Today’s Burning Question: Are Ad Sales People Becoming Irrelevant? (Pt. 1)


Here’s the latest burning question we posed to our readership of  industry influencers:

With the rise of programmatic bidding and high-quality inventory being available to equally bid against low-quality inventory, will ad sales people eventually be replaced by the algorithm?

“Technology is slowly reducing the workforce. More jobs are being eliminated because of automation. Businesses see a great reduction in costs as a result of this. The next position that will be going the way of the milkman? Look for it to be the ads salesperson. Algorithms will replace the traditional ads sales person and it is something that the advertising and public relations world needs to begin preparing for.” — David E. Johnson, CEO, Strategic Vision, LLC.

“Direct ad sales will never completely fade away. As programmatic buying continues to evolve, more and more inventory will get moved onto DSP platforms and into the RTB ecosystem. Although this shift will continue to gradually happen, there will always be a need for a direct ad sales element though, especially for larger premium publishers and niche websites that want more control than is currently offered by the ecosystem today.” — Max Teitelbaum, COO and Co-Founder, WhatRunsWhere.

“Real time bidding and the algorithms used to buy digital ad space have simply equipped the paid media buyer with another tool in their arsenal. Rather than simply buying millions of impressions on sites that tend to attract potential buyers or prospects based on the demographics of the site audience through generic site profiling, performance media buyers can now target individuals who have already raised their hand through a search query, clicked on an ad, or purchased a related product recently, and bid to show their message to only those individuals. The days of blanket CPM display buys has gone the way of the dinosaurs to be replaced by sophisticated buying algorithms that equip the media buyer to buy tightly targeted audiences of consumers with highly predictive accuracy. Behind every good digital media buy is a smart marketer who thinks through the messaging sequence, testing strategy and utilizes attribution data to cap the messaging frequency for the highest ROI.”  — LuRae Lumpkin, Vice President, Global Paid Media,  Covario.

“Ad sales people bring unique value from premium publishers to smart marketers that an algorithm cannot duplicate. The ad sales people know their audiences best, and can craft packages and placements that are more valuable to the marketer than a few cherry-picked impressions.  Better yet, marketers can work with sales to take advantage of first party data, both implicit and explicit, that would never be available on an exchange.  Algorithms are great for bottom-funnel direct response outcomes, but as long as ads are designed to affect human emotions, we’ll need humans at both publishers and agencies to craft and place them for maximum effect.” — Tom Shields, Co-Founder & Chief Strategy Officer, Yieldex.

“To me it’s not so much silicon versus carbon. To me, silicon is just one way of operationalizing in an efficient way, but it can be people too. I have nothing against carbon. I kind of like our employees and customers.” — George John, CEO of Rocket Fuel.

“While the rise of programmatic bidding enables advertisers to identify and prioritize the ‘right’ inventory that fits their needs, unless there is one DSP technology or inventory network that emerges as the true dominant category leader, I do not believe that ad sales people will be replaced.  (Even then, looking at the search space, Google has been the category leader for years, and yet still employs sales people.)  You could, however, argue that the sales story will need to change.  As bidding algorithms become more sophisticated, the story will evolve from discussion of inventory types to inventory types + how algorithms work with them to create the best possible combination that will meet advertiser objectives.” — Liz Serafin, Vice President of Media, Geary LSF.

“Absolutely not all. The top ad buys are still relationship based and involve discounts and creativity only humans can provide. However like most jobs, some will be replaced by robots.” :-) — Malcolm CasSelle, CEO, Mediapass.

“It’s tempting to think that programmatic buying via bidding will replace ad sales people, but that is like the thinking we all once had that eBay and Amazon would replace retail stores. Media comes in many flavors and sizes — yes, commodity inventory can and probably should be bought programmatically, however many brands and media buyers worry about more than just buying cheap inventory. There are considerations of unique ad experiences, brand safety, targeting, content integration (native advertising), analytics etc., all of which are best purchased by working with a knowledgeable sales person who can explain the various choices much like a retail store sales person working with you to select a nice outfit.  Ad sales people and indeed media aggregators who can’t offer anything other than commodity inventory at the lowest price will probably be replaced by an algorithm.  Advertising after all is as much about creatively engaging the right audiences as it is about exposing them to brand messaging. If it was all just about mass brand messaging we would still be staring at black and white posters on our streets.” — Jivox CEO Diaz Nesamoney.



  1. They said the same thing a few years ago that programmatic bidding would replace the ad network, but here we are in 2013 and still, ad networks are playing a major role.


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