Let’s face it: Nobody likes the request for proposal (RFP) process. RFPs are inefficient and imprecise for all parties, yet they remain a necessary evil for publishers and agencies to establish the boundaries under which a particular campaign will operate.  

RFPs themselves have many forms: they can be detailed or vague; they can outline exactly what the brand is looking for, or they may ask the publisher to showcase their products that hit the brand’s objectives; they may or may not include templates for publishers to complete. The variations are as endless as the requirements of the client.

Despite their endless configurations, RFPs often fall short when it comes to understanding a publisher’s data capabilities and other factors that can impact the success of a campaign. Things typically missed in the RFP process include initial segmentation, mid-flight optimisation, or wrap-report takeaways. Understanding how to get what you need out of the publishers you are working with should be as important to you and your clients as the campaign creative or media strategy.

For marketers or agencies focused on campaign performance, here are 10 things to keep in mind when deciding which publisher to select for your next campaign.  

1. Understand the publisher’s existing first-party data segments

First-party data is the most valuable asset a publisher has to offer. It is literally the specific details of the audience that you are trying to reach on that publisher’s site, organised in a manner they know is likely to work for the advertiser. Publishers are likely to have dozens, if not hundreds, of segments pre-built to match the needs of your campaign.

The publishers you work with will likely have recommendations for data segments that may not have been specifically requested in the RFP, but that could present interesting opportunities for you – either at campaign initiation or during optimisation. There may also be some surprises in there, such as purchase data on similar products or services, or registration data that allows for even closer targeting. And as a bonus, the publisher can tell you exactly how that data was collected – something you typically can’t get from a third-party data provider.

2. BYOD – Bring your own data

Just as first-party data is the most valuable asset for a publisher, your own first-party data is equally important and powerful to your own campaign success. Make sure the publisher can ingest your data to reach your existing consumers who have already demonstrated an interest in your product or service to increase campaign performance.

3. Explore audience extension opportunities

Audience extension has been around for a while and has often gotten a bad rap as the result of low-quality placements on no-name sites. However, there are many companies offering quality placements with an extensive list of premium sites. If audience extension is something you are interested in, it’s helpful to know who the provider is, which data segments are available, and the types of ad units they offer (i.e. video, display, high-impact), and whether or not they are able to meet your viewability standards.

4. Define retargeting

Understand what your publishers mean by retargeting, as this concept can have several different applications. In most cases, retargeting users who have already visited your site or purchased your product tends to perform significantly better than run of network or contextually targeted placements in terms of clicks and conversions. But, you can also use retargeting to serve new creative to users who are seeing your ad more than once. Combined with effective segmenting, this is a powerful mechanism to move users closer to a purchase decision.

5. Target ad clickers

Similar to retargeting, this allows the publisher to use data from their campaigns to reach users who are most likely to engage with an ad. Publishers willing to expose their ad click segments can choose to bundle their ad clickers into one segment or break them out by vertical. If for example, you are a retail brand measuring performance on clicks, you may want to target users who have clicked on retail ads in the past, knowing that they are more likely to be engaged with the product you are offering.  

6. Understand optimisation frequency and tactics

The ability to successfully optimise a campaign during its flight can mean the difference between success and failure. Publishers leveraging a Demand Side Platform (DMP) have the ability to do this by audience segment, placement, and creative size, but may choose not to based on the size of your campaign or their willingness to put in the work. It’s important to understand how your publisher partners plan to increase your campaign performance on their network before it goes live, and how they will make improvements while it is running.

A premium publisher should have plans to make optimisations at least once during the campaign if it is running across their network and has a campaign length of at least three weeks. There are several options available for publishers to optimise their campaigns – audience segments, placement on the page, sites, creative sizes, and content, each of which will give you the chance to deliver a better campaign.

7. Demand transparency and approvals

While optimisation is key to campaign success, your publishers should provide details of the plans, and always seek your approval before taking action if they are outside of the parameters of the IO. That said, you should trust your publisher’s recommendations, as they will likely know what needs to happen to boost performance to your stated KPIs.

8. Dig in on performance

Since wrap decks are not done until after a campaign is completed, they can be viewed as superfluous. This is a mistake. Wrap decks are a chance to dissect what did and didn’t work, and is where you are likely to hear the best recommendations on what to do for your upcoming strategy. All wrap decks should break down performance and any other audience insights. They are best understood when accompanied by a discussion with the publisher to talk about the results.

Digging in deep will help you ask the right questions to continually improve your campaigns. If there are particular segments that performed, take note and use them as your starting point for the next campaign. The same is true for those that did not.

9. Study the clickers

The publisher can pull these insights from their DMP. You may find that users who engaged with your brand had affinities for products or services that you were not aware of. You also may find that some segments you expected to perform didn’t. Advertisers who are able to accept this information and apply the counter-intuitive result to a future optimisation will outperform those who are tied to dogma.

10. Explicitly ask for future recommendations

Based on data from the publisher’s ad server and DMP, what do they recommend for your next campaign? Find out what they would do differently if they were re-starting the campaign based on the findings on the one which has just ended. Taking these recommendations into account will help your next campaign start off stronger, thereby boosting performance over the course of the year.

In an age of increasing media fragmentation, your first and second-party data offers the best opportunity for success. Think about how to focus as much of your planning on the user targeting as you are on site context. Working with publishers who are adept at this and who are comfortable selling and optimising in a data-driven manner will be key in helping you outperform your campaign goals. Who knows? It may even make the RFP process a little more rewarding.