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A Contrarian View of Programmatic RTB

August 7th, 2013
unicorn

Online display would be like this, if branding metrics took profit into account.

I’ve always loved the notion of programmatic RTB. As a data hound and an early adopter of Appnexus , the notion that advertisers can achieve highly granular levels of targeting and utilize algorithms to impact performance is right in my wheelhouse. Today’s ad tech, replete with 300 companies that enable data-driven audience segmentation, targeting, and analytics is testament to the efficiency of buying ads one impression at a time.

But what if driving efficiency in display actually does more harm than good?

Today’s RTB practitioners have become extremely relentless in pursuit of the perfect audience. It starts with retargeting, which uses first party data to serve ads only to people who are already deeply within the customer funnel. No waste there. The next tactic is to target behavioral “intenders” who, according to their cookies, have done everything BUT purchase something. Guess what? If I have searched 4 times in the last three hours for a flight from JFK to SFO, eventually you will get last view attribution for my ticket purchase if you serve me enough ads. Next? Finding “lookalike” audiences that closely resemble past purchasers. Data companies, each of whom sell a variety of segments that can be mixed to create a 35 year-old suburban woman, do a great job of delivering audiences with a predilection to purchase.

But what if we are serving ads to people that are already going to buy? Is efficiency really driving new sales, or are we just helping marketers save money on marketing?

It seems like online display wants to be more and more like television. Television is simple to buy, it works, and it drives tons of top funnel awareness that leads to bottom funnel results. We know branding works, and even those who didn’t necessarily believe in online branding need look no further than Facebook for proof. With their Datalogix offline data partnership, Facebook conclusively proved that people exposed to lots of Facebook ads tended to grab more items off of store shelves. It just makes sense. So why are we frequency capping audiences at 3—or even 10? I can’t remember the last time I watched network television and didn’t see the same car ad about 20 times.

The other thing that RTB misses out on is profit. RTB drives advertising towards lowering the overall cost of media needed to drive a sale. Even if today’s attribution models were capable of taking into account all of the top-funnel activity that eventually creates an online shopping cart purchase (a ludicrous notion), we are still just measuring those things that are measureable. TV ads, billboard ads, and word of mouth never get online credit—yet I believe they drive most of the online sales. Sorry, but I believe the RTB industry creates attribution models that favor RTB buying. Shocking, I know.

So, what is true performance and what really drives it? For most businesses, performance is more profit. In other words, the notion that a sales territory that has 100 sales a day can generate 120 sales a day. That’s called profit optimization. If I can use advertising to create those additional 20 sales, and still make a profit after expenses, than that’s a winner. RTB makes it cheaper to get the 100 sales you already have, but doesn’t necessarily get the next twenty. Getting the next batch of customers requires spending more on media, and driving more top-funnel activity.

The other thing RTB tends to fumble is how real life sales actually happen. Sure, audience buying knows what type of audience tends to buy, and where to find them online, but misses with frequency capping and a lack of contextual relevance. Let me explain. In real life, people live in neighborhoods. The houses in those neighborhoods are roughly the same price, the kids go to the same school district, the people have similar jobs, and their kids do similar activities and play the same sports. The Smiths drive similar cars to the Joneses, they eat at the same restaurants, and shop at the same stores. If the Smiths get a new BMW, then it’s likely the Joneses will keep up with a new Audi or Lexus in the near future. When neighbors get together, they ask each other what they did on February Break, and they get their vacation ideas from each other. That’s how life works.

What media most closely supports this real-life model, where we are influenced most by our neighbors?  Is it serving the Jones family a few carefully selected banners on cheap exchange inventory, which is highly targeted and cost effective? Or is it jamming the Smiths and Joneses with top-funnel brand impressions across the web? The latter not only gets Smith, the BMW owner, to keep his car top-of-mind and be more likely to recommend it—but also predisposes Jones to regard his neighbor’s vehicle in a more desirable light. That takes a lot of impressions of various types of media. You can’t do that and remain efficient. The thing is—you can do that and create incremental profit.

Isn’t that what marketers really want?

[This post originally appeared in AdExchanger]

Complexity is the Digital Ad Agency’s Best Friend

July 24th, 2013
Agencies are afraid of change, but change always happens. Is your manual workflow a "red stapler?"

