Programmatic has been the most transformative thing to happen to advertising since the 30-second TV spot.
Suddenly, publishers have the ability to sell automatically, at scale, while private marketplaces have given them further control of whom they sell to. No wonder eMarketer forecasts UK programmatic spending will hit £4.52 billion by 2019.
But the infusion of advanced technology into advertising operations has not been without its tension recently. On top of publishers’ mounting anxieties comes a cluster of worries over platform power - the extent to which Google, by adding an ad-blocker to Chrome, and Facebook, by dialling news down in its feed, skews its chances of success.
I believe all of these events can be surmounted so that publishers can continue to benefit from programmatic powers to a greater extent than ever.
But, to do so, they are going to have to learn the lingo and walk the walk, because one of the biggest factors holding ad sellers back currently is lack of skills.
A couple of years ago, it was common to talk about a programmatic skills gap on the buy side. Since then, advertisers and agencies have begun closing the gap; publishers now urgently need to do the same.
Adding the expertise to fully understand their ad technology will allow them to take full control of their ad sales strategy and reap the rewards which programmatic brings.
The need is greater than ever: For those who want to reduce the likelihood of fraudulent ad-buying practices like inventory spoofing, the IAB’s new ads.txt standard now offers a marvellous solution, allowing publishers to list only the demand sources they choose to allow to buy.
But, whilst this new technology is simple at the core, it runs all on the publisher’s own server side and is new enough to drive the latest demand for up-skilling.
So, how can publishers best up their game, and play to win? Not by throwing out the baby with the bath water - a return to the old manual ways of selling will not be scaleable or successful for anyone.
Rather, the preference should be investing to add more expertise, either sitting in-house at publishers or via reliable sell-side partners publishers can and do trust. But publishers need to understand underlying processes like header bidding, server-to-server, private marketplaces and programmatic guaranteed in order to fully understand what is being done on their behalf. These are all critical business issues for publishers; failing to fully understand them - and conveniently blaming their ad technology partners when things go awry - is no longer a valid excuse.
Many publishers over the last couple of years have hired top-quality people to roles like ‘programmatic director’, but the knowledge must now also be spread down through to the foot soldiers if the whole team is to march in the same direction.
Fortunately, publishers are not alone on this odyssey; a good ad-tech vendor is not just a service provider to a client, it is a partner. It is not in the interests of supply-side platforms like the one I work for to keep all the cards close to our chests, to make publishers dependent on us through retaining all the skills and all the information. Rather, it is better to educate our clients in the best ways they can use our technology - not only to achieve results but to understand the underlying processes which lead to better results.
It has worked on the buy side, where there are even professional mentorship practices designed to boost the programmatic understanding of middle-ranking professionals. Now 90% of agency staff say they have a close relationship with their ad-tech partners, according to a survey commissioned by AdRoll.
Now it is time publishers took control of their own destiny - by seizing the opportunities to deeply understand the technology that will shape their future.