Welcome to the Interact Congress Blog. We have invited some leading European guest bloggers to share their observations on interactive marketing and communication skills within the integrated experience. The blog also offers you a first opportunity to interact with your peers.

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Monday, 23 April 2007

Ad Operations: Turbo charging the online media engine:

I love the way my mobile phone vibrates when a text arrives telling me the taxi has turned into my street. Addison Lee have been doing this for five years plus, but I still like the efficiency. It's neat, one tiny example of how the digital network society lets us do things in ways just smarter and more effective than the old world. Downstairs in my hallway there's a heap of luggage that needs moving. We've had a heat wave in the UK this weekend, with London marathon runners fighting their way through 25 degrees of sunshine, yet outside it's pleasantly cold and dank. Timecheck 4:31am. Why so early? Today is the start of the annual ad technology operations forum, this time in Paris. And if that text message seemed neat, it's nothing compared to what these guys will be looking at.

I've always been a fan of the ad tech systems. The whole potential of digital marketing rests in the large part on the scope, scale and functionality of what these boxes can do. In the early days it was NetGravity, then DoubleClick, OpenAdStream, AdTech,Falk, Accipiter... the vendors mushroomed. My introduction to all this was back in 1996, working on a project to explore bringing the fledgling DoubleClick into Europe, and ever since I've always had a soft spot for the toolkits. And with that the ad ops teams who administer them.

Ad operations execs are the unsung heroes of the industry. The whole potential for digital marketing rests on their shoulders, and the whole power of marketing efficiency hides in the boxes; put the right kit in the right people's hands and amazing things happen. Yet most agencies and media owners relegate ad ops and 'traffic' functions to the status of junior backroom tasks, somewhere as strategically important as ordering the company photocopying paper (though maybe without all the kudos).

No, no, no! Champion the traffickers, nurture their skills, celebrate their abilities, and give them the freedom to create. Yes, create: by digging around in all that campaign data, tuning the engine of targeting, adjusting the torque on ad delivery, a good commercial business engine can get turbo-charged, pulling the business away from the rest of the pack. While trafficking in most firms still means banner-planners, the smart money at MSN, Yahoo and AOL have lifted the group and their status to the dizzy heights of revenue maximisers, directing company policy and taking control of the inventory.

When a few of us came together to start teaching the Ad Trafficker's Academy, it became clear that it wasn't just the traffickers that needed an induction to the process of trafficking and their role in the business, it was the senior executives they reported into! Which brings us to Paris.

As my car hurtles along the empty streets that only 12 hours ago formed that sea of bobbing heads in the London Marathon, I'm collecting some thoughts for the conference. For the next three days we'll be debating the issues that matter most in industry right now. We'll be trying to find ways around them to make smart systems even smarter and to keep them there in the face of the morphing digital landscape.

Since 1999 I've chaired the Standards & Ad Operations Taskforces for IAB Europe. This is the group that looks for ways to achieve collaboration between firms to build guidelines and best practices in the industry. The 'Universal Advertising Package', the 'Auditing and counting' models, 'Creative best practice guidelines', the changes to the ad server counting tools... they all came from here. You can find out more in the standards section of IABeurope.ws. Having teamed up with Admonsters, we now have 60 of us together for a few days every year to do nothing other than think ad-ops thoughts. And that's exactly what starts this morning, in the heart of Paris.

This time around we're looking at a few old favourites, and a host of new challenges:

Broadband and video
The time is right for a massive migration to video based advertising. It's not simply a question of taking the TV spot and putting it online (though that might be an easy starting point), it's about weaving in commercials to non-linear video reportage. There's a new generation of advertising and content coming and we need some clear models for it to all fall into.

Behavioural targeting
Can we build up a framework for effectively trading the new behaviourally targeted inventory. There are several types of behavioural targeting in place and agencies keep telling me how difficult it is to know what they're getting. If we can get the model right then there's a quick win for everyone.

Lavasoft and the cookie debate
Changes in the way this Swedish software firm treats third party cookies could cripple segments of the ad industry online. It's not the first time the cookie has been under threat (remember the 2000/2001 campaign to 'save the cookie' from an over zelous data protection political bandwagon?), but if industry doesn't respond quickly and decisively, then part of the ad revenue that lets sites provide their content for free will be on hold.

Metrcis and analytics
The metrics challenges just keep getting bigger. In our Web Analytics Academy we explored the implications of Web 2.0 on ad data and concluded that while most publishers still focus only on the same metrics of visits, visitors and impressions, that they were ten years ago, the models of Web 2.0 analytics combine the sum of metrics from all other media.

But what else? Over the next few months we need to answer this and get some of those projects out of the door. I'm keen to know what would make your online advertising easier to trade, what would remove barriers in the market, what would help accelerate the industry.

As my car trundles up the ramp into the Eurostar terminal at Waterloo, it's still cold and dank outside. I've finished this blog update and cleared my overnight texts. If these technologies seem neat, it's nothing compared to what awaits in Paris. Time for coffee, croissant and some conversation. For more on the IAB Europe Standards & Guidelines debates either email me, check out the Standards section of IAB Europe.ws, or join the next Standards & Guidelines call or event.

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