Agencies are afraid of change, but change always happens. Is your manual workflow a “red stapler?”

I once heard Terence Kawaja remark that “complexity is the agency’s best friend.” It’s hard to argue with that. Early digital agencies were necessary because doing things like running e-mail campaigns, building websites, and buying banner ads were really complicated. You needed nerdy guys who knew how to write HTML and understood what “Atlas” did. Companies like Operative grew admirable services businesses that took advantage of the fact that trafficking banner ads really sucked, and large publishers couldn’t be bothered to build those capabilities internally. The early days were great times for digital agencies. They were solving real problems.

Fast forward 13 years. Digital agencies are still thriving, mostly by unpacking other types of complexity. “Social media experts” were created to consult marketers on the new social marketing channel, “trading desks” launched to leverage the explosion of incomprehensible RTB systems, and terms like “paid, owned, and earned” were coined to complexify digital options. It’s hard being a marketer. So much easier to hand the digital keys over to an agency, and have them figure it all out.

Some of that complexity is dying, though.

Have you ever done any advertising on Google? It’s not that hard. You can get pretty good at search engine marketing quickly, and it doesn’t take anything more than common sense, an internet connection, and a credit card to start. Facebook advertising? Also dead easy. Facebook’s self-service platform is so intuitive that even the most hopeless Luddite can target to levels of granularity so minute that you can use it to reach a single individual. Today’s platforms leverage data and offer great user interfaces and user experience mechanisms to make the complex simple.

This has created the OpenTable effect. Remember when you had to call 8 different restaurants to get a Valentine’s Day reservation? What a pain in the ass. I used to always get to it late, and usually spend a few hours getting rejected before finding a table somewhere. Today, I log into OpenTable, type in “11743” and see all the available 8:30 reservations for two in Huntington. A few clicks, and I am locked in. Would I ever go back to doing it the old way? Sure, why not? Call my beeper if you need me. Please “911” me if it’s important.

So, with all of this innovation making the complex simple, and all of these platforms democratizing access to advertising inventory, analytics, and reporting, why are digital agencies still making a living off of the lowly banner ad? Is there a good business left in planning and buying digital display media?

Programmatic RTB is coming on strong, now representing the way almost a quarter of banner inventory is purchased. That’s a good thing. Platforms like Rubicon Project and Appnexus are making it easy to build great businesses on top of their complicated infrastructure. Marketers can hire an agency to trade for them, or maybe just build their own little team of smart people who can leverage technology. That seems to be happening more and more, making managing RTB either a specialist’s game, or not an option for the independent agency.

Really complicated, multi-channel, tentpole campaigns and sponsorships can never be automated. They represent about 5% of overall display spend, and that’s really where a digital agency’s firepower can be leveraged: the intersection of creativity and technology. That sector of digital involves a lot of what’s being called “native” today. Working with content owners and marketers to build great, branded experiences across the Web is where the smartest agencies should be right now.

How about the rest of the money spend on digital display—the 70% of money that goes through the transactional RFP space? A lot of agencies are still making their money buying reserved media, trafficking ad tags, and doing the dreaded billing and reconciliation. Marketers who pay on a cost-plus basis are starting to wonder whether spending money to have expensive agency personnel create and compare spreadsheets all day long is a good use of their money. Agencies that do not get paid for such work are seeing their margins shrink considerably, as they grind away money paying for low value tasks like ad operations. Clients don’t care how long it took you to get the click tag working on their 728×90. Just saying.

A lot of this viscosity within the guaranteed space is being solved by great “programmatic direct” technologies. Right now, you can use web-based systems to plan complex campaigns without using Excel or e-mail, and you can leverage web-based tools to buy premium inventory directly from great publishers—the kind of stuff not found inside RTB systems. Protocols and standards are being written that will, in a few short months, make the electronic IO a reality. Systems are being built with APIs that can enable trafficking to go away completely. Yes, you heard me. People should not have to ever touch JavaScript tags. That’s work for machines.

This future (“programmatic direct”) has been coming for a long time, but it is still met with resistance by agencies, some of whom are continue to benefit from complexity—and others who are (rightfully) scared of change and what it means for their business. Looking at legacy workflow systems, you wonder why they are so hesitant to leave them, but the cost of switching to new systems is high in terms of emotion and workplace disruption—and previous attempts to “simplify” agencies’ lives didn’t really work out that way.

