For the last five months I have entrenched myself in the realm of SEM management, specifically from the standpoint of the faculties that marketers use to manage SEM campaigns. While it is expected to find many small SEM shops, small agencies and direct advertisers using extensive Microsoft Excel worksheets and complicated manual workflow to manage their SEM, it has been shocking to see how many larger online spenders (+/- $1 M per month) are also operating on a manual basis. There are still many firms that have integrated some technology into their workflow and then a fewer number of agencies that have built proprietary workflow that includes some level of technology. But the overall impression that I have gleaned from my experience thus far is that (1) SEM advertisers and agencies are either afraid to break from their manual processes, trading inefficiency that is known for potential significant efficiency that is associated with change and the unknown; and (2) the impression of the technologies that are available in the market do not necessarily meet the necessary requirements of an SEM. The latter of these two observations stems from poor experiences with one or more vendors in the space. Continue reading
A non-so-funny thing goes on at an advertiser, people don’t always take the time to look within and understand how other people do their jobs so that they can to figure out how to best work together. “Am I doing my job the best way I can? Is she doing things that I can learn from to improve how I work? God-forbid I expose my bad habits to someone.”
Sure there is such a thing as hierarchy and a manager is suppose to manage people; and that person’s Director is suppose to manage a group of managers who subsequently oversees the operation. But that chain of command is usually too busy to stop and look at operational procedure. They expect their people to be good at what they do, to manage their time wisely and to improve themselves where improvement is needed.
Of course we have that one-on-one meeting where the manager opens up the coffers to see where they can ‘help’ but seldom does an employee ever expose the belly and asks for help in fear of showing real signs of weakness.
Peers also seem to fail to look over their shoulders to see how each other do their respective roles. Everyone wants to look competent. Comparing yourself to someone to see whether you are doing something well or efficiently seems to be a sign of weakness. More so, exposing your processes to your manager for scrutiny or comparison or for suggestive advice is like going to the urologist or gynecologist, it can result in the most humiliating examination. God forbid.
I have sat with people from my company and from other companies and asked sales people some routine questions. “Do you know about other products in the organization – outside those you are responsible for selling.” Of course they say yes. “So what do you do when you encounter a prospect who does not want what you have to sell? Do you switch-hit and try to sell them a product line from a different part of your business, creating a warm lead for someone else?” The response is usually something like: “Ugh, no. I don’t know their products well enough to do that.” Clearly people do not necessarily have the knowledge about the inner working of other parts of their company to represent it.
I have sat with Account Managers within my company and at clients and watched how 5 people within a department all have their own trafficking worksheets, all optimize campaigns differently and all have their own campaign performance reports that they work from. One person takes down all the banners that don’t perform well in the morning and replaces them with the new ones in the afternoon while someone else takes down poor performers and replaces them with new ones placement-by-placement all day long. Which approach is better? Which is more efficient? I don’t know but I also know the manager hasn’t been looped in on the different approaches to determine the answer either.
When peers within an organization are devising their own way of doing things, it is a clear indication that the company has a poor initial training process. Trial by fire is a common practice in our space. We’re all moving so fast that we throw new hires into the mix, give them a PC and some basic rules of engagement and then have them figure out the rest from there. Rather than having our managers sit-down and develop operating roles for their teams, people are given longer ropes to run with (and potentially hang themselves with) and what results is inconsistencies in practices.
It’s terribly difficult for a manager to begin to marginalize her operation when her people are not consistent with how they conduct their work, utilize their time and do their jobs. When you have two direct reports it is one thing. But when you have 5 or 10, its time to start thinking about time allocation and resource management? How much time does someone spend working with the ad server? How much time does someone spend reformatting reports each day? How much time does someone spend trafficking placements? How much time does someone spend evaluating proposals from publishers? When you start to measure the metrics around the operation of your peoples’ time you will start to be able to recognize where the costs of doing business reside.
When people are spending 75% of their time interacting with an ad server, and that is not billable time for an agency, something is wrong. Evaluate the ad server you are using and see whether it is best for your business. Do you want to pay someone $60,000 a year to do manual data entry or do you want to pay $100/hr to someone else to setup your campaigns and outsource your trafficking role? You can’t answer these questions if your people are not (1) conducting their work the same way, and (2) not measuring how long it takes to do their work.
