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Published March 2016

Over the last few years, the adoption of programmatic has significantly grown across the industry. Demand Media is an early adopter and recently, we caught up with their Senior Director of Programmatic Sales Operations, Angela Kinsella, on the lessons they’ve learned since increasing their investment in programmatic. Here’s what she shared.

Programmatic has evolved significantly over the past few years. It’s no longer just a real-time bidding (RTB) system for remnant inventory, nor is it restricted to standard IAB units. Today, programmatic is a sophisticated technology that can be used to sell virtually all your media through direct deals—including branded executions, custom content, reskins and more.

The true value of programmatic lies in two key areas. The first is access to rich, granular data on buyer needs and campaign performance, which leads to better sales optimization. The second is gains in operational efficiency for the entire advertising ecosystem—from the creative agency down to the publisher.

By 2012, Demand Media had seen consistent positive results with the open exchange and we felt ready to deepen our programmatic investment. However, we knew we couldn’t (or shouldn’t) make massive changes to our business overnight. Before we increased our stake in programmatic, we wanted to use our learnings to date to optimize our technological, operational and sales infrastructure. For anyone that’s making this transition now, this is what we’ve learned.

Identify technology partners that meet your needs—today and in the future

In terms of technology, we carefully evaluated our partners to find those best serving our current needs and those who might be best equipped to work with us in the future.

Accordingly, we carried out an exhaustive request for information (RFI) with a number of supply-side  providers (SSPs). We considered a variety of factors during the process, including each partner’s ability to execute programmatic direct deals, including private marketplaces. We wanted to make sure we chose a partner with access to first-rate advertiser networks, who was committed to keeping up with industry changes.

Empower sales teams with programmatic knowledge

There’s a belief out there that programmatic can replace people. We knew that wasn’t true for us. But we also knew that the way our sales teams worked needed to change.

While sales teams are still responsible with building stronger relationships with advertisers, the “sellers of the future” need to be able to speak a new language, one that’s far more metrics-driven than that of the past. Our teams built competency in programmatic concepts and key performance indicators (KPIs) like audience targeting, backend conversions, and more, to ensure informed and productive conversations with buyers.

Enable advertisers in their programmatic transition

Our sales teams also needed to educate buyers who were slow to shift budgets to programmatic. We had two ways of doing this: programmatic direct and hybrid deals.

With programmatic direct, we’re able to give buyers the comfort of knowing what they're buying while setting our own deal terms. Ultimately, this strategy has proved to be a great way for both parties to maintain control of pricing and inventory quality. Programmatic direct has also enabled us to structure additional elements into the deal such as data sharing and “first look,” which has driven up CPMs.

Another strategy we’ve used is to offer buyers hybrid deals with both direct and programmatic components. With hybrid deals, we can negotiate a direct sponsorship and then layer on audience and contextual targeting. When buyers see their results, they’re often more open to increasing their programmatic investment.

Communication is key during transitional times

It’s easy to get excited about the potential of programmatic, but it is important to keep in mind that increasing your programmatic investment often results in some level of uncertainty in the short term. Change can be uncomfortable, but can also result in positive results for your business. During transitional times, it’s important to keep the lines of communication open both internally and with buyers to ensure your programmatic strategies evolve and succeed.

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