So, how can digital agencies start to change, and embrace the new world of programmatic direct tools, so they can turn their energy to strategy and client care, rather than be an “expert” in processes that will eventually die?

Part of that is learning to recognize if you have a “wizard” on staff. The Wizard is the guy that has truly embraced complexity within the agency. He is the “systems guy” who knows how to pull complicated reports out of legacy workflow platforms. He probably knows who to write the occasional SQL query, and he knows where all the bodies (spreadsheets) are buried. When a web-based technology salesperson comes calling on the agency, and shows the CEO or VP of Media what web-based programmatic direct buying looks like, they are showing an agency a world where a lot of complexity is suddenly made simple. That demo shows the future of digital media buying: a directory-driven, centralized, web-based method of planning, buying, and serving inventory. Just like search! C-level agency executives and media people want it. They want their employees focused on strategy and analytics…not ad trafficking. But to get it, they invariably tell you to go see the Wizard. “Fred is our ‘systems guy.’ He’ll know whether this can work for us from a technical standpoint.”

That’s when innovation dies. Fred, the Wizard of the legacy systems, will shut down any innovation that comes his way. Complexity is Fred’s best friend. When you are the only guy that can pull a SQL query from your data warehouse, or reconcile numbers between SAP and your agency’s order management system, then you are a God. Fred is God…and he doesn’t want a downgrade. Complexity is the reason great digital agencies were built, and continue to thrive. Tomorrow’s big challenges are going to come from complexities in cross-channel delivery and attribution, and keeping up with new platforms that are delivering amazing native marketing opportunities, not being the next at reconciling ad delivery numbers from servers.

When innovation comes knocking on your door, don’t let Fred answer it.

[This post was originally published in AdExchanger]

Stealing Some of Microsoft’s Ad Tech Market Share

July 3rd, 2013

Excel

When you think of advertising technology in the display space, the first names you’re likely to think of are Google, PubMatic, Adobe, and AppNexus. But Microsoft? Not really top of mind, unless you are thinking of its disastrous aQuantive acquisition in 2007. Sure, every now and then MSFT will pick up the odd Rapt or Yammer, but is it really having a huge impact in the ad tech space? Even if you’re a regular AdExchanger reader, you’d be justified in thinking it’s not.

But you’d be 100% wrong.

Microsoft has been quietly running the inner ad-technology workings of digital display since the first banner ad was purchased in 1995. According to some recent research, the company’s ad-planning software boasts an amazing 76% market share among agency media planners. MediaVisor ranks a distant second with a measly 9.7 Almost nine in 10 planners who use Excel spend more than an hour a day using its software, while almost 35% use it for more than four hours per day[CO1] . [l2]

That software is called Microsoft Excel.

Released in 1985 (originally for Macintosh), Excel is nearly three decades old and has been powering digital-media planning since its inception. Combined with Outlook, Word, and PowerPoint in the Office suite of products, Microsoft tools have been central to the digital-media planning process for a long time. Planners plan in Excel, publishers pitch in Excel and PowerPoint, contracts are made in Word, and everything is communicated via Outlook. And then there are the billing and reconciliation tasks that occur inside spreadsheets. Nobody ever seems to wonder why more than $6 billion in digital display media transactions (representing nearly 70% of all ads sold) use Microsoft tools and the occasional fax machine.

While innovative companies have challenged the dominance of these systems in the past, early efforts fizzled. The complexities of modern digital-media planning, combined with the reluctance of agency planners to change their behavior, have hindered innovation. Looking at past and current “systems of record” for media buying, it’s no wonder planners are scared of change. If you have ever seen legacy agency operating systems, you wonder if a single dollar was ever spent on user experience or user interface design.

Why Programmatic-Direct Planners Use Excel

As an ad technology “evangelist” of sorts, it is my job to show agencies the future of digital-media planning. This is starting to be called programmatic buying, a term which encompasses both “programmatic direct” buying, which targets the transactional RFP business that accounts for the bulk – 70% – of digital display ads, and “programmatic RTB,” which accounts for the impression-by-impression purchases that represent another $2.4 billion, or 25[CO3] % of the pie.