This is not about reduction in workforce. It’s about having the right people doing the right work the same way. If you are an advertiser, think about what your senior people spend their time doing. In Hidden Media Costs Associated with Online Advertising (Ad-tech) – Some Real Good Data (http://arikaufman.com/2006/11/09/hiddenmediacostsassociatedwithonlineadvertising.aspx) I provide data on how much time senior executives spend finding data and reformatting reports using data they have used in the past. This illustrates the amount of time that people waste in a given month – almost 40%! The crazy thing is that with today’s technologies it is possible to have dashboards and data imports that do these things for you. TruEffect’s TruAdvertiser.xls™ feeds performance data into preformatted pivot tables and charts within Microsoft® Excel and update on the fly for example. Site-side analytics software like Omniture or WebTrends keep running tabs on your web site patterns in real-time.
Knowing how people do their job is paramount to knowing how to improve them. Fostering an environment within which people feel comfortable to collaborate and interact is half the battle. Cross-product training is empowering people to feel like they not only understand the rest of the company they work for but that they can represent it. This is not just for sales, but for other parts of the company as well. If Account Managers understand Business Development, they can warm a lead that they meet in a bar. If a trafficking manager understands analytics they can better understand how to set up the ad server to produce more data. Within roles, people should collaborate and present their approaches to each other to foster cross-training so that people get ideas on how to improve their own processes. We should not be working in silos. The one-on-one meeting should not be a manager asking the employee “what can I do for you?” it should be “here are things I can do for you.”
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Liza Virissimo’s piece in iMediaConnection this morning does a stunning job of bringing to light the potential value of the trafficking role within an ad agency. But what a way to intro the position of trafficker than to describe a person as someone “…who spends his or her days performing a monotonous role filled with mundane tasks, and who is condemned to a career of dull operational jobs.”
The article argues that the Trafficker offers the agency expertise pertaining to campaign implementation, optimization maximization, and reporting effectiveness which can translate into proper client communication. Liza argues that this role should be better positioned in front of the client and leveraged during the planning process so that the trafficker can be even better in their role.
But the problem is in the very nature of the role. How many aspects of online advertising operations are comprised of band-aided techniques that have been slapped together over time, never organized or operationalized into an efficient set of procedures that maximize time and resources? The role of trafficker is probably the single biggest source of wasted time, resource and talent on the online advertising team.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Liza’s article points toward the potential of traffickers, the value locked up in the vault, but fails to point out the solutions.
Think about the evolution of the online advertising agency, or the online advertising operation within a larger agency. It started off with the red-headed step-child in the corner of the room with the tattoos and the ear rings that nobody understood. You sort of left him alone because it was edgy and not understoood. But new media was also something that you did to be different or because someone in the orginization had a gut feeling that you needed to go there. There weren’t any models to follow because all of the traditional ones simply didn’t fit. Media planning tools didn’t exist, trafficking tools didn’t exist and ad servers were coming in with their own models on how to do things.
And it grew. People were hired and things developed organically. Business plans were never written, or never followed. And things exploded. Some operations deployed ad servers and others went site-serving with creative, but all of them evolved (stressing the organic development approach here) their own internal operational models that heavily relied on the use of Microsoft Excel spreadsheets.
Nobody stopped to say, okay we better plan out how we are going to run this place so we don’t grow out of control. Things were growing too fast and the money was flowing in and the clients were lining up and so there was no time. No time to plan. No time to get it organized.
So it came down to the applications that everyone knew how to use. Microsoft Excel. Spreadsheets were used to capture media plans and to keep track of budgets. As proposals came in from publishers on word docs and PowerPoint files, the meat of them were cut out and dropped into spreadsheets. Negotiations resulted in more spreadsheets. Creative were produced and the names of the files were listed on more spreadsheets. Creative and buys were matched up to create placements and trafficking documents were produced on, you guessed it, spreadsheets.
