How to Optimize an Ad Campaign on the Fly

At many larger agencies, the role of running an online campaign is fragmented. Typically it’s broken up between planners, buyers, traffickers, and analysts.

The problem with this model is who is going super deep on the account? This model assumes that optimization is simply about moving media and turning banners on and off at the banner server. Which begs the question: How are real-time decisions made? Do all these people have to meet to get a high-level idea of what’s going on in a campaign? How often do they meet or talk? Are they making real-time decisions? Candidly I have heard stories where optimization at some firms is more like run, track, report, meet, decide, and finally optimize. As opposed to real-time optimization, a more old-school see-what-happens approach is taken and many impressions and dollars are wasted in these protracted optimization cycles.

OK, I know everyone is going to say to clients: “Of course, we optimize real-time.” But do you really? If you have a fragmented team, is a lower level traffic manager with her fingers on the banner server keyboard authorized or able to kill a site, placement, or piece of creative? Or, does this person need to wait for the analyst to see that it’s not working, report that to the team, and then ask the buyer to cancel the contract or renegotiate the deal? That’s a lot of hops and meetings to do something as simple as cancel a site, placement, or piece of creative.

The only way I have seen this work is when all of these people are working together in a tight little pod where meetings don’t have to be scheduled to make decisions and inform clients of those decisions. One easy question to ask your agency if it has a fragmented media management team is, “Where do all these people sit in proximity to each other?” If the analysts are in another department, office space, or even floor away from the campaign managers, then it’s unlikely your optimization is real-time.

Reality is, there are so many levers to be pulled when optimizing an online media campaign that the tighter the team the better. Spread all these optimization levers out across different staff and even departments and the process slows down a lot. These levers include but are not limited to:

Site Placement. Where should you even buy media? Clearly this is the planner’s job. However, is the planner intimately familiar with historical data from past campaigns that the analysts have? Do they know the relationship and rate particulars of that site that the buyers are privy to?

Cost and Negotiation. What can you afford in terms of CPMs (define) and CPCs (define) to achieve your desired measurable result? It’s the analyst’s job to come up with that number and the planners and buyers to get that number. Are they communicating this information to each other? Of course you want to make sure the right cancellation clauses are in effect.

Placement and Targeting. Where in a site should you be running? What behavioral selects should you be targeting? What regions should you be running in? Is the whole site bad or just certain placements, regions, and targeting selects? Optimizing this is the job of the analyst (to identify the unsuccessful or successful placements and selects) and the buyer to negotiate with the sites to stop running unsuccessful placements and reallocate to successful ones.

Creative. Clearly you want to quickly kill underperforming creative. Again, it’s the analyst’s job to look at reports and it’s the traffic person’s job to kill the creative on the banner server level by site and placement. However, and this is the key — the person managing the banner server can notice underperforming creative in an instant and react. If all the banner server manager does is “traffic” and the analyst does is “optimize,” will that occur in real-time?

Timing. Many say that timing is everything. Nowhere is that more true then in online media. There are times of the day, week, and year when people will be more receptive to a message or apt to convert. These patterns must be quickly identified and applied to your campaign’s impression and creative flight schedule. Again, analysts must notice this, the traffic person must apply it on accretive level, and the buyer must negotiate on and off times and frequencies with the sites.

Landing Pages. Making changes to landing pages extends out beyond the media department. Question is, who communicates this and how quickly can landing pages be changed? Most often, a click’s measured conversion power is only as good as where that click goes. Analysts and all the media team members need to be very vocal about bad landing pages as success depends on them. Good media will drive the right people to a site but good landing pages ultimately drive measurable results. (I’m not even going to get into A/B and multi-variant testing and who manages that here.)

The Relationship. Some of you might say “huh?” What is relationship optimization? Relationship optimization is where you have an amazingly dynamic and collaborative relationship with the sites you run on. You make them partners in optimizing your campaign. This is clearly in the hands of the planners and buyers. Optimization of relationships between agencies and publishers often bring about the best results!

In my view, a media manager must be extremely intimate with a campaign and work hands on with all optimization levers — managing the entire optimization from one seat. That person must do the planning and buying so she has the relationships with the reps and know the granularities of all the placements. She also needs to be the analyst so she can quickly analyze the report, make optimization decisions, and implement those decisions in real-time.

Of course this media manager can have help. Lower-level traffic and banner server managers can run the granularities of the campaign. However, that person (or persons) needs to be sitting right next to the media manager– or at least in super close proximity! The best scenario is where they are attached at the hip.

For super big campaigns where it cannot be done by a tiny group — create a special area for the campaign such as a command center or pod. There, real-world collaboration should occur real-time and keep pace with the action going on in the virtual world. The more fragmented a team by role and proximity, the more fragmented the optimization.

A cohesive media team equals a cohesive media campaign!

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