Companies like MediaMath and AppNexus have made the latter category wildly efficient. Buyers don’t use Excel to create an audience-buying campaign across exchange inventory. Instead, they log into a web-based RTB platform.

For automating guaranteed display buys, though, Excel has become the default for media planners, even though if it doesn’t have the features of many web-based systems available. For example, Excel doesn’t track your changes. When planners change something, multiple files are created, and it’s easy for two people to work on a plan at the same time, duplicating work and botching it up. Excel isn’t Sarbanes-Oxley compliant, either. Agencies end up with thousands of Excel sheets on hard drives and servers, and a complicated file versioning and access system that makes replicating and tracking plans really difficult. Excel doesn’t integrate easily with other systems. At the file level, Excel is great. You can import and export Excel files into almost anything. But Excel can’t send out an RFP, or accept an order. Excel can’t automatically set an ad placement inside an ad server like DFA or MediaMind, or get Comscore updates. Excel is amazingly flexible, but it wasn’t built for media planning.

Today, the average digital-media plan costs nearly $40,000 to produce and takes as many as 42 steps to complete. That’s why, according to a recent Digiday survey, more than two thirds of agency employees will leave their jobs within the next two years. Digital-media planning should be fun and innovative, and young, smart people should want to be spending their time influencing how major brands leverage new technologies and media outlets to sell their products.

The reality is that young media planners are finding their days are filled with reconciling monthly invoices and ad delivery numbers. Have you noticed media planners’ eyes glazing over during your latest “lunch and learn?” That’s today’s young agency employees’ way of calling bullshit on ad tech. Our technology has been making their lives harder and their hours longer, rather than ushering in a new era of efficiency and performance.

How We Can Finally Beat Excel

I believe that dynamic is rapidly changing now. Buy-side technologies from innovative software companies, combined with offerings from sell-side players that are plugging into publisher ad servers are creating a programmatic future by building web-based, easy to use, and extensible platforms.Here are a few reasons these types of systems will start to get adoption:

  • Pushback on agency pricing models: Big agencies have been getting paid by the hour for years, but their clients are starting to push back on cost-plus pricing schemes. After exposure to self-service platforms and programmatic buying, they are getting used to seeing a larger percentage of their money applied to the media, and that trend is only likely to continue. Brand advertisers are demanding more efficiency in direct-to-publisher buys, and that means agencies must start to embrace programmatic direct technologies.
  • User interfaces and user experiences are improving: Young people plan media. They are used to really cool web-based technologies, such as Snapchat and Twitter. Today’s platforms not only centralize workflow and data, but increasingly come with something even more critical to gaining user adoption: a nice interface. When we start building tools that people want to use and a user experience that maps to the tasks being performed online, adoption will quickly increase.
  • Prevalence of APIs: Today’s platforms are being built in an open, extensible way that enables linkage with other systems. Since there are so many phases in modern digital media planning (research, planning, buying, ad serving, reporting, billing) it makes sense for platforms to be able to talk to one another. While some legacy APIs are not the best, they are getting better. Servers-to-server integrations make a lot more sense than 23-year-old planners updating spreadsheets. As David Kenny, CEO of The Weather Company, once remarked, “If you are using people to do the work of machines, you are already irrelevant .”

Because of these factors, I expect 2013 will be the year that programmatic direct buying changes from a fun concept for a planners’ “lunch and learn” to a reality. It’s time for us to finally get cracking on stealing some of Microsoft’s ad technology market share.

[This post was originally pushed in AdExchanger]

The Elephant in the Room: Agency Compensation

June 28th, 2013

elephant-in-the-room

This article originally appeared in The Makegood.

Earlier this month, during the Agency-Only Day at the iMedia Agency Summit, I gave a presentation on agency automation and streamlining the media planning process. It’s a complicated and expensive process still done manually at most agencies. It’s a process that’s clearly ripe for automation and the seventy media executives in the room were all in vigorous agreement that modern media planning tools can bring huge productivity benefits. So, I was feeling great about my presentation because it clearly resonated with this group of experts.

However, at the end of my presentation, one digital media veteran who will remain anonymous raised his hand and said, “There’s an elephant in this room. I’m going to ask the question that everyone is thinking but is afraid to ask: do we really want to be more productive? After all, we get paid for our time and the slower we work the more we get paid.”

