Team structure is probably the most common conversation that ad ops leaders have with each other. It’s fair to say that for most ad operations managers, it’s their first management position. They can make magic with an ad server, but managing people is a whole new ball game. With that in mind, I conducted an informal survey and some interviews with over 50 heads of ad operations. I asked how they structure their teams, who they are looking to hire and what skills the new talent needed to have.
A quick analysis of the data was quite clear. How teams are structured is specific to each company. While there are similarities, there was no best practice or standard to be had. For each person that reports to the CRO or COO, someone else reports to sales. Others said they reported into the CTO and there were a few reporting to someone with a marketing title. The job title that ad operations reports to directly impacts what role ad ops will play in a company. This in term often determines how ad operations can be structured.
I couldn’t even get a clear answer on the impact of programmatic. For some publishers, programmatic isn’t even considered an ad operations responsibility. For others, programmatic IS ad operations. The variation of responses on this and other questions was all over the spectrum. No patterns were emerging.
But this disparity across publishers speaks to the nature of ad operations. Ad operations is malleable. As companies pivot to hopefully more profitable revenue streams, operations pivot as well.
Ad ops live in a world where one announcement of a merger, acquisition or feature change can throw months of work out the window. Changing and shifting is part of the job description.
Ad ops is also both tactical and strategic at the same time. One day you may only be doing data entry. The next day is presenting to the CEO how GDPR will impact digital advertising. We’re expected to know everything going on in the industry and keep track of everything internally. We have to work with every other department in ways that continually change. In many ways, ops is the elastic tissue that holds everything together. Like how hot caramel sticks to everything.
Once the hot caramel analogy emerged, I knew I had a recipe for how to start to structure a team in 2018, given that every publisher is starting with a different set of ingredients.
First, you start with a head of ad operations that speaks “company”. You may not control who you report to, but the leader needs to be successful at navigating the company culture. I know my teams appreciated that I spent more time trying to get into meetings to make sure ad operations was understood than on internal ops issues. Most people find their ways into ad operations because they don’t want to sell. They’ll soon find that as department head, they’ll be doing more selling than anyone else. How else do you convince a sales team that their sexy idea of “never been done before” isn’t as good as your “we can actually deliver it profitably” idea? Salesmanship.
Second, you sprinkle in specialists to help lead the way. If you lead a team and you find more and more of your business shifting to programmatic, hire (if you can get budget) someone who speaks fluent programmatic. There is too much to know and too much nuance to “kinda/sorta” do programmatic. You need focus and expertise. If you can’t hire, put someone on it full time. Ultimately as team leader, you shouldn’t be the most knowledgeable person on all subjects nor be the go-to person on any specific thing. Let your team become the experts.
Third, add generalists to fill the gaps. Ad ops is a jack-of-all-trades position and you should hire people who love that kind of role. The people who can be thrown any problem big or small, shrug and go back to their desk to make it happen are worth their weight in gold.
The next step is to start to mix all of this together until all the pieces are nearly indistinguishable. Your specialists have to educate your generalists. Your generalists have to get your specialists thinking beyond their focus. Yes, your programmatic specialist will remain in that role, but done properly, your generalists will know enough to add support if and when needed.
From there, you add more based on taste and budget. Perhaps at some point the role of ad operations will be defined well enough that we can all share notes and agree on titles and job descriptions. Maybe that would be a good thing. However, it might be that one of the best reasons to be in ad operations is that the recipe is always changing.
You can view Rob’s session recording from PROGRAMMATIC I/O San Francisco 2018 below: