Publishers need to fix their programmatic ad sales strategies

Pete Spande is chief revenue officer of Business Insider.

Is the history of Web publishing repeating itself?

In the early stages of the Internet, most publishers established separate teams – even parallel businesses – to address the opportunity and challenge of the new medium. Back then, digital businesses looked very different than the mature magazines and newspapers they shared a brand name with – especially when it came to product and operations. In nearly every case, the same thinking was applied to the sales organization, which was split between new and old.

As Internet ad spending grew, this separation created all sorts of headaches: sales calls became “four-legged,” staffed by two (competing) teams within the same unit. New people were even brought in just to integrate the two parts of the (same) business.

Now it’s programmatic advertising that’s tempting publishers to split up sales. It’s an organizational challenge that looks remarkably similar to that of 10-15 years ago. The arguments for separate sales teams again seem self-evident: specialization requires expertise, and it’s easier to compensate people when “separate” revenue is treated distinctly.

Also, buying sources are often different, and many existing salespeople show little interest in selling programmatic. (And let’s be real here – the revenue opportunity today for salespeople is much smaller in programmatic than in direct sales.)

Why, then, distract the golden goose? Isn’t the right solution to create and keep two separate sales teams?

This is wrong-headed thinking, and here’s why: if spending estimates come remotely close to predictions, programmatic will not remain a specialty practice much longer. With both agencies and clients demanding ever more efficiency, programmatic infrastructure is the best and brightest solution yet.

However, if we’re not careful about the rollout of programmatic, we could again be headed for four, six or even eight-legged sales meetings, unhealthy internal competition, unnecessary integration teams, and lengthy and expensive re-orgs that don’t really “take.”

Broadly speaking, sales teams need to get smart about programmatic. Here’s how:

Train your team.
While it may be evolving quickly, programmatic is not going away. Sales teams need to get trained, and quickly, and marketing/ad product teams need to understand how and when to incorporate programmatic into programs and proposals.

Create value.
Programmatic often gets cast as just a technique to undercut CPMs. But it’s so much more than that, and offers so much more potential. Organizations that develop creative and smart ways to inject programmatic into their sales efforts will discover a powerful new tool in their arsenal.

It’s critical to reduce inefficient and ineffective processes. Most ad organizations and agencies have held on to truly wasteful systems in generating and executing programs. The opportunity to vastly simplify workflows exists, and the potential return on this effort is considerable.

Connect the dots.
Publishers aren’t the only organizations struggling with the shift towards programmatic. Agencies and brand marketers are equally challenged to make sense of this changing landscape. Help them!

The bottom line is this: programmatic is changing everything. And it’s not an easy process. Every organization’s culture will demand a nuanced approach to this rapid evolution.

But it’s the organizations that do the hard work now that will be much farther along the road than those that merely kicked the can down it.

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