He was talking about the standard practice of “cost plus” billing: charging your client your team’s all-in labor costs plus a modest profit margin. Despite scoring lowest on the Grossman Grid of agency compensation alternatives, the 4A’s reports that time-based “cost plus” is the leading media agency pricing method today; 91% of proposals are priced this way.

In days past, media agencies got paid a fixed commission on the media they purchased on behalf of their clients. However, the commission model broke down with the advent of digital media because of its extra responsibilities and complexities: optimization, reporting, reconciliations, etc. The typical commission did not cover the cost of digital buying and was unprofitable for the agency.

Instead of fixing the root cause by streamlining operations, many agencies treated the symptoms by switching from commissions to cost plus pricing. Now these agencies are addicted to charging for their time and have a negative incentive to invest in automation to streamline their operations.

My on the spot answer to the Elephant in the Room Question was that by eliminating the “grunt work” these same resources can be re-deployed to higher value activities. Instead of copying and pasting 600 placements from Microsoft Excel into an ad server, your employees can spend time on media strategy, negotiations, and client consulting. The agency could bill higher rates for these high-value activities.

Everybody would be happy, right? Employees would be happier with more meaningful work. Agencies would increase profitability. Clients would get better results.

Later that day at the cocktail hour, I met up with the person who asked the Elephant in the Room Question. He said my answer is a nice bedtime story, but the reality is that automation is scary because it threatens revenue streams and people’s jobs.

Guess what? That is completely true.

If you work at an agency and spend more than 50% of your time doing things that are really boring (copying and pasting to create multiple spreadsheets), or really repetitive (typing fields from a spreadsheet into fields in an ad server’s UI), or really pedantic (pulling out monthly delivery numbers from a plan, so you can reconcile billing for a client), then your job is in danger. However, if you are really good at working with clients or doing media strategy and analysis, then your job is not only safe but you’re in a great position for a promotion when your grunt work is automated.

David Kenny once remarked that “if you are using people to do the work of machines, you are already irrelevant.” He was comparing what is was like running Akamai, which had a lot of computers and relatively few people , to an ad agency, whose “inventory goes down the elevator every night,” as another David (Ogilvy) once said. In the end, computers always win the low-value, repetitive tasks, whether it’s welding bolts onto a car—or trafficking ad tags.

The question agencies have to ask themselves is, “will my clients continue to pay me to do this kind of work?” That’s the real Elephant in the Room.

NextMark Now Enables Private Marketplaces for Direct Ad Buys

June 27th, 2013

private-marketplace

The latest release (version 2.2) of NextMark’s Digital Media Planner enables you to create your own private marketplaces of digital advertising programs. With tens of thousands of choices available, it’s a living nightmare to navigate to your ideal media plan. With NextMark’s Planner, you and your colleagues can now “endorse” preferred media programs and make them part of your private marketplace. Once endorsed, those programs get special priority in media plan formulation.

NextMark’s private marketplace is an antidote for the infamous clutter of the Display Lumascape. Now, media planning teams at advertising agencies can easily create and share a preferred vendor list.Instead of sifting through thousands of unqualified options, only those that are approved by your agency rise to the top of the heap.

For publishers, earning an agency endorsement gives you a huge advantage in winning the next media plan. Your work in building the relationship will be recognized in a concrete endorsement. And your endorsement will pay off every day by earning top placement in searches and recommendations.

NextMark is the first media planning tool to enable the creation of private marketplaces. It was created in response to frustrations expressed by both media planners and ad sales teams. This new feature is available immediately and free trials are available at www.NextMark.com/planner.

The Happiness Gap

June 27th, 2013

Today, I presented “The Happiness Gap” at Upstream Group’s Seller Forum. What a great way to spend the day! I highly recommend the Seller Forum for anyone in a senior position in digital ad sales. Doug Weaver is a fountain of knowledge. But this is no “sage on the stage” event. It’s a true forum where much of the value comes from talking with other attendees. Everyone there was top notch and willing to share both successes and failures.  During the day, I was able to validate ideas and came away with at least 5 new ideas. Best of all: I met a bunch of smart, new friends!

Here’s the quick summary of The Happiness Gap for digital publishers:

(1) More than half of your employees plan to leave in the next two years

(2) They are leaving because they are unhappy (no surprise, right?)

