our XYZ Publisher example, you can see that the results are tangible:





Annually, at $100M in revenue, XYZ Publisher saves $1.6M in labor cost and is able to recapture $5M in revenue, adding a total of $6.6M back to their bottom line.

Performance issues are guaranteed due to advertising complexity, but huge improvements can be made in the way they are identified and resolved. The industry has unique relationships and data requirements that negate the effectiveness of general business intelligence tools. Therefore, a better workflow solution must account for these distinctive elements and integrate with each publisher’s organizational structure and workflow.

Ad-Juster has been in the business of developing data solutions for advertising operations for over 10 years. We have witnessed the explosion of ad servers and data sources, as well as the increase in ad product and delivery complexity. FLOW is the cumulative result of feedback from, and a close working relationship with, the top publishers in the industry. With FLOW, you get the right data to the right people, organized the way you work.

If you are interested in learning more about this exciting new product, contact us for a demo.