Then the “trafficking role” was created, the person who entered everything into the ad server, managed the campaign and the reporting. Plus, in the end, the data would be sucked back out of an ad server and dumped back into spreadsheets again. Who was going to hand a report with the ad servers header on it to a client!?! Nope, had to reformat everything. All of these steps were the dump-everything-else work in a bucket work that comprised the trafficking role.
Here is the crazy part … every agency devised their own way of doing this … their own spreadsheets … actually every employee within every agency – all the media planners and traffickers – they also created their own spreadsheets. No continuity.
THERE ARE MORE SPREADSHEETS IN THE AD AGENCY INDUSTRY THEN YOU CAN POSSIBLY IMAGINE!
Why do I know all of this? How could I know all of this? Well for one thing if you are an ad agency person and you are reading this, you already know that I am right. You’re nodding your head and blushing in embarrassment because you know that it is freaking scary how discombobulated your agency is alone. If one media planner walks out and gets hit by a bus, another media planner can’t simply pick up where she left off because she first has to figure out his spreadsheets!
TruEffect spent a year studying this situation during our R&D phase of our next generation ad server, TruAdvertiser.xls™. And then we built our ad server in Microsoft Excel with a consolidated set of spreadsheet templates that enable ad agencies to conform to a unified set of procedures that mirrors the most common set of procedures in practice today. It’s not the one-size fits all model, because they are customizable spreadsheets. And because it is Microsoft Excel, you can tweak the look, feel and format of the workbooks to better suit your needs. But it is Microsoft Excel which is clearly the most widely used application in the industry.
So Liza talks to us about the role of trafficking. And she helps us see the potential value of this individual to the team. But the trafficking person is so heavily bogged down receiving multiple media planning workbooks – all in different formats from different media planners – and working with different trafficking documents that they waste tremendous time. Then there is the BIG time-drain. Traffickers manually enter placements into ad servers. Yikes! Manual labor.
That is crazy. In this day and age it would be better served to upgrade to Windows Vista and “speak” the inputs into an ad server than to type them in. Kidding. Who knows if Microsoft finally got the voice recognition thing right.
It’s just crazy to think that in 2007 the speed at which you can type is still so important. Technology solutions should be racing ahead and doing this kind of trivial work for us! And it can.
DART has a bulk upload worksheet. If you take the bulk upload Excel spreadsheet they provide and key in your placements you can upload to DART your placements. It spits out an attempt to match your publisher entries with their data-based publishers so you can accept/reject and then it assigns campaign ID’s. You match up and re-upload and then (hopefully) you’re done. Your buys are in the system. Then you login to DART, upload your creative and match everything up one-at-a-time and your placements are set and off you go. So, PART of the process can be automated. Your insertions can be automated. But you still have to match creative to insertion to create placements.
With DoubleClick, if you use MediaVisor (their media planning suite), then you can automate more. But few agencies want to shift their entire media planning, buying, RFPs and I/O process onto DC’s system unless they are wholly running on DC. Everything is locked up on their servers and you have no in-house records of anything. An ASP model gives you no ownership of your operational data and that’s scary. What if you stop using MediaVisor one day? You walk away from all of your records. Or you pay handsomely to get some flat-file format that you have to pay even more money to make usable.
A lot of agencies use more than one ad server or – like I described before – are still embedded in their band-aided operation of Microsoft Excel and can’t climb out of that deep dark rabbit hole. There just is not time to stop and fix the problem. Must charge forward and ‘deal with it later.’ So using MediaVisor would mean divorcing from the Excel environment that everyone is familiar with. Huge training costs, loss of knowledge and major decrease in efficiency until every becomes familiar and efficient again. Unlikely transition.
Atlas has a bulk upload worksheet that works in a similar way to DC. Your insertions can be uploaded but then you still have to create your placements one at a time as well. Atlas DMT’s media planning suite offers additional integration but you have the same issues as MediaVisor. However I do hear that their RFP tools are better.
