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Hiring for programmatic marketing: how to build a best-practice team

Change Makers

Hiring for programmatic marketing: how to build a best-practice team


Ben Ice examines the structures, skills and issues in the fast-paced and competitive area of programmatic marketing operations.


This article originally appeared in The Adtech Issue, our current special edition of Marketing mag.


“We’ve seen a pretty big knowledge gap in understanding programmatic, and getting comfortable with the software,” says Michelle Chen, director of learning and development at TubeMogul. That’s why the adtech vendor has invested heavily into its own ‘Academy’ to on-board new clients – whether brands or agencies – and set them up to succeed.

Using the software is an important aspect, of course, but just as important are the skill sets and processes behind it.

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In general, the structure of a programmatic marketing function can be broken into planning and execution. That’s media planning skills and campaign management skills to start. To that, add account management if you’re an agency, or in a business where the programmatic function will be required to liaise often with other teams.

The planning arm is best built up of people with a background in media strategy, such as those previously employed as media buyers or planners at agencies.

For the programmatic world, expect training for such personnel to take three to four weeks, and it should involve hands-on practice and shadowing. Planners need to be savvy in multiple tech and media formats, and understand different inventory sources.

Campaign managers, the executors, are those who carry out the campaigns daily. Training for these is likely to also be three weeks if they’ve come from another specialist digital marketing role.

Account managers also need some degree of programmatic-specific knowledge. As well as client liaison, account managers need to be able to measure and report the success of campaigns. They’re those who can explain to the higher- ups the success of their campaigns.

In addition to the three-part ideal structure, Chen suggest that true business analytics team is part of the operation.

“They’re in charge of insights, of really dissecting the data and figuring out the next move,” she says.

components of programmatic teamBreaking the team into the above roles is a start, and this ensures an efficient team. Chen warns that having one or two people running a programmatic operation will work only until you try to scale.

“In the long run, you really want people to specialise in their roles so they’re a more efficient and better at their jobs,” she says. “It’s the best way to build a team and being able to scale it effectively is the next step. That means not just assigning one staff member to each task. There are brands that start with one or two people that do everything. That works, but it doesn’t scale.”

So which attribute is more important for staff members and teams to have: sound knowledge of the technology or a broader knowledge of marketing industry skills?

“It depends on the role,” says Chen. “For people who’ve had more traditional advertising backgrounds, they’re good for account management or media strategy.

“For campaign managers, they have to be tech savvy, they have to be people who have explored other platforms or are certified in other DSPs out there.

“The skill set and the personalities are very different. Campaign managers are more often people who like maths, science and really like to play with data; whereas account managers are more social and more personable.”

Shannon Fitzpatrick, who’s the trading desk commercial manager at Domain Media, says his hiring experience has been quite diverse. “When we do hire people who potentially don’t have any previous trading desk experience, we look for candidates with a background in operations, and experience in digital areas such as SEO or social,” he says.

“We even consider candidates with experience in TV buying.

“One thing we do look for in all our candidates, however, is a willingness to continually learn. Today, to be a programmatic trader, you constantly need to up skill. There are always new ways to optimise your campaign or target your clients. It’s a fast paced industry in which tech- nology and client demands are always competing, and all programmatic media buyers need to be conscious of this,” Fitzpatrick says.

“We also value candidates with great communication skills, as it’s such a critical part of the role. You need to be able to explain complex campaign needs, such as optimisation strategies, to both clients and internal stakeholders. Therefore, it’s something we always look for in every candidate, regardless of their previous experience.”

One area where specialisation may be on the decline is in advertising channel or format.

“There are situations where clients have different teams handle different types of ad formats, such as a display team, a TV team and a desktop video team,” Chen says. “But, increasingly, it really doesn’t matter what screen you’re reaching your audience on. We recommend homing in on everything and consolidating everything together.

“It creates a more fluid conversation, versus segmenting every channel apart. Because, ultimately, it’s a holistic marketing strategy – it’s not specific to social or mobile,” she says.

A fast-paced, demanding industry

For applicants as well, the programmatic industry is one of constant change. Chen warns applicants it’s not always going to be an easy job. “People who want nine-to-five, this really isn’t it.”

Applicants who can approach the role with flexibility and an open mind are the ones who’ll really succeed. It’s also not an industry where managers can offer new staff a detailed and accurate forecast of career development and opportunities.

