A Day in the Life at KORTX: Programmatic Operations

Bryan Presti

Bryan Presti, Head of Programmatic Trading at KORTX, highlights the nuances of programmatic media buying (Ad Operations), emphasizing the indispensable role of human expertise alongside automated algorithms. 

From managing creatives and pacing budgets to troubleshooting intricate tech issues, his expertise showcases the challenges and gratifying moments that define his role.

Join us as we explore the dynamic world of programmatic media buying through Bryan’s lens as a part of our Day in the Life series.

🤔 What are programmatic ad operations?
Programmatic ad operations involve the automated management and execution of advertising campaigns, utilizing technology and data-driven insights to optimize ad buying, targeting, and performance tracking across various digital channels.

How Context Shapes Our Day-to-Day Duties

Before delving into the daily tasks, it is important to emphasize that our work’s specific context, encompassing our business model and strategy, significantly impacts the execution of our duties each day.

A media buyer works within two main contexts of programmatic teams:

  1. A brand’s in-house buying team.
  2. A managed service team building and executing media plans on behalf of usually more than one brand or agency. 

Both teams have overlaps in their campaign execution work. However, managed service partners handle diverse portfolios encompassing multiple brands, budgets, verticals, geographies, KPIs, and target audiences, adding complexity to operations and campaigns beyond those of in-house (single-brand) programmatic media buying.

💗 What’s your favorite part about being an Ad Opper?
“Continuous learning and innovation to start. I don’t come to work and do the same thing every day, so it never gets old. I’m continuously testing and learning new things. One of the most rewarding things is working with clients and showcasing campaign success–hitting KPIs, running effective campaigns, and maximizing ROAS.”
–Matt Grevenstuk, Ad Operations Specialist, KORTX

What Is It Like to Be a Programmatic Media Buyer?

Instead of detailing my daily routine, I want to cover three challenging tasks where the “human touch” is required:

  1. Managing creatives: Overseeing and coordinating the creative elements used in advertising campaigns. 
  2. Pacing: Tracking the campaign’s performance in real-time and adjusting the rate at which ads are served to ensure the campaign is on track to meet its goals. 
  3. Troubleshooting: Identifying and resolving issues or problems during a campaign’s execution. 

Each task encompasses various variables and combinations, including platforms, partners, and capabilities, showcasing flexibility and adaptability in campaign execution. 

And while the Demand Side Platform (DSP) provides a framework for media buyers, outlining how campaigns are structured within the platform, its capabilities allow them to tailor and refine campaigns using granular controls.

💗 What’s your favorite part about being an Ad Opper?
“No two days are the same. One day might be viewing and analyzing multiple reports to help pick up on campaign trends, another might be filled with discussions, dialogues, and coaching that can help optimize campaign performance and help grasp the overall picture of clients’ marketing goals. And another can be exploring creative opportunities internally as blogs or “Lunch and Learns.”

I love being able to use the creative and logical side of my brain at the same time. With Ops, you have to understand your campaign’s data points, understand what works and what doesn’t in an analytical way, but at the same time, you also have to be able to tell a good, digestible story.”
–Rondell Wilson, Ad Operations Specialist, KORTX

Morning Tasks: The Not-So-Awesome Parts of The Job

Every campaign requires three tasks that no one wakes up yearning to do each morning. 

1. Managing Campaign Creative Files

Programmatic campaigns involve many file and creative types, including AAC, OGG, WAV, MOV, HTML5, DCM tags, VAST, VPAID, and many, many more. 

Fortunately, if they meet the specifications of your DSP or ad server, all you need to do is load and attach them. Sometimes, you may need to provide a custom date range or attach creatives based on specific audiences or geographical locations within a single campaign. 

While not necessarily difficult, this task can be monotonous. You could have just five display banners for the entire campaign or dozens of creatives to swap out every month. Managed service providers often set a creative cap based on budget or flight length to streamline operations.

2. Pacing Campaigns

Considering the multiple components in campaign planning, we ensure budgets align with targets and are delivered within agreed timeframes. 

A campaign tracker (I use Excel) provides a framework to manually update pacing to observe its trend and compare it to the expected flight progress.

When updating my tracker, I always pull the following metrics:

  1. Impressions
  2. Clicks
  3. CTR
  4. Viewability
  5. Revenue CPA (for conversion campaigns)
  6. CPM (clearing rates)
  7. Completion rates (for audio and video)

I complete the impression analysis first. If the creatives are hosted in the DSP, I ensure the line item is pacing as it should. If they are from an ad server, I check delivery in the DSP and ad server.

