There’s a big irony in media and entertainment. Behind the sleek, all-digital streaming experiences that viewers love to binge, there’s likely someone from ad ops manually entering the video advertising campaign orders on a keyboard or even sifting through a stack of paper orders.

Welcome to advertising operations, the often unsung, undigitized hero that cable companies and programmers rely on to execute video advertising campaigns. While similar islands of legacy processes exist in every company, ad ops is striking for a couple of reasons. One, it’s under tremendous pressure from advertisers to match the metrics-focused campaign experiences offered by more digital competitors such as social media platforms. It needs to modernize, big time.

Second, ad ops is also emblematic of the stark reality that many functions find much harder to address: The way it works doesn’t work as well anymore.

The More Things Change

In the pre-digital days, ad ops was straightforward, with media companies selling ad spots that ran during TV programming. With digital content, ad ops has expanded its portfolio to include targeted, audience-based advertising through online display ads and social media platforms – and the burden on its processes has become infinitely more complex.

Native digital companies, however, excel at connecting video advertisers with niche audiences. Not only do they deliver eyeballs through an expansive roster of advertising services, but they also have the metrics to prove it. Naturally, advertisers expect the same capabilities from their TV-focused campaigns.

Ad ops leaders tell me they feel like they’re treading water. Saddled with outdated technology and processes, they’re struggling to manage the growing clamor of advertisers demanding a simpler experience.

Improving the Buy Experience

Budget isn’t always the problem. Many ad ops leaders we work with say funding is available for new technologies such as chatbots, robotic process automation and artificial intelligence that can reduce costs and human hand-offs and also increase accuracy and time-to-air.

Yet investing in new solutions and technology alone doesn’t automatically translate to an optimal advertiser experience. It’s one thing to implement technology; it’s another to create a seamless media buy and execution experience that encourages advertisers to renew and buy more impactful campaigns.

What often stands in the way of change is a topic many companies find too political to address: the lack of alignment between ad sales and ad ops teams. This disconnect is a sticking point for many companies and can lead to functional paralysis and poorly executed campaigns. Frequently, there’s no standardized view of the client experience or responsibility for tasks and outcomes.

Finding New Ways to Work

Here are a few tips for media companies – and any organization – to begin the sometimes uncomfortable discussions that can lead to new ways of work.

  • Gather the right stakeholders. Surprisingly, we see many media clients plan problem-solving discussions without including both ad sales and ad ops leaders. Politics aside, both groups must be at the table to holistically improve the experience. Similarly, clients often leave out key stakeholders such as human resources. At a recent project with a cable company, the head of human resources for advertising was instrumental in repeatedly bringing the conversation back to the role of training sales and ops teams to deliver the right experience.
  • Define your promise to the customer. What’s typically missing at a strategic level is the answer to a basic question: What are we committing to when we sell and deliver a campaign? A first step is agreeing on the baseline of what advertisers should expect, such as maximum timelines to develop creative or get an ad to air. By committing to consistent, transparent communications and reporting both during and after the campaign, media companies can ensure advertisers feel heard and understand campaign performance.
  • Let customer experience drive the process. Process maps often don’t mirror reality, particularly for complex campaigns requiring different types of ad inventory and targeted, audience-based products. Before assessing your current state, consider how you want to treat the advertiser at every step of the ad sales and campaign. Ensure that marketing and ad sales leaders are part of the discussions on the experience that ad ops will help deliver.
  • Gain visibility into your data. Lack of data visibility is a common pain point among media companies. Many teams are unable to map data across their advertising programs and investments. How can they get a better understanding of advertisers’ needs and the types of audiences that will meet them? How can they leverage data from third-party vendors and strengthen the integration of these data sources? The upshot is that if you don’t have the processes and the experience defined, your data only helps you so much.
  • Perform simple standardization in-house. Companies don’t necessarily need to hire a vendor to create standardized processes for simple ad orders. But they do need to have the right conversations and be honest about the experiences they want to create for internal and external clients. The goal is to understand the different ways to that end – and then develop a single, less varied process, where possible. Minimize handoffs and keep any promised timelines.

Ad ops is far from alone in its need to modernize – nor in its efforts to move toward a solution. By following these steps, ad ops can ensure every dollar invested in modernization will make the organization more effective and sustainable.

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Daniel Weinbaum

Daniel Weinbaum

Daniel is a Senior Manager within Cognizant’s consulting arm. He helps leading media companies rethink how they interact with and monetize their... Read more