“The industry can’t realistically provide managers who can tell you, for example, where you might be in two or five years.” The ideal candidates, Chen says, are people who are creative and flexible. “Who like to go outside the box and try new things,” she says.

For this reason among others, one challenge in the programmatic advertising job market is finding staff capable of keeping up with the fast-paced nature of the industry.

“People always think they can move fast and, in interviews, they say they can handle it. Unfortunately, it’s not true for all candidates in reality. They get into it and it’s a lot quicker than they anticipated,” says Chen. “A lot of TubeMogul’s senior folks agree that they’ve never worked at a company that moves so quickly.”

Once again, says Chen, the role of ‘expectation setting’ becomes an important one for a programmatic team leader in both the up and down directions.

In terms of the source of candidates, Chris Blok, country manager for Australia and New Zealand at SpotX, says he’s seeing people joining programmatic teams from other marketing and advertising disciplines, as well as from other fields altogether.

”There is a combination of new blood as well as people interested in cross-training or up-skilling themselves for the new media environment,” he says. “There are also a number of people coming from other industries with strong analytical backgrounds, such as research or banking.”

For one major advertiser, Pernod Ricard Winemakers, finding the ideal person to guide it on its journey was just a matter of patience.

“We secured talent from within a media agency to help us on our journey,” says Kate Whitney, global digital director at Pernod Ricard Winemakers. “Not only because of their experience, but for the sheer luxury of having an in-house dedicated resource for the area.”

industry biggest people challengesDavid Scheepers joined the business in November 2015 after a long career in the media world. He was tasked with embedding programmatic advertising within the company and leveraging first-party data from its data-management platform (DMP), Oracle BlueKai.

“We waited until we found the right candidate who had the perfect style to ensure the topic is well understood and embraced by stakeholders,” Whitney says.

Turnover and the Millennial mindset

In an industry that sees high turnover and many staff moving to competitor and client organisations, cultural fit is still the most important factor Chen looks for in staff.

“We hire for culture first,” she says of TubeMogul which, along with product engineers, employs many planners and campaign managers to work for clients who opt for the ‘managed’ service model of running their programmatic media buying.

It’s pretty competitive out there, with a lot of companies building out programmatic teams,” Chen says. “There’s a lot of need for talent like ours, and we’ve lost people to our clients and competitors, and that’s normal. We anticipate for that turnover, we try to do our best to backfill.”

“Ad ops jobs don’t pay real well,” says Mark Torrance, CTO (chief technology o cer) at Rocketfuel. “The way that you get somebody to want to stay in an ad ops job is by having them work at an agency where vendors wine them and dine them regularly.

“The stereotype is that it’s a 23-year-old media planner who’s fresh out of school and doesn’t make very much money as a salary, but gets all these perks. It’s hard to imagine that a brand is going to be able to attract and create a culture that attracts that same kind of person at that same kind of salary to do that kind of work for them.”

Torrance admits that’s a cynical description, but offers another more pragmatic factor agencies bring to the table that brand-side teams can’t: “There are economies of scale that an agency can provide in training media planners. They cross-train each other, move around and work on different brands.

“There’s not an opportunity for their growth or for that kind of learning if you’re just working in a small team on a single brand.”

These days, the most common demographic TubeMogul hires is Millennials. While they’re tech savvy, flexible and innovative, their ambition can pose challenges and is part of the reason the industry experiences high competition and turnover.

“They’re ambitious and want to get promoted in a year or less,” says Chen.

It’s a big challenge for brands, forcing them to offer significant incentives to retain talented staff who may have opportunities to do more ‘exciting’ work elsewhere.

Inevitably, sometimes the turnover speed can be too fast to train and prepare new staff. “To really be an expert at a software you need at least three to five months, maybe more,” Chen says.

“With somebody who doesn’t stay that long, you’ve invested so much into them, and you have to start over.”

While it’s not always possible to promote Millennial staff every six to 12 months, keeping an open mind about new roles and opportunities within organisations will mean constant engagement, and help avoid tedious and repetitive work.

Chen says as long as you’re open to new positions and appointments, there will always be openings that can be presented to all staff. “Part of keeping Millennials happy is really creating opportunities in all directions, maybe not up, but sideways.”

This could mean media strategists switching into sales, or vice versa. These changes can reveal new skills and hidden talents among staff.

