‘They think I’m the boogeyman’: 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 →

One constant struggle for large media organizations is getting the incentives of different departments to align. For the latest installment of our anonymous Confessions series, we talked to a programmatic specialist at a legacy media company. The source said the direct-sales and programmatic departments butt heads because sales reps don’t understand ad tech, so they worry that programmatic will cannibalize their revenue.

Here are excerpts from the conversation, edited for clarity.

What’s your beef with direct sales?
Our direct-sales team doesn’t want us to be transparent in how we sell programmatic. Our direct salespeople say, “You are selling CPMs for $2 programmatically and I am trying to sell CPMs for $10, so why the hell would any agency ever buy from us direct?” They think I am the boogeyman trying to take all their money. They’d rather not have the agency know how cheap the inventory is selling for on an open exchange.

It sounds like ad buyers’ negotiation tactics are working if they are getting into the heads of your salespeople.
We just need to get it across to direct sales that programmatic isn’t here to take all of your money. But it’s hard to educate everyone when we have more than 10 websites and offices in multiple states.

Why does your direct-sales team feel threatened by programmatic?
It comes down to a lack of knowledge of what programmatic is. Programmatic is just a way to buy inventory; it isn’t a be-all, end-all strategy.

What’s an example of how someone in direct sales misunderstood your programmatic strategy?
We have had salespeople sell $1 CPMs direct just because they saw we had some cheap inventory on an open exchange. Their idea was that closing a deal is closing a deal, no matter what the price is. We need a lot more education on how our tech stack works.

What do you mean by that?
A lot of people on direct sales aren’t that familiar with ad tech. Some of them spent most of their careers selling print or TV, so they don’t get that the crappy impressions go to programmatic.

I thought programmatic people wanted to distance themselves from associating with remnant inventory.
It differs across media companies how programmatic is prioritized. But those bottom-of-the-barrel impressions should always come to me. We aren’t going to set up private marketplaces or sell directly for our shitty inventory.

What do you want to sell directly?
We want direct selling our premium inventory and putting together custom deals, like site takeovers, that you can’t get on the open exchange. Ideally, we use programmatic to fill what’s left over. But on some of our sites, direct doesn’t sell half of the premium inventory. This leads us to oversaturate our inventory in the open market, which lowers our ad rates.

How do you bridge that gap between the direct and programmatic departments?
We are trying to educate our direct-sales reps that PMPs are an arrow in their quiver. If a sales rep goes to an agency who says they want to buy programmatically, the sales rep needs to be able tell them about our PMP products and be knowledgeable enough to help the buyer get set up.

What should a direct-sales rep say when an ad buyer tells them your inventory is cheaper on the open market?
The salesperson should sit down and show the buyer that if you want 80 percent viewability with a time in view of 30 seconds, CPMs are going to be at least $10. If you want a decent ad placement in a PMP, those CPMs cost $6 or $7. If you want our $1 to $2 inventory that’s on the open exchange, we’re glad you are interested in it, but you aren’t going to get much value out of 300 x 250 display ads at the bottom of the site.

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