How to know if your team is bullshitting you

Throughout my 15 years working with digital publishers, there have been consistent themes when it comes to advertising sales, monetization and ad operations. They all struggle with reporting and data: highly manual to update, inconsistent nomenclature across many disparate sources, lack of real-time insights. They are all navigating an ever-evolving landscape: from changing user behavior to new ad units to regulatory challenges. Most critically, the people on the ground doing the real work - digital account managers, ad operations leads, campaign managers - are wearing multiple hats, juggling many projects and spread way too thin. At least, thats how it appears on first glance.

Quite often, teams that are stressed and overworked simply suffer from an overwhelming lack of structure and process. This commonly results from sales teams that allow clients to dictate all expectations, rather than  establishing a common ground that’s required for a healthy business relationship. When we engage new digital publishers, we quickly identify where the gaps are and work with internal ad ops, client service and sales teams to streamline wherever possible. Sometimes this means creating simple documentation that ensures all parties are aligned and understand responsibilities. Other times it is overhauling an entire workflow and installing new software that allows for better protection of inventory and faster execution of campaigns. In most cases, we’ve been able to make a substantial impact by addressing very real challenges based on past experiences.

In other cases, those who claim to be so busy that their work continuously suffers simply should not be. Obviously, we don’t know what their entire day looks like. They may have myriad responsibilities, from maintaining a website in the absence of an in-house development team to interfacing with vendors and clients despite being in a primarily internal or technical role. However, after weeks or months of working with such individuals, it often becomes clear that they are not managing their time wisely. This may not be their fault at all. They might be required to attend too many meetings, many of them a complete waste of time. They may fail to appropriately prioritize the deluge work in front of them. They might become distracted by unimportant goings on within their office. As far as their boss is concerned, these people are doing their very best given the situation they've been presented with. Despite their best efforts, mistakes are made, deadlines are missed and internal/external parties are frustrated with the lack of responsiveness.

The consistent feedback to managers in these situations is that there is simply too much work and not enough resources to address the needs of the business. Rare is the digital publisher with lavish budgets for ad operations and sales operations, however this is almost never the entire story. More often, there is a perfect storm of conflicting issues: lack of experience or expertise, high turnover resulting in continually short staffed teams, insufficient process (especially documented and adhered-to process) and myriad other challenges. Managers and site owners almost never have relevant enough experience to challenge these employees with any credibility. They simply have to take what what they are told at face value and address it as best they can.

So, what to do in this situation? One option is to make a very senior hire, someone who has been there, done that and can appropriately call BS or institute impactful processes. Challenge: these people are expensive and difficult to retain unless they experience consistent growth and development. Another is for the manager/publisher to get in the weeds themselves and learn the specifics of each situation. Challenge: by far the most time-intensive option and likely to result in lack of focus at best and total burnout at worst. Hiring a more junior person to handle the day-to-day minutiae which must get done is also an option. Challenge: they are typically only capable of following existing processes rather than coming up with efficiencies and improvements to help the business. These people are also difficult to retain and rightly always looking for the next step in their career. Lastly, publishers might consider bringing in outside help in the form of consultants or category experts. Challenge: these people are not full time employees and thus may potentially not be as invested in your success. However, if you choose the right partner, not only will they be able to advise you on situations where inefficiencies exist, but they will care as much if not more about your success than the typical employee. At 360ops, we pride ourselves on building long term (often many years) relationships with our clients and believe deeply in adding value at multiples of what our fees are. If you think your team may be suffering from any of these far too common common ailments and that they can actually be addressed, we would love to hear from you.