(3) The best way to retain them / make them happy is to provide training and a career path

For more, see the full presentation above. Let me know if you want to learn more.

 

Let’s End the Human Trafficking in Digital Media

June 6th, 2013

digital-switchboard-operators

This article originally appeared in The Makegood.

In the envisioned world of “programmatic direct,” computers buy all digital media automatically with astonishing efficiency and without human intervention. Contrast that with today’s reality: an army of DSOs – Digital Switchboard Operators – carrying out digital media plans using a manual 42-step process. On the buy side, this process typically requires 482 hours in media agency labor per campaign. On the sell side, anecdotal evidence indicates even more time is spent among the publishers.

One of the most time consuming, error prone, and soul crushing parts of the process is ad trafficking. Trafficking is the sub-process of setting up ad servers for a given campaign. Those not familiar with the digital media “sausage factory” might think this process is entirely automated and done with the click of a button. Nothing could be further from the truth. With directly sold ads, trafficking is done manually by humans employing a great deal of effort.

Here’s how it works today.

The trafficking process starts when media planning process ends. The advertising agency’s media planner hands the ad ops team the completed media plan, typically in an Excel spreadsheet format. This plan then gets handed to a typically junior-level ad trafficker. Assuming he has all the creative assets (humor me here, that’s a topic for another article!), the trafficker then logs into the agency ad server, creates a new campaign, and manually creates a placement for each line on the media plan. In Google’s popular DFA ad server, each placement requires filling out a complicated form with 33 fields. Now consider a 100 line media plan – that’s 33×100 = 3,300 fields to enter for a single campaign! He also has to upload and match all the creative assets. It’s virtually impossible to avoid making at least one mistake.

Once the agency’s trafficker completes his task, he generates a trafficking sheet from the ad server that contains all the ad serving tags for the campaign. Then he emails separate tag files to each publisher on the media plan.

Upon receipt, each publisher hands their trafficking sheet to their ad ops department. After verifying it matches the insertion order, the trafficking sheet is handed to a typically junior-level trafficker (sometimes called a tech specialist). Now he logs into the publisher’s ad server, creates a campaign, and manually creates a placement for each line on the trafficking sheet. Assuming no problems (another bad assumption), he notifies the agency trafficker it’s been completed.

Whew… That is a lot of work! And it’s all grunt work.

Consider an alternative future reality. Upon completion of the media plan, the agency media planner presses the “go” button on their media plan (note: this is definitely not in Excel). The campaign is automatically set up on the advertiser ad server, tags are generated and electronically send to the publisher ad server, the publisher ad server verifies against the insertion order then automatically creates all the placements and sends acknowledgement back to the agency planning system. This all happens in a matter of seconds without human intervention. It’s basically the same process as with the DSOs, except that it happens automatically in real-time and eliminates hours of soul-crushing work, delays, and mistakes.

Digital advertising just celebrated its 18th birthday. Don’t you think it’s time we finally ended human trafficking in digital media? Automating this process is not only the humane thing to do, but is necessary if we ever want to realize the promise of programmatic direct.

Tech for Direct: The Renaissance of Premium – NYC June 5th

May 31st, 2013

Tech for Direct: The Renaissance of Premium

Real-time bidding changed everything about how remnant inventory is bought and sold, and was responsible for dramatic efficiency gains for both advertisers and publishers. But we haven’t had the same level of a technological shift for the biggest piece of the pie for premium publishers: direct sales. There’s nothing efficient or advanced about sending spreadsheets back and forth, but until recently there wasn’t another option. With the rise of programmatic direct there’s finally technology that’s making direct sales sexy again, but is the industry ready for it?

Find out next Wednesday, June 5th in New York City at an event NextMark is co-hosting with Maxifier and iSocket called “Tech for Direct: The Renaissance of Premium.”  For more information and to request you invitation, go to the event website: http://techfordirect.com/

One Obvious Way to Save Publishing

May 30th, 2013

rescue

This article was originally published in The Makegood.

The publishing business is under siege by technology.

The New York Times is blaming exchange-traded media for its most recent declines in online display ad revenue. Federated Media just gave up on direct sales in favor of exchange-traded media. Meanwhile, CNET just reported that “Google generated $20.8 billion in ad revenue in the first six months of 2012, while the whole U.S. print media industry — newspapers and magazines — made only $19.2 billion.”

