IAB Ad Operations Summit: Revenge of the Nerds

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iab.jpgADOTAS – Put in the context of a cheesy ‘80s high school movie, ad operations professionals have been labeled the equivalent a/v club members — the nerds who know how to hook up the projectors and load filmstrips — while the creatives are the school superstars, the football heroes and prom royalty. They’re the ones who throw killer parties while the nerds stay home and toss their 12-sided dice.

Interactive Advertising Bureau CEO and President Randall Rothenberg noted that this stereotype seemed to be self-propagated by those within the industry, but somewhere along the line a shift had occurred. Without ad ops, he said, there is no revenue, no data management, no privacy protection and so forth.

“Ad op people are now the rock stars,” he told the crowd at the 2009 IAB Ad Operations Summit. “There is nothing like ad ops in the history of media. Only you can make the Internet sing.”

The conference itself exhibited this sea change, boasting 50% more attendance than the year before. In addition, the jocks are coming to the nerds’ party — this year’s summit boasted a magnificent surge in agency representation.

But with ad ops increasingly pertinent role in the digital advertising space comes the recognition of the almost overbearing complexity of doing business. One of the chief goals of the conference was discussing ways to make the process easier for all involved.

“We want business to be something you don’t have to think about,” said David Cohen, executive vice president and U.S. director of digital communications for Universal McCann. “We’re far too mired in the minutiae, lawyers and legal matters. We need more trust between buyers and sellers.”

Cohen cited survey that reported increased collaboration between ad ops and agencies, but creative’s disregard for timelines is still a crippling factor.

However, Cohen said that years of work by the IAB Ad Operations Council and its various task forces is paying off with such innovations as standard nomenclature for RFPs and the beta version of the impression exchange solution.

“2010 is our year,” he said, adding that by 2015 he sees the digital advertising space bifurcating into two segments — tech-enabled, data-driven platforms on one side and strategic marketing partnerships on the other.

Adrian D’Souza, director of ad operations with Google, agreed that much progress had been made on the ad op front, but also urged better relationships between buyers and sellers, something that greater standardization could bring to the industry.

“If TV and other mediums can work out deals without signatures, maybe I’m an optimist but I think the digital advertising space can do the same,” he said. “But we have a lot of work to do.”

According to D’Souza, the path forward includes more automated processes and less “firefighting” – i.e., hosing down disasters as they pop up. Ad ops professionals must sell their wares as value added services and change their image in agency eyes from an order-taking lackey to a collaborative consultant.

But this conference wasn’t all about high-fives for being the new cool kids –Jeremy Fain, vice president for industry services at IAB, summed it up: “I’m here for some therapy, some closure on issues, especially discrepancies.”

Indeed, the IAB has made tangible progress in the war against discrepancies, introducing a model system for reducing the locust-like plague. Still, it was widely recognized that the space is evolving at a rapid pace; ad ops pros must keep up instead of wallowing in their newfound popularity.

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