The Perfectionist’s Guide to Ad Operations: Part 1

Blog   |   Operative Team   |   September 4, 2014

Imagine you run an ad ops team at your organization (if you already do, this will be easy). You arrive at work to find a slew of trafficking requests that have come to you via email, excel, shared docs, or maybe even a sticky note strategically placed on your computer screen.

You’re handed a report of all the campaigns that are currently under- or over-delivering, with a strong admonition that your top clients need to be kept happy. Your traffickers complain that their queues are too long, and your list of makegoods seems to grow no matter how many times you tell your teams to double check inventory availability.

You are not alone.

Digital advertising is incredibly complex. According to the IAB, the average number of line items per order has increased by 46% in the past two years, while the number of production systems is growing almost as quickly, up over 40%. Clients today want highly targeted campaigns turned around quickly and they want to see tangible results.

Consequently, the majority of today’s media operations are haphazard and reactive, which leads to high error rates, needless makegoods, and ultimately, lost revenue. This is unfortunate and frankly, unnecessary.

Every organization is unique, but companies that are able to maintain profitable ad ops have one thing in common: an established and well-documented campaign process that provides their talented ad ops managers a framework for success.

In this post, we give you our formula for building a successful ad ops process, starting with the campaign launch.  

Let’s get started.


Step 1: Receive Request

A well-managed system for gathering and tracking client requests is the foundation for a strong ad ops workflow. If you can’t organize your requests, the process breaks before it even begins.

Use a program to standardize and automate the process to ensure that no requests go unanswered, and that all information is properly gathered from the outset. If you don’t have a program, use a person. Make sure you have a single defined method of case entry, and a dedicated case manager whose only job is to collect, check, and organize orders for ticketing.

Step 2: Ticket Request

Having a predefined and organized process for ticketing is vital. It has to be logical, consistent, and easy for your traffickers to access and understand. Any confusion about ownership or client needs will plague a campaign, leading to errors and greatly increasing its chances for under-delivery. We use a proprietary system that automatically sorts and tickets requests, but as long as your process is organized, it can be done using anything from Outlook to sticky notes. (Please don’t use sticky notes.)

For best results, prioritize your requests by the following parameters:

  • Complexity
  • Client expectations/SLA
  • Estimated turnaround time

There are two options for assigning requests. You can choose the one that works best for your organization:

The first is to assign requests by client account. This ensures clearly defined roles and communication channels. When your ops managers know they are responsible for a specific client’s needs, rather than just general trafficking, it promotes a sense of ownership and instills high levels of accountability.

The second option is to organize your requests by system. Some companies have employees that are very experienced in specific ad servers, so it can be more efficient to divide a single client’s IO among multiple traffickers based on their knowledge and server skill level.

Step 3: Inventory Availability Check

Let’s assume at least that your salespeople are always selling inventory that exists. (If you’re not sure that’s the case, you probably need a whole other solution.) However, just because the inventory was there when it was sold, doesn’t mean that your campaign is guaranteed to deliver without issue. Before you launch anything, you need to double check to make sure the availability hasn’t changed. Be sure to check your campaign’s inventory against things like:

  • Makegoods stealing inventory
  • Traffic changes
  • Optimized campaigns overlapping on inventory
  • Site redesigns

Be thorough – do the hard work now to avoid unwanted issues later.

Step 4: Pre-QA

Before trafficking a single line, put your teams through a strict Pre-QA Checklist, to establish that nothing thus far has slipped through the cracks. This ensures that valuable hours will not be wasted later with unnecessary exchanges between sales, planning and ad ops.

Our traffickers do not move on to step 5 unless all Pre-QA boxes are checked off. Yours shouldn’t either.

Step 5: Trafficking

Because every client has a different business process and there are a variety of ad server options, this is where process can get in its own way – if you’re not careful. The solution is to create custom documentation for each of your clients, outlining trafficking guidelines and technical requirements for every step in the campaign process. It should be a living, breathing document, because when the process changes (it will, we promise) the document should too.

A separate custom document should define relationship expectations for each client, detailing your shared line of communication and highlighting roles, responsibilities and expectations.

These documents ensure that when you inevitably lose traffickers from your team, as is the way of the world, the client-specific knowledge they hold is not lost with them.

HERE’S A TIP: Even the best systems can be undermined by an unexpected influx in orders to traffic. You need to be able to provide immediate support if one team gets slammed with requests, which happens all the time in our line of work. Scalability is vital for effective resource allocation. Use these documents to cross-train your teams on all client accounts (even though they are focused and accountable to their own) so that they can quickly transition when backup is needed.

Step 6: QA

At this point in the process, all line items are now in the server, but have not yet gone live. Before that happens, the real QA list has to be completely checked off.  This seems like an obvious step, but the problem many publishers have is that they are not asking the right questions. Over the years we have developed an extensive checklist that offers maximized efficiency and minimized errors.

Click here to download our QA Checklist

Step 7: Screenshots

The bane of every trafficker’s existence. Just kidding (kind of). As targeting gets more complex, and viewability keys up as a measurement standard, screenshots become increasingly important to clients. In order to maintain consistency and accountability, traffickers should each be responsible for pulling screenshots for their respective accounts (with the all-hands-on-deck mentality activated if one client needs a lot done quickly).

Important tricks of the trade for creating
successful screenshots include:

  • Pulling from multiple geos, not just local ones
  • Pulling on over- or under-pacing lines
  • Pulling on a variety of browsers, devices and apps
  • Pulling for specific targeting (by creating a proxy)

If you’re having difficulty with screenshots, tell us! We know it’s hard to do, but we have our ways, and we are happy to share them with you.

Step 8: Reporting & Reconciliation

Don’t waste your time pulling reports. Set up automated reports in the ad server or ad business management system based on primary and 3rd party delivery. We use a proprietary software solution in conjunction with AdJuster to automatically compare line items, but Excel spreadsheets can also be used if you have the time, patience and diligence to manually associate thousands of lines without human error.  This is the final safety net to catch any remnant issues so that they can be immediately corrected.

 Proof of Success

Our teams traffic over 150,000 lines per month – we have no choice but to come up with the most efficient workflow while maintaining the high quality standards that our premier clients have come to expect from us.

Operative trafficking teams follow every single one of these steps on a daily basis and, as a result, our average accuracy rate is currently holding strong at 99.9%. And our campaigns are launched with unbeatable turnaround times, leaving plenty of hours in the week for campaign management.  Optimization is the real moneymaker for clients, and is where publisher and agency ad ops teams should focus their time if they want to generate more revenue for their organization.


What are the best practices for successful campaign optimization?

LEARN MORE: Part 2 of our Ad Ops Workflow How-To Series


In the meantime, check out our ebook: A Guide to Generating Revenue Through Ad Operations & NEW Whitepaper: Ad Operations Guide to Guaranteed Sucess.


What are your success stories?
Do you have any other ad ops workflow tips to share?