DSP and ad server delivery comparisons must be calculated as they reveal discrepancies between them, which must be factored into the DSP budget accordingly.

Analyzing DSP and ad server impressions reveals they are never 1:1 matches. Regularly reviewing these metrics (~2x week) enables high-level campaign analysis, determining the need for further research and potential optimization opportunities.

📚 More Articles From Bryan Presti:

      1. Programmable Splits and Split Assist™: The Winning Combination for Effective Advertising: Read about how KORTX helps our Ad Ops team optimize multiple splits in one day based on a single campaign metric. 
      2. How Quick Service Restaurants are Driving Revenue Through Audience Segmentation: Learn about the power of granular audience segmentation and targeted modeling, even without a defined user journey or extensive digital touch points on your website. 
      3. The Axon Audience Advantage: Segmenting for Your Sales Cycle: Learn how Axon’s advanced audience segmentation and event-based targeting can help optimize your campaigns at every buying cycle stage. 

3. Troubleshooting Campaigns

I’ll make the explanation of this not-awesome part of the job short because I’m already exhausted just thinking about it. 

Amid constant tech innovation and new platform capabilities, everyone on the operations side must be ready to address unforeseen issues when things don’t go as planned.

Here is an abbreviated list of issues every Opper deals with at some point: 

  1. Inventory deals built and exported to your DSP fail to register impressions.
  2. Creatives failing audit.
  3. Slow campaign pacing.
  4. Partner pixels attached to ad server tags for Third-Party analytics tracking not working.
  5. Line item failing to deliver in full by $2.
  6. Clicks, conversions, viewability, and VCR discrepancies between DSP and ad server.
  7. Incorrect DSP click tag placement in the index.html file of an HTML5.
  8. A specialized creative built by one partner to be delivered on a different partner’s inventory deal not receiving delivery.

I hope you get the picture because I can’t go on. These are the types of things that make me want to have a drink at 5:01 pm. 

If you’re wondering what my drink of choice is after a day of troubleshooting tag placements and reviewing VCR discrepancies, that would be my version of a Gin & Tonic:

Bryan Presti

Daily Tasks: How Media Buyers Improve Campaign Outcomes 

Optimizations (adjustments due to the outcomes of a strategy) are inevitable. All campaigns deserve them. 

Sometimes, media buyers need to modify campaigns before launching them to improve their chances of success. 

Here are a few scenarios where media buyers can make pre-launch adjustments using some past client case studies: 

Maximizing Ad Reach with Zip Code Strategies

Sometimes, clients request radius targeting for their campaigns, where a specific area is circumscribed for ad delivery. However, our Demand Side Platforms (DSPs) provide feedback that latitudes and longitudes, commonly used for this type of targeting, are less frequently available in bid requests than zip codes, city, state, DMA (designated market area), and country.

💡 What We Do

Our team manually identifies all the zip codes within the specified radius to expand the inventory available for bidding and reach larger target audiences. This process can take several hours, but the positive outcomes justify the time and investment spent on this adjustment.

Overcoming Incompatibility Challenges in Campaign Management

Many brands and agencies maintain lists of websites and mobile apps they want to include or exclude to apply across all campaigns. These lists must be formatted according to the specific Demand Side Platform (DSP) requirements. However, sometimes some sites have incompatible formats with the DSP. 

💡 What We Do

In these cases, the media buyer must manually re-format those sites one by one. Although this task is time-consuming, it helps reduce the number of requests made to clients for updates and ensures compatibility with the DSP.

Driving Success through Targeted Proximity

A QSR client requested DMA targeting across their list of store locations. During the campaign setup phase, an Opper shared a segment from CNBC where the brand’s CEO stated their target audience is the 3-mile radius around each client’s store location.

💡 What We Do

With this insight and considering the limitation of the Demand Side Platform (DSP) to handle only 4,000 zip codes per line item, our team set out to manually gather and input the 1,500 cities that fall within a 3-mile radius of all the client’s store locations into the campaign. 

The client greatly appreciated and was impressed by this additional effort and suggested targeting adjustment. As a result, over two years, the brand experienced consistent revenue growth, leading to further digital media investments.

Enhancing Targeting Strategy with Xandr’s Splits Feature

Xandr, one DSP we use, introduced Splits, providing an opportunity for the Operations team to enhance the targeting strategy of a single line item. This feature allows the team to divide the delivery of the line item among 33 different targeting conditions using a prioritized waterfall approach.

💡 What We Do

In the case of a financial services client, under one insertion order and a single line item for each advertising tactic (display, CTV, traditional video, and audio). They created over 600 splits based on factors like geographic targeting, viewability, audience segments, creatives, device types, inventory lists, and daily frequency and recency settings.