So the problem, back to the trafficker, is the rest of the process. I have bolded the parts that we can fix with automation below, the parts that represent the BIGGEST waste of time:
1. Generate tags for advertiser’s web site
2. Manage tagging of advertiser’s web site
3. Receive the Trafficking worksheet
4. Enter the insertions (buys) into the ad server
5. Up load create (one at a time or in bulk) into the ad server
6. Match create to insertions to create placements (one at a time)
7. Assign unique click-thru URLs
8. Set start/end dates of placements
9. Set placement weights, min/max, targeting, etc.
10. Traffic tags
11. Launch campaign
12. Generate reports
13. Rotate creative
14. Optimize campaign
If we eliminate the manual tasks and automate processes, we give the trafficker MORE time to do things that require thought: strategic work that can have a greater impact on the campaign’s performance and deliver greater value to the client.
TruEffect’s TruAdvertiser.xls™ allows a user to upload insertions from Microsoft Excel in bulk, like the other ad servers I have described – STEP 4. But then the automation continues.
STEP 5 – Creative can be dragged-and-dropped across the spreadsheet and directly uploaded to the ad server in bulk as well. Rich media, traditional media, whatever. The creative library is visible from within Excel and the list of creative properties (name, file type, etc.) appear in the spreadsheet.
STEP 6 – My favorite part of TruAdvertiser.xls™ is the automation of placements. TruAdvertiser.xls™ empowers a user to create all possible placements in one click. Why other ad servers can’t thoughtfully do this is beyond me. They have all the information to make these sort of decisions. But they dont do it.
in TruAdvertiser.xls™, the user Drags-and-drops the creative file over the spreadsheet to the insertion list and the ad server automatically assigns every ad to every dimensionally possible site/site section insertion. So all possible placements are made. Then a user simply deletes placements that are not desired, which only takes a matter of minutes as the spreadsheet list can be sorted by any column header.
Placement weighting is simple. Rotation assignments, starts/stops, targeting – everything is just a couple of clicks following the quick-fill creation of the campaign schedule. The amount of time saved in building a campaign schedule through this tool is significant. Really significant.
STEP 10 – Trafficking tags should be automated with any of the top ad servers. If yours doesn’t do it, find another one. An ad server should auto-generate tags and send them to publishers. They should give you the option of sending them to you or to the publisher or both.
STEP 12 – Campaign Reports should be automated as well. The days of going into a report queue and selecting from a menu of HTML report lists are over. You should be able to build custom reports, slap your logo on there and have them ready for you whenever you want them on the fly. Reports should be client-ready. There is NO reason why you should be building and re-formatting reports over and over again. This is ABSOLUTELY a huge waste of time and if your trafficking person is doing it, change this!
Some ad servers will push reports to you by email. But if they still require formatting that is a problem. If they are not client-ready you are not saving enough time.
I don’t know of any other solution … and I SWEAR I have been looking … that accomplishes this other than TruAdvertiser.xls™. The reports are all in Microsoft Excel to begin with. A user builds their reports one time using pivot tables and graphs, so the analysis capabilities are extensive. They format the reports one time, and ad any logos or other elements they want and save them. From that point forward any advertiser, brand or campaign can be viewed for any time period in that report right on the desktop. The data is drawn in by Microsoft Excel live, in real-time. No reformatting of report again. Build as many tabs in a single workbook as you want and you’re good to go.
STEPS 13 + 14 – Creative Rotation and Campaign Optimization are both automated features of any qualified ad server. They are inherently different and a good ad server manager should understand this. Creative rotation involves the use of weighting, storyboarding and mins/max displays. Optimization can be manual or automated. Careful with auto-opt as if you are too aggressive you will burn through your creative. Make sure you are auto-optimizing on the right metric.
So back to the trafficker. By no means do I propose the elimination of the role but the elevation of the role. Give that person the tools that s/he needs to break free of the data-entry tasks. Give him the ability to streamline tasks that don’t need to be done manually and let him take back brain-power so that he can be a contributor to the strategic side of the team. A trafficker with more time could become an analyst of the data who can make decisions and a source of solid recommendations on the media buy process during the campaign, when it comes to renewing placements. She can offer the team creative input and interface with the client with optimization recommendations pertaining to new placement-creative combinations.
While we might expect these things from an Ace-trafficker already, they can’t possible be effective when they have so little time! Recapture their time with good technology.
