Building a world-class ad ops team

Whether you are a huge company like the New York Times or Conde Nast or a smaller publisher with a distributed workforce, you want to work with the best. You want campaign managers and traffickers who are smart, detail-oriented, solution-minded and consistently go above and beyond the basic requirements in their job description. Hiring, developing and retaining ad operations talent is one of the most difficult things publishers can do. Here are some things to consider as you build your world-class team:


The saying “patience is a virtue” couldn’t be more applicable to conducting searches for ad ops talent. Ultimately you want to have the right people in the right roles (for you and for them) and you must often balance that with the fact that there is immediate work that must be done in order to move the business forward. A good rule of thumb is to use Derek Sivers’ rule for making any decision, which is “if it is not a HELL YES, its a no.” This means that if you are on the fence about any candidate, they are probably not the right one. This is especially true for smaller teams as they will have a larger and more direct impact on your business.

Conducting an ad ops search can often become a full time job. Depending on the breadth of your search and the number of candidates you choose to screen and interview, it can take weeks of dedicated time over the course of months. This why recruiters exist and why “media-focused” recruiters proliferate. I believe that most hires still happen via personal networks, but recruiters can add value to a particularly urgent or specific search. My advice on this stage is to be all in or all out, nothing in between. In order to move things forward quickly and successfully, you need to be fully invested and committed to finding the ideal candidate and have a clear interview and selection process.


Once you've found the perfect candidate or candidates, you must ensure they operate effectively and efficiently. They must learn the specific nuances and processes of your business. They must become experts at understanding your products and delivering value to your customers. They must keep up with a rapidly changing landscape without neglecting their day-to-day responsibilities. This requires investment in both time and capital.

Develop an official, thoughtful, documented onboarding process. Give new employees time to acclimate and get comfortable before throwing them into the deep end. Foster a culture of collaboration and internal knowledge-sharing. Encourage your team to participate in industry conferences and events. If you’re lucky enough to have a team in New York, SanFrancisco, or another media hub, there are often free local meetups where people discuss the particulars of topics that only they would understand or appreciate. 


Outside of finding and hiring capable ad ops candidates, retention and motivation tends to be the most difficult aspect of any ad operations manager's job. Between a relentless pace, constant technical challenges and scarcity of qualified talent, it can be extremely difficult to prevent a rockstar campaign manager from seeking out the next opportunity. Obviously you should provide things like generous compensation, flexible work schedules and other perks, but two things that consistently surface as reasons for staying at a job are a feeling of contribution to the company’s larger mission and trusting/respecting one’s boss.

People in support roles want to feel appreciated and like their work is important to the strategic mission and growth of the company. Make sure they understand that by doing their job flawlessly, not only are you able to bill campaigns in full and collect all contracted revenue, but that advertisers (and especially agencies) want to work with publishers that make their lives easier. This leads to recurring revenue and growth which funds investment and ultimately leads to a more profitable business.

Ensure that the manager of the ad ops team, whether thats you or someone else, is equipped to be successful. Make sure they understand and actively practice the fundamentals of being a good manager, that they take the time to get to know everyone on their team and set up a clear growth path with objectives and milestones, that they meet regularly in one on ones and as a team to discuss best practices and recognize exceptional work. They should provide clear feedback in real-time, both positive and negative (or constructive).

The above will not cover every myriad of challenges you will undoubtedly face as a publisher, but it does provide a blueprint for building and maintaining a high-performing team. It takes time and effort but the end result is worth it. For guidance, gut-checks and tactical execution resources that give you breathing room to methodically grow your team, we are always on standby.