‘Everyone wants to point a finger’: Confessions of a programmatic exec at a publisher

This article is part of our Confessions series, in which we trade anonymity for candor to get an unvarnished look at the people, processes and problems inside the industry. More from the series →

Publishers love to complain about ad tech vendors, especially if Google is involved. For the latest in our anonymous Confessions series, we talked to a publisher exec who specializes in programmatic. The exec said publishers reflexively blame vendors rather than looking in the mirror, and complaining about Google is a form of social cohesion.

Here are excerpts, edited for clarity.

Why do so many publishers resent their vendors?
Everyone wants to point a finger and blame someone when things go wrong. Publishers complain about vendors so much because it’s easy.

What do you mean by that?
It’s rare to find a publisher who looks internally to figure out why their ad tech is breaking. Most people would rather send an angry email first.

Why is that a problem?
You won’t get the most out of your vendors if you treat them this way. The account managers at these vendors just get spears thrown at them all day. But if you treat them more like a client, they’ll do a lot more to help you when things go wrong. When you treat them [badly], they’ll just send you links to customer service hotlines in different time zones whenever you make a request.

Other publishers reading this might say you are shilling for the vendors.
Listen, I’ve worked in this industry since the first ads went online in the 1990s. And I’ve worked for multiple publishers and vendors, so I’ve seen both sides of this and I get the frustration with ad tech taxes and the murky ad supply chain. I am guilty of seeing the glass as half full, but the fact is, a lot of publishers expect their problems to go away if they just blast out a few emails.

How should publishers approach vendors?
It might sound dated and old school, but publishers overlook how developing a working relationship with someone goes a long way. Just the simple act of calling the reps of your supply-side platforms for five minutes to ask them what their quarterly goals are will benefit you when you have an integration not work.

We’re a small site that’s not in the comScore 200, so we’re not sending as much money to our vendors as bigger publishers do, but I’ve gotten vendor reps to include us in tests for products that are generally reserved for larger sites. And who doesn’t want to be included in tests for things like Google’s exchange bidding or Facebook’s mid-rolls?

Some of these vendors also sit on committees for industry groups like the Interactive Advertising Bureau or the Coalition for Better Ads. By developing a relationship with vendors, you can know what’s going on with these trade groups ahead of their public announcements, which makes it easier to adjust for what’s coming.

Are publishers’ complaints about vendors more legitimate if they’re pointed toward Google, since Google has so much control over them?
Sort of. The ad blocker for its Chrome browser is concerning, and I get why people worry about their search results. But that doesn’t mean I should grouse about all of Google’s ad tech products. Everyone beats up on the big guys, but they still work with them. It’s like how people complain about Walmart, but they still choose to shop there. You can use other ad servers and exchanges that aren’t Google, but most publishers choose not to. They’d rather just refer to Google as a necessary evil.

But isn’t it sometimes fun to complain about Google?
I guess it can be. Whenever I’m at an industry event with other publishers, making a fuss over Google functions as a form of social bonding similar to how people whine about cold weather at the barbershop. Having a common enemy can bring people together, and in ad tech, the common enemy is usually Google.

What irritates you most about the digital media industry?
We have a lot of people with high intelligence but low business maturity.


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