Want to know more? Look at Hidden Media Costs Associated with Online Advertising (Ad-tech) – Some Real Good Data
Think about Liza Virissimo’s piece in iMediaConnection, “…[she] who spends her days performing a monotonous role filled with mundane tasks, and who is condemned to a career of dull operational jobs…” won’t be satisfied in that job, won’t work very hard over a prolonged period of time and probably won’t stick around very long. There is a reason why the trafficking role is the entry level job with the highest level of turn-over. People get the experience they need and get the hell out of there. But if you make the role less monotonous and more fulfilling, more meaningful and challenging, you will be building a career path within your organization.
Reactionary with Insight.
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It is amazing to me. Over the last two months, I have won more clients due to the competition providing poor customer service than for any other reason. My competitors seem to be falling short in this most basic area. But this seems to be a broader problem. Not only are vendors getting sloppy with regard to providing quality client service, but it is becoming acceptable.
When companies are small, they pay attention to the details. They coddle their clients and they hand-hold each deal because they are precious. As the company grows – especially when they grow fast – they can sometimes lose sight of the relationships that got them there in the first time. I’ve seen this happen and have been guilty of it myself. But I also have been quick to back-step and make right when I realize that I have fallen prey to the “getting too big too fast” mentality.
Relationships are paramount to any business’ success, and yet in seems that in this business, vendors can be flip about it. Especially when it comes to client services. Sales people are big on developing the relationship and ‘solution selling’ to get the creatively constructed deal, but when it comes to follow-through is when the relationships fall short.
With ad servers, clients complain about never hearing from their Account Managers. “I never get a call returned,” is something I commonly hear. “They never respond to my technical issues” is another. Being relegated to a 1-800 number and never getting the same person twice is a very impersonal level of client support. It’s like calling Dell or Citibank. You’re just an anonymous number and in the corporate world, people expect more from their vendors.
Publishers are guilty on the sales side as well. So many of my clients tell me that they don’t have big enough budgets to get the attention they deserve out of Yahoo!, AOL or MSN. They may spend $50,000/mos on one campaign but that’s not enough. Money talks unfortunately and it shows when it comes to service.
Relationships go a long way in business and talk is cheap. For me, I try real hard to explain to prospective clients that my company has a different way of going about servicing its clients. We care about out customers and we personalize our services. We’re not a goliath but we’ve been through the growing pains and have managed to keep perspective on the value of our clients. But the proof is in the pudding. My team and their actions are what matters the most. The fact that they follow through is where the difference is made. I develop relationships but my associates grow them. We work together closely to make sure that happens. Perhaps that is the difference.
When I talk to clients about their experience with other ad servers, with publishers and with networks, I ask about their client satisfactions levels. They don’t have good things to report. It’s not all complaints, just never rave reviews. There is a lot of room for improvement out there. Customer loyalty levels are not based on the relationship values right now If your product is not performing at or above expectations, if client experience with your product or service is not at or above satisfaction level, you may lose the business. Whereas, if the relationship were stronger you might have a chance to improve things since the clients would come to you with their problems, offering you the opportunity to improve on the situation. Even more importantly, if the relationships were stronger, you would already be aware of problems and could proactively be correcting them.
Client service is the foundation of your business. Don’t let that slip because when you do, someone who cares more about relationships will be waiting to take advantage of it. Your clients will pay attention to that.
Reactionary with Insight.
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I read an article in iMediaConnection this morning by Jim Meskauskas. I am actually reading a lot of articles this weekend as the holiday is affording me the opportunity to catch up!
Jim wrote an article this week called: Use Failure to Your Advantage. He talked about his experience with a brand new media assistant and the reminiscent experience of having to take someone through the process from scratch.
Jim’s article brought me to a different place, establishing habits at the beginning that will stick with you throughout your career. A hiring manager can have a huge influence on you and the time that s/he spends with you during those first few days are critical. At an agency, so much of the way things are done are ad hoc that very little is standardized or processed with a sense of consistency across the entire organization.
