Google and Facebook account for roughly 70 percent of all digital-advertising spend, and competition is fierce among newspapers for the remaining 30 percent. But publishers need a new set of skills to wring the most value from their media. As such, there’s a role that’s gaining prominence at media companies: the programmatic analyst.
The title and the job vary somewhat depending on the publisher, but the ultimate remit is one and the same: assimilate endless reams of data from multiple digital sources (from demand-side platforms and ad servers to viewability and CPM auditors), then be able to distill where and how tweaks can be made to the open-market programmatic trading processes all in a way that can then be packaged up and made into a commercial offering.
“The programmatic analyst’s primary role is to analyze the bid landscape and identify opportunities,” said The Telegraph’s programmatic chief Paul De La Nougerede. “This could be setting different price points depending on audience segments, formats, geographic and devices, or it could be identifying high-volume advertisers that we should be building stronger partnerships with.”
Mail Online, Trinity Mirror, Northern & Shell, The Telegraph, BBC Worldwide, and News UK, are all hiring people who can inject these news skill sets into their programmatic teams. The rub: They’re incredibly difficult roles to fill, often requiring a hybrid personality and skills mix not previously available in media.
“You’re looking for people who have equal parts technical proficiency and commercial expertise, and they’re few and far between,” said Simon Haynes, digital director for Northern & Shell, which owns the Express newspapers. “They also need to completely understand the ad ecosystem.”
Such requirements are making the recruitment process painstaking. Northern & Shell spent six months looking for its first-ever programmatic analyst, who started four months ago, with the title “data insight manager.” Normally, it takes less than a month to fill a position.
“Really, we should all have done this six years ago. It’s been a long time coming,” said Haynes. Part of the reason why, he added, is it can be hard to justify the need for them when they don’t easily slot into a budget. Adding a salesman to a team is easy math — after a certain period they’ll deliver a clear return. But although the point of a programmatic analyst is to spot any potential programmatic inefficiencies, it’s hard to attribute any direct revenue uplift to them.
“Knowing the detail of my revenue is critical, but it’s hard to say that a specific person will deliver 10 percent uplifts,” added Haynes. That said, this is nothing new. “I’ve worked in companies before where it’s taken the one person running and optimizing 100 campaigns a month to nearly suffer a heart attack before the bosses were convinced we needed another person.”
BBC Worldwide, the commercial and international arm of the BBC, has just recruited its first-ever “programmatic optimization” specialist. Neil Bowman, vp of advertising technology at BBC Advertising, which sits within BBC Worldwide, said this is a crucial new hire, given the increased need for focused analysis on its open-marketplace activity. He’s opted for someone with a mix of scientific and business experience. “Choosing someone with that particular background helps us optimize our pricing strategies by identifying business trends and opportunities in the market,” added Bowman.
Trinity Mirror inherited several programmatic analysts when it acquired regional newspaper group Local World in 2015. “We formulated the programmatic analyst as a hybrid between operations and sales,” said Amir Malik, Trinity Mirror’s programmatic chief, who was also inherited in the buyout. Typically, they have economics, math or science backgrounds, but they also need to be creative and, ideally, personable for managing and retaining customers. “Essentially, they’re high-frequency traders akin to those we’ve seen work in the stock market and commodity trading,” added Malik.
Trinity Mirror’s programmatic analysts all specialize in different areas: from DMPs and programmatic direct, to data and audience extension analysts. The latest addition focuses on off-site optimization, namely Google AMP and Facebook’s Instant Articles.
MailOnline has spent a lot of time building the right analyst skills sets. It already has more than half a dozen analysts on board monitoring areas like header bidding but won’t reveal total figures for competitive reasons. But it plans to hire even more and has four positions currently open for programmatic specialists, two that lean more on the trader side and two on the data side. To do so, the publisher plans to hire based on raw talent, from a wide range of backgrounds, and choosing people based on attitude, then training them for the necessary programmatic skills.
“The role and requirements for a programmatic analyst are very wide ranging and ever evolving, from data analysis, reporting and visualization, to product development, technology integrations and optimization,” said Nat Poulter, Mail Online programmatic director. “On the face of it, it’s a very analytical and dry job, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. It is a very creative role. Regularly the team have to approach and overcome new problems that haven’t been encountered before and find innovative solutions.”