Three longtime digital advertising practitioners discuss how automation will change the game for direct orders

More than one hundred digital advertising buyers, sellers, and industry watchers recently descended on the Terranea resort in Ranchos Palos Verdes, California to take part in two days of content and meetings about digital advertising automation, innovation, and activation.

One of the highlights of the summit was the announcement and live demo of Orders, Rubicon Project’s direct order automation platform.

I sat down with three experienced doers and thinkers in the industry to discuss their thoughts about both the promise and the implications of direct order automation technology. Carol Chung, Senior Vice President of Media Technology at DigitasLBi; Ryan Pauley, Executive Director of Revenue Operations at Vox Media; and Chris Pirrone, General Manager at USA Today Sports Media Group, took a break from their panel duties to discuss how direct orderautomation can achieve everything from taking major headaches out of direct order negotiation, implementation, and optimization, to paying significant dividends by giving buyers and sellers the time and data they need to have more strategic conversations with each other.

Click the SoundCloud image below to listen to the podcast, and read on for highlights and key conclusions from our discussion.

Rubicon Project Automation Summit podcast


1. Direct order automation will greatly ease the pain of campaign implementation for both direct digital sales and operations

Carol Chung of Digitas discussed the longstanding and tedious process for getting direct buys done, including negotiating deal terms, delivering and implementing campaign assets, troubleshooting problems, and optimizing media post-launch. Chung said direct order automation can streamline and simplify the process end-to-end. “The nice thing about Orders is it does kind of cut down on a lot of the back and forth, and brings [buyers and sellers] together,” she said.

2. Direct order automation can significantly grow publishers’ base of buyer relationships, increase digital advertising budgets, and enhance digital advertising effectiveness

Ryan Pauley of Vox Media said that in addition to enabling sellers to invest efficiency gains from automation into developing more strategic relationships with buyers, the marketplace aspect of order automation platforms can also create discovery opportunities that were previously possible only with shoe-leather sales effort.

“Utilizing the automation platform allows direct connection [with buyers], and opens up [opportunities with] advertisers we may not be working with directly because they may not be large enough,” said Pauley.

Chris Pirrone of USA Today Sports Media added that the direct orders marketplace can supply information from third parties that aids publisher discovery and decision-making for advertisers. “Buyers can login and see legit third-party data — independent, objective data about what they’re trying to target,” he said.

3. Direct order automation does not mean “set it and forget it”

When asked what the industry needs to be mindful of as we adopt direct order automation, our experts’ advice was to not think that automation gives buyers and sellers permission to “set it and forget it.”

“We want to move to an RTB mindset,” said Chung, by using the data from automateddirect deals to take a muscular approach to campaign management, and to influence optimizations and negotiations even before campaigns end. This can include renegotiating CPMs mid-flight or ordering more of the inventory that works, she said.

Pauley concurred that automation should not lull the parties into a sense of complacency about buyer/seller communication. “Maintaining that communication on both sides, even though the process is being automated” is key, Pauley said. Because publishers know their inventory inside and out, bidirectional communication about buyer goals and KPIs can empower publishers to help them succeed, he added.

4. Digital sales and operations professionals have a major opportunity to raise their game in an automated world

The consensus all around was that while direct order automation is not a threat to headcount for either publisher or advertiser teams, automation would mean a significant shift to more intense strategic work in lieu of document wrangling and troubleshooting for all involved.

When it comes to salespeople, said Pirrone, “I don’t need less, I just need them to interact [with advertisers] differently and be more knowledgeable.” He wants his teams to useautomation as an opportunity to spend more time meeting with buyers, developing a deeper knowledge of buyers’ goals, and thinking creatively about custom advertising executions on their behalf.

Pauley said publisher salespeople at Vox are empowered to sell the full stack of publisher solutions, and that being successful requires an ability to pivot from a “capabilities-driven conversation” about programmatic to a “strategic and higher-level” conversation for more customized, bespoke solutions. Essentially, those salespeople have to develop a bilingual vocabulary around publisher solutions, and understand how both types of media can work holistically to achieve buyers’ goals on Vox properties.

And operations professionals also have an opportunity to grow in this environment, added Chung. Once freed from having to spend an inordinate amount of time managing launch assets and troubleshooting the common problems direct order automation will help solve, digital ad operations professionals will have more time to think critically about campaign architecture, including the pixel and tagging setups that will lay the foundation for innovative digital advertising strategies, and help deliver the best insights for buyers.

5. The industry must resist inertia in order to reap the benefits of direct orderautomation

While automation promises never-before-seen effectiveness and efficiency in direct order negotiation, implementation, and optimization, the industry will need to ascend a learning curve in order to reap automation’s benefits, said Pirrone. “I think we’re in the initial stages [of direct order automation],” he said. “On the publisher side, we have to retrain [our teams] and set them up on how to present things” in the new direct order marketplace, he added.

Chung said the industry must embrace the switching costs of adopting new technology in order to improve an inefficient, decade-old process. “It’s ok to do things differently,” said Chung. “The more we can get people on board with changing things,” the better off the industry will be, she added.

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