Advertising is a relationship business

Read Time: 5 minutes

With the way online advertising has grown, between ad blockers (the boogey men of the industry), header bidding, SSPs, DSPs, RTB, intrusive tracking, speed, mobile, malware (the other boogey men of the industry), and click bots, it sometimes feels like there’s too much to think about.

Enter programmatic advertising, which does a good job of streamlining our decision and makes those hard problems disappear. But, especially when it’s used as a catch-all, programmatic makes it easy to forget about what drives our industry: relationships.

Relationships are all around us, between the publisher and their users, the advertiser and their customers, and, what brings it all together, the relationship between the publisher and the advertiser. Relationships are full of benefits and, I know this sounds anti-programmatic, but you can’t put a face to an ad exchange, and you can’t have a relationship with a computer. Knowing where you inventory or customer is coming from is huge, and having a good relationship pays dividends in the long run, from speed optimization to keeping those impressions clean.

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What are you talking about?

A quick break down. “Programmatic Advertising” is when you plug your website or advertisements into an ad exchange (or multiple) and it gives you what you’re looking for. It automates the buy and sell, and gives you the best traffic it can. You can also buy directly from companies in some cases, but the majority of programmatic is automated bids.

The other side of the coin is direct sales, where one person with real estate finds one person with creatives. Harder to make happen than programmatic, but more rewarding. Ad Networks sit somewhere in the middle, but we’ll ignore them for now.

I’m not the first to say this, but direct sales are still better than any sort of programmatic solution. With the proper partnership both parties, publisher and advertiser, get a better deal. The publisher gets more for their space, and in exchange the advertiser gets more value for their impressions/clicks/conversions/whatever they’re looking for. The publisher’s audience is happy. The advertiser’s clients are too. A good relationship can pay dividends over any sophisticated bidding system. Everyone’s happy, including the audience.

Use what you know

When running a blog, your readers are your lifeline. You write things that keep them interested, you try to engage them and have conversations, and you do a dozen other things all in the hopes that they’ll keep reading and recommend you to their friends. In short, you’re trying to build a relationship.

Why shouldn’t we be using these same techniques with our advertising partners? Why shouldn’t we be asking for feedback, or helping them create content to engage people? If you know your readers really love Patagonia or Hoyne, why not reach out to your advertising partner and let them know? An ad exchange might have a database where they know your user almost bought a cat-shaped back scratcher, but only you know that your readers are really interested in dog-shaped ones.

And once you have a good advertising partner, just like a reader, they’ll keep coming back. When their next campaign starts, or they’re making a marketing budget for the next year, you’ll be in the back of their mind. They might allocate 95% to programmatic and the other 5% to you, but that’s 5% you know you have, that you don’t have to fight tooth and nail for.

And it works both ways. If your publisher is doing a redesign, they might want your input on what formats work best. Or the publisher could help you create creatives that actually engage their readers, as opposed to flashing the same campaign across all your demographics.

Advertising is a two way street

Advertising is a two-way street

Quick question, if one of your loyal blog readers complains about an especially annoying AdX banner, what do you do?

Not much. If you’re lucky, you can track down the banner and file a complaint, but most likely the banner has disappeared into the ether and you let your user know that (you hope) it’ll never happen again. In the best case, it won’t. But there’s no way of guaranteeing that, and for every reader that emails you about it, there’s a dozen that decided not to come back.

On the other side, what if your banner gets served to a web page that’s been targeted by bots? Or one where users are rewarded for clicks? If you knew the person on the other side, you could call them up, or avoid the situation all together. With ad exchanges, it’s either all or nothing. You can change your targeting, but you can’t change the fact that you don’t know where your banners are going.

Compare that to when you’re on a first name basis with your advertiser, or if your publisher has created an account so you can check the campaign’s statistics (like in AdButler). Bringing a third-party in to verify those stats adds transparency, but more importantly, it adds trust. A fly-by-night operation isn’t going to let you see their metrics.

There’s more than one way to skin a website

When it comes down to it, there are too many benefits of a good relationship to list them all. Whether it’s wanting to count impressions, improve the speed of your website, stay on the good side of ad blockers and your more savvy customers, or even just to have someone to bounce ideas off of, your relationship with your advertising partner matters. There needs to be accountability, and there needs to be understanding. As much as we love (or hate) computers here in Ad ops, you can’t have that with an automated exchange. So, really, I can boil this down to one statement:

Relationships are good

I’m not breaking the mould here by any stretch of the imagination. But it’s easy to forget how important relationships are. It’s also easy to forget how hard they are to forge. If you’re just starting out your website, if you’re just beginning to build a base or just getting in the banner game, it’s hard to find partners and programmatic is there to help you when you need it. Ad exchanges are also great for backfill. But like any business, the key is to diversify, and know your relationships.

Liam Workman


Liam is an account manager and blog king at SparkLit, the SaaS company behind AdButler and FourEyes. He loves rock climbing, hiking, coding, and being your friend.