With this high level of targeting granularity, the client can analyze comprehensive campaign data specific to each store location through their visualization tool.

✨Applying insights gained from previous campaigns or external learnings to our campaign strategy has proven immensely valuable in shaping our campaign strategy. This knowledge enhances our ability to create impactful and successful campaigns, setting the stage for continued growth and achievement.

By investing effort into crafting optimal campaigns right from the start, we improve our chances of success and minimize the need for client assistance requests, reinforcing our commitment to delivering a top-notch customer experience.

Constant Tweaking: The Awesome Parts of the Job

Media buyers continuously manage campaign pacing, collect key metrics data, and optimize accordingly, navigating complex campaign management through a range of choices based on client requirements, objectives, outcomes, tests, reasoning, and historical knowledge.

As stated, there is no blueprint or industry standard approach to those choices or a single methodology for reaching each performance metric. But when those choices have been made, and the hoped-for changes to campaign outcomes occur, it is an exhilarating and relieving feeling.

💗 What’s your favorite part about being an Ad Opper?
“As an Opper, I’m a problem solver. I build campaigns according to plan and do everything possible to make them perform up to standards. Sometimes we hit big obstacles and must figure out how to overcome them. One of my favorite parts is tweaking campaigns, changing little things about the setup, often working with other team members, and checking on them 24 hours later to see that my changes worked.  It’s a little thrill, and it feels like a little feather in my cap to have solved the problem. I’m naturally a problem solver and helper, so it makes me feel great when little things succeed!”
–Stephanie Taylor, Digital Ad Operations Strategist, KORTX

The most rewarding moments come from witnessing the tangible impact of your optimization choices. But your campaign contribution doesn’t end there.

You must provide clients with a clear explanation of their campaign’s success and how our team’s media budget management played a key role.

Here are a few of our best moments over the years:

✨ Expanded CTV Reach

A brand saw a large increase in unique site visitors after activating its first CTV campaign. 

We opened up inventory access to all devices to maximize reach among its target audience of frequent streaming watchers across VOD apps and channels (essentially the best demographic for any brand to target).

Then, we removed the VCR (View Completion Rate) threshold, which may limit bidding on some impressions that don’t have an estimated VCR tied to the bid request. 

We realized the focus should be on targeting the person rather than the channel. Recognizing that the largest television in the living room provides significant value for a CTV campaign, we fine-tuned bidding at the split level for that specific inventory. We also expanded our reach to in-market customers viewing AT&T TV Now on their phones or DirecTV Now on their tablets, driving our decision to implement this strategy.

✨ Segmented Campaign Insights

By partnering with automotive and QSR clients, we expanded and diversified audience segmentation in Axon Audience Manager, using the brands’ distinctive buyer’s journey.

Executing these customized remarketing campaigns within Xandr’s prioritized splitters provided these clients with transparent, real-time views of their numerous First-Party audience segments within Axon’s client-friendly user interface

✨ Targeted Product Prospecting

A large home furnishing store with multiple locations had enormous daily website traffic to their 9 product lines. With abundant data, we utilized Axon to create audience segments based on products and geography across site visitors and converters. 

For our prospecting strategy, we took 36 segments and modeled each, applying modeled audiences to splits targeted by product, geography, high funnel converter (site visitor), and low funnel converter (purchaser). 

Using product-specific creatives for each appropriate audience, we developed a 1:1 targeting strategy, ensuring these new prospects saw the products they may be in the market for, whose seed audience came from the same DMA. 

Enhancing modeled audience quality through increased seed audience variables proved highly beneficial to the client, resulting in improved conversion outcomes.

💗 What’s your favorite part about being an Ad Opper?
“I personally love connecting users with the right companies. Imagine my Grandma Joyce back in the day trying to find a company via YellowBook, I help people find the right thing at the right time and analyze how we can do it better!”
–Matthew Bergh, Senior Ad Operations Strategist, KORTX

A Combination of Technical & Human Expertise

Programmatic media buying offers automated purchasing of digital ad space through machine-driven software, bringing significant advantages to digital marketing by reducing human negotiations and leveraging audience data. However, the true value and benefits are maximized when complemented by human expertise in analyzing data, making informed decisions, and optimizing campaigns. 

The combination of automation tools provided by Demand Side Platforms and the creative optimizations devised by humans has fostered a dynamic and competitive ecosystem that continually strives to enhance campaign efficiency and effectiveness through intelligent adjustments.

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Bryan Presti is the Head of Programmatic Trading at KORTX.

Bryan Presti

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