April 11, 2017

Is Programmatic Self-Serve REALLY Self Service?

Amanda Bleich

Director, Programmatic Business Unit

As digital ad buyers look for more control and transparency, we’re seeing increasing demand for “self-service” models, where advertisers (or their agency) handle all programmatic ad buying in-house. With many players in the programmatic space, and an increasing level of sophistication on the buy side, it’s realistic to assume self-service will continue to grow.

But speak to anyone providing self-serve access to platforms, and there are some definite issues. Namely, many buyers rely heavily on vendors for services, despite their contractual agreements and intentions to bring everything in-house. This is a problem on several levels, because it stretches vendor teams very thin while ensuring advertisers remain almost fully dependent.

It’s safe to say most ad buyers aren’t doing this with clear malicious intent, but low margins and consistent support needs do burden vendors. To avoid damaging relationships, buyers and vendors need to work together to address the root causes of this ongoing problem.

There are few people who can claim to be experts in programmatic, as the technology is less than 10 years old. As a result, legitimate authorities are in high demand. In addition, the allure of new and potentially better job opportunities leads to constant workforce fluctuation. The notion of employee loyalty is quickly vanishing, and skilled staff move between positions at vendors, agencies and brands for more senior titles. As a result, brands bringing everything in-house might suddenly find themselves without a programmatic expert – forcing them to train a new team moments after signing a contract.

Dedicated training
Although many platforms have similar features and functionality, each one is unique. It’s an unfortunate reality that the willingness to allocate the necessary hours to prepare teams isn’t always there. The best solution is for vendors to include training services within the contract. Even with the best of intentions to follow training requirements and conditions, some buyers will get bogged down with too many campaigns and/or not enough staff. It’s a constant issue of time versus people power.

Sales & services disconnect
Sales teams are the lifeblood of every vendor. But when pushed to meet their numbers, it’s common for them to set unrealistic expectations. In turn, the responsibility is pushed to client service and support teams. It’s important to understand sales teams aren’t fully to blame – buyers looking at self-service options shouldn’t be constantly asking for support.

Communication at the onset is an absolute necessity: What does the advertiser consider to be self-sufficient? What support do they need to get there? How can the vendor team help reach this goal in an appropriate timeframe?

Lack of knowledge
Sometimes issues stem from buyers thinking they’re well-versed, only to learn their campaign isn’t running as planned. There are lots of nuances to programmatic, and few people have the necessary experience to activate campaigns independently across platforms. A lack of knowledge forces buyers to ask for additional services from vendors.

Looking at these factors, it’s clear education is critical. It’s also evident ad buyers still need consultants, even when they aim to bring programmatic in-house. Through the lower margins associated with licensing software for self-service usage, vendors need to build in a structure that ensures they’re paid for educational and consultative services. While vendors will no longer run campaigns, they can still offer additional services so clients feels at ease and better informed.

Ultimately, contract talks need to be about the relationship as much as the price. Both sides must agree to key factors including needed time and training. As long as both parties maintain consistent and respective communication, they can profit from the growing trend of programmatic self-serve.

This post originally appeared on MediaPost