The trend is clear: publishers are losing and the advertising technology intermediaries are winning. Does this really have to be a win/lose situation? A key topic at publishers’ board meetings must be, “How do we wrestle back control and get the revenue and income we deserve?”

Here’s an obvious idea: make it easier for people to buy advertising from you.

Today’s process to buy a digital advertisement directly is a mess. It’s a manual 42-step process taking an average of 48 hours per insertion order and costing buyers more than $4k per IO (482 hours and $40k per campaign). The costs are even higher on the sell side. These high transaction costs are a main factor holding back digital advertising spending.

One of the big reasons that programmatic buying through exchanges is eroding your direct sales is because it’s so easy and efficient. The cost of an exchange transaction is effectively zero.

The reason that exchanges are so efficient is because of the adoption and implementation of electronic standards. Electronic standards are also the key to making direct sales more efficient.

Make it easy to learn about your advertising programs. Research tools like comScore and Nielsen do a great job of helping buyers find sites, but they don’t provide information about your advertising programs. Buyers spend way too much time just trying to figure out what you are selling. Everyone agrees the RFP process is obsolete. The IAB is helping to solve the information gathering problem with its free Digital Advertising Directory (disclosure: we built this for them), but the directory is still far from comprehensive or complete. Your active involvement is needed to improve your listings and to support this industry resource.

Make it easy to order from you. We’ve been talking about creating a standard electronic insertion order for years. There’s no good reason this has not been done. The IAB has been leading the effort creating an electronic insertion order as part of its eBusiness standards, but they need your support. Isn’t it about time we finished this work and implemented these standards?

Make it easy to implement ads. Copying and pasting ad server tags between Excel and the ad server is a slow and error prone process. This “human trafficking” needs to stop. This should happen automatically when the buyer presses the “buy now” button. Again, electronic standards are needed.

Make it easy to get reports. You guessed it. Electronic standards are needed for reporting, too.

Make it easy to pay you. There’s a significant amount of time wasted invoicing and resolving discrepancies. A standard electronic invoice has also been in the works for quite a while. Let’s finish this.

Make it all work together. Buyers and sellers each need to buy or build systems that implement these electronic standards.  Nobody has yet built the ultimate system, but vendors are working towards automating of the direct buy. On the buy side, you’ve got MediaOcean, Facilitate, Centro, and NextMark (my company). On the sell side, you’ve got Operative,  iSocket, AdSlot, FatTail, and ShinyAds. These vendors share a common vision and are working together and with the IAB to implement interoperability standards that will streamline the workflow.

Given the age and size of digital advertising, it’s hard to understand why these basic building blocks aren’t already in place. There’s no real innovation needed. Electronic workflow has been done in many other industries. It’s basic blocking and tackling from an engineering standpoint. With an industry as innovative and digital as ours, we owe it to ourselves to get this done.

Implementing these electronic standards is not a silver bullet that will alone save publishing in the digital age. However, it’s one obvious way to unlock revenue and profits from direct sales. That’s not only good for advertisers, agencies, and publishers; a healthy Fourth Estate is good for society as a whole.

SRDS vs. NextMark data card database updates

May 21st, 2013

SRDS vs. NextMark Data Card Updates

This morning, SRDS posted a tweet proclaiming, “Our data team made 8,501 updates the SRDS.com database in April.” One of our clients forwarded this to me and asked, “How many updates does NextMark make in a month? How does this compare to SRDS?”

Those are important questions. Having access to up-to-date data cards in a searchable database of media programs is critical in making efficient and effective media purchasing decisions for your clients.  So, we did the research to find the answers.

During April 2013, we made 63,991 data card updates to the NextMark database. That’s more than 7.5 times the number of updates SRDS made during the same period.  Furthermore, our monthly average for 2013 is slightly higher at 66,005 updates per month. As the numbers have proven, NextMark is delivering on our commitment to provide you with the world’s best database of advertising opportunities.

Want better media planning decision-making data in 18 different media channels? Use NextMark’s Multi-Channel Media Planner for traditional direct marketing channels and the new Digital Media Planner for digital advertising channels.