“Any exposure they get to different roles, they can understand what they’re really good at, and where they want to push throughout their career.” Enlisting staff in a number of places and roles is great for building skills. “It’s knowledge transfer across the board,” she says.

Travel is another way to keep things fresh. Staff can share in knowledge gained in new parts of the globe, and those who struggle in one setting may excel in others.

Taking advantage of training

This is where your technology partners can help greatly. They’re motivated to help clients get the best results from the software, so will often make training a priority, especially for advertisers taking operations of their adtech in house.

TubeMogul, for example, runs TubeMogul Academy, a course for clients looking to bring programmatic in-house, brings them up to speed on everything they need to know about the industry. The Academy covers business topics, software topics and product and industry trends. The aim is to give a holistic understanding of what companies are getting themselves into and how challenging it’s going to be to set up teams, structures and processes.

The Training Academy course for new client brands and agencies is broken into three days, and gives an idea of the necessary core focuses of any e ective programmatic marketing organisation.

Day one is centred on understanding the programmatic landscape – asking basic questions about the industry clients are in, the trends and challenges they face. It’s also the day where they’re introduced to the common terminology surrounding programmatic.

“The sheer amount of terminology that people have to remember is pretty overwhelming,” says Chen of the ever-changing array of jargon.

The second day gets a little more detailed, answering client questions such as, ‘What is your ability? How do you ensure brand safety? What kind of inventory sources does TubeMogul work with?’ and ‘Why is it better to work with a DSP as opposed to directly with publishers?’

Trainees log in to the platform, build a campaign on their own and begin to understand optimisation strategy, reporting and ad formats. They also attend a session on mobile, social, connected TV and cross-screen media.

The final day is more based on strategy. “We try to connect the dots between how to really create a cohesive brand strategy for the year, or for a period of time,” explains Chen. “How do you really test and learn, and try to get the best brand strategy for that particular brand you’re working with?”

They run through a roadmap, “drill into next steps, and action items that they should be going back to their account teams with,” concludes Chen.

Hiring specific programmatic roles

Media Planner: If sourcing media planners from media agencies, you’ll want to probe their knowledge of programmatic to ensure they have some level of familiarity with the hands-on operations of a programmatic media buying platform. The benefit is they’ll come pre-prepared with the bigger picture view of a brand’s media plan and how each part fits together and complements the other.

Media operations specialist: Ad traffickers and advertising managers from publishers and media agencies can play a useful hands-on role to leave media planners with more of the strategic and optimisation work of campaigns. Check that they understand real-time bidding environments and the nitty gritty of creative rotation in ad servers, which a good DSP will take care of.

Data analyst: As these are very comfortable with data sets, you’ll want to ask them about the ability to manipulate data to understand more subtle customer challenges. One test you can give in the candidate assessment process is to give them a series of unlabelled charts and challenge them to tell a story with them. What will separate the good from the great is their ability to come up with tests to answer the needs of the business and the problems faced by customers.

Search specialist: If your organisation includes search marketing as part of programmatic (some do, some don’t, since it’s typically done through different platforms), you’ll want a search specialist in your team. Search is one area which already has extensive experience with auction-based buying, although search marketing is a somewhat different beast to display or video. You may find search specialists aren’t overly comfortable with multi-channel, so ask how they test and learn to probe the value of a programmatic platform.

Parting wisdom

Fitzpatrick’s key advice on building teams for a programmatic advertising world centres on balance and culture. “My advice is that you need to have the right mix of technical knowledge, communication and relationship building skills to develop successful programmatic teams,” he says.

“Training up is the easy part. What’s important is that you keep your team motivated and interested. At Domain we have a start-up tech culture, which means we look for people who are digitally curious, self-reliant and also have a passion to make a di erence and grow within our business.”

Blok echoes these sentiments. “Programmatic skills can always be taught,” he says. “So be open to new learnings and ask lots of questions. Use as many resources as you can to get the whole picture to ensure better results.”

Chen further recommends managers take a very active role, involving themselves in the training up of program- matic teams. For her clients, this means encouraging management to attend their training sessions.

“If you’re managing a team, it would help if you under- stood what they’re going through, and what challenges they’re going to encounter day-to-day.

“Otherwise, if they come to you with a question, you’re not going to know the answer,” she says.

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Image copyright: retrorocket / 123RF Stock Photo

Ben Ice

Ben Ice was MarketingMag editor from August 2017 - February 2020

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