I need to put this into context. TruEffect’s ad server, TruAdvertiser.xls, leverages Microsoft Excel as the UI for the entire process of media planning, campaign management and reporting and analysis. Our clients do not login to a web-based ad server to manage their campaigns. They plan, manage digital assets, schedule creative, traffic and generate reports all from within a Microsoft Excel workbook. It is a workflow automation tool that auto-magically (to quote our VP of Product Development) populates the ad servers with the required information to generate campaigns in real-time. Furthermore, users create reports and format them on-the-fly in Excel that auto-update. Data is streaming into analytical picot tables and charts that the users create. No longer do people have to download reports into Excel and then reformat them to look like their agency’s production. They create a template once and then simply select the advertiser, brand and campaign and all the data freely flows into the report cells in real-time.
Jim’s post got me thinking about workflow and standardization of workflow, workflow automation and even the most simplistic workflow consistency. TruEffect’s product suite was built with all of this in mind. When Jim brought on a new media assistant he had a beautiful new opportunity. Sure, he had to teach her ‘what an impression’ was and a click-thru and ‘why certain tabular results mean better things than others,’ but he had the opportunity to guide her in a direction to build positive workflow habits that would later create significant value to him and his agency.
The critical bottleneck to online advertising management at an agency is time. I provided some really good data in my post, “Hidden Media Costs Associated with Online Advertising (Ad-tech) – Some Real Good Data” that identified the lack of standardization of workflow within most agencies. People spend a tremendous amount of time doing the same things, differently. Collecting data, formatting reports, re-formatting reports and creating multiple versions of the same processes, which should be standardized across the agency, suck a lot of time out of a firm.
This new media assistant that Jim hired will initially follow the processes that Jim laid out for her; using DART to create a campaign based on trafficking worksheets, generating reports in DART, and downloading data into a format that she has seen. But over time she will begin to take some latitude. She will start to change the trafficking worksheets to make them “more efficient” for her. She will change the output reports to reflect what she begins to find to be more relevant and she will begin to create media planning worksheets that feed the trafficking process in a way that is better for her. This will happen over time and will happen as she goes from being a media planning assistant to eventually being an assistant media planner. But as this happens she will re-create a process that already exists within the agency. In fact, and in all likelihood, this process already exists several times over within the agency. Each of the people that do this job, probably do it in their own slightly unique way.
From research that TruEffect conducted during our R&D period, we found that over 90% of the agencies that we surveyed all had multiple versions of the same procedures being conducted at the same time by people in the same positions. Each media planner had their own versions of their own media planning worksheets, RFPs, media buying management spreadsheets and preliminary documents that led to a trafficking worksheet. Traffickers used various formats of Excel worksheets to transfer data into ad servers and data that was exported from ad servers went through various procedures into a wide range of to-be-formatted reports. Standardized procedures were non-existent within some of the largest agencies in our space. NY offices with 80 Media planners had 80 versions of the same worksheets. San Francisco offices had difference worksheets than the Chicago office of another agency. If someone working on an account were to go out and get hit by a bus, nobody could step right in and pick up where that person left off without having to go through a learning curve to figure out where everything was. There is very little standardization of procedures in the media planning and online advertising management space.
So when I read Jim’s article, and the title: Use Failure to Your Advantage, my mind spun to this topic before even reading it. After reading his article all I could think about was the great opportunity that he had to create a positive set of habits with this new person at the beginning. If IKON International is procedural and standardized, then it is uniquely wonderful and this new assistant has joined a place where she will learn good habits right out of school. But if it is like most agencies she is embarking on a career that will be rife with chaos. Jim has the opportunity to introduce a series of processes and practices up front that will send this person on her way towards being an efficient member of his team. Down the road she will know where her data is because it will be organized. As she is promoted she will train others in her practiced methodology and it will become more widely practiced. With time, time will be recaptured by the agency.
Standardization of repeat processes improves efficiency because people can more easily move in and out of roles. They can more easily identify where to find information within the organization.
TruEffect built an ad server that integrates proceduralized ad serving with standardized media planning and reporting, and put the whole thing into Microsoft Excel – where 90% of the industry already manages their lives. We have found that the learning curve is very short and that our clients are using our tools to introduce standard practices to their organizations. Our clients are recapturing vital segments of time and resources to better allocate towards things like strategic planning and analysis.
There is nothing more wonderful than having the opportunity to work with a blank canvas. Be it a new campaign, a new account or a new hire. It’s up to the manager to decide whether good habits or bad habits will be created. Good luck Jim, guide her well.
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