Publishers Are Still Running Their Ad Sales Off Handmade Spreadsheets


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With the myriad of options available today in digital technology, how could publishers be so far behind agencies in automating their digital business? Agencies have stopped the bleeding and taken a major step forward.  They’ve begun building central repositories for data and hired PhDs and mathematicians to create sophisticated models and dashboards for running their businesses. Many publishers, however, are still living in the dark ages. I’ve been speaking with publishers for the last four plus years about selling smarter, leveraging proprietary data to create differentiation, consolidating tech platforms and, most importantly, hiring experienced, data-driven thinkers to act as change agents for their business. I’m surprised, on a regular basis, to find publishers who have not seized the opportunity to advance and automate their digital businesses. Admittedly, this type of change is scary and very foreign to most publishing professionals, especially those at the top. But with great change and risk, usually comes great reward.

I recently met with a publisher to discuss their technology stack and business operations, and was appalled at what I discovered: four different ad servers, no data partners, zero dashboards (other than a handmade spreadsheet) and little visibility into their sales pipeline, inventory needs or their current market value. With no consolidation of reporting across systems, even the actual delivery of ad campaigns was uncertain.  

This situation is unfortunately not an anomaly. Many publishers in our industry are in a similar state. They are what I affectionately refer to as: a mess of ‘bailing wire and duct tape’. It is easy to see how they got here. Many publishers underinvested in their digital operations in the 2000’s and in recent years have needed to quickly add functionality to support new devices and advertiser requirements. Additionally, the large suppliers of ad tech were slow to adopt new technology to help their clients adapt to the rapidly changing demands of buyers. 

The good news is that there are now a few technology players that have made major changes to their platforms, building, buying or partnering to address all the needs of buyers and sellers — driving efficiency, capabilities and revenue to publishers. Making the change need not be painful or full of risk for publishers. With the right partner, the reward will far outweigh the time it takes to get there.

And so… I encourage every publisher to take a step back, evaluate their ad tech stack and honestly ask themselves, “In this rapidly changing environment, is our business as efficient and forward looking at it could be?” If the answer is No, rip off the Band-Aid and start looking for a single partner that can and will help you evolve to meet today’s digital ad needs. 

The views expressed here reflect the views of the author alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of 24/7 Media, its affiliates, subsidiaries or its parent company, WPP plc.


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