Changing The Industry: Don’t Just Complain, Do Something

By Eric Picard (Originally published on AdExchanger – May 6th, 2013)

Take it from me: It’s easy to complain. I’ve been writing monthly articles in this space since 1999, which I think qualifies me as a “semi-professional” complainer. In these articles, I discuss issues facing our industry in a public forum and – sometimes – offer suggestions on how we can fix them. But what gets masked, perhaps, is how problems are really solved behind the scenes in our industry.

I’ve been involved in many industry projects over the years. Some of these projects have come through industry organizations like theInteractive Advertising Bureau, some through my employers, and some through unofficial channels such as informal dinners with industry folks that unexpectedly yield ideas for solutions.

Ultimately, things change when someone is passionate about a topic, decides to do more than just talk about it, and rallies a group of people to make that change happen. More than anything, in my experience, what matters is intent. Pushing forward with the intent to make change happen is what drives change. It sounds simple, but it really is the case.

Recently, I had an experience that illustrates my point. But first, let me set the stage…

In ad technology, most of the company leaders know each other pretty well. Despite Terry Kawaja’s best efforts at showing how complex the “LUMAscape” is, the reality is that we’re a pretty compact industry with a fairly small number of key people.

When it comes to ad technology, there are probably only 100-200 people who’ve been primarily responsible for turning the crank these past 15-20 years – and most of us know each other. Even when we find ourselves competing, we find plenty of respect for each other, as well as – perhaps surprisingly – a lot of consensus on the big issues. When I get in a room with Tom Shields from Yieldex, or Tony Katsur from Maxifier, or John Ramey from isocket, the conversation is always going to be fun because we’re all knowledgeable and passionate about the issues. Even if we don’t talk regularly, we can dive right into these conversations because we can use shorthand. We don’t have to explain any context or background; we all have a baseline of understanding.

So when I started reading my friends’ and colleagues’ articles complaining about something as simple as what we call a new category of digital media, I realized a problem was brewing.

The Great Programmatic Premium Debate

The term “programmatic premium” has taken a life of its own and become confusing to many in the industry. Some folks on the real-time bidding side of the market started using the term to show that ad exchanges were finally getting access to “premium” inventory. But there’s also a whole new category of media tools being used to buy and sell inventory through direct publisher integration. These companies were also using the term “programmatic premium,” but with a whole different set of meanings.

After reading the fifth or sixth article on this topic, I got fed up. I sent an email to all the people who were working in this new space and suggested that we get together and help the industry by deciding what the name should be, developing a position and pushing it to the market. I remembered what happened to the “demand-side platforms” and the “supply-side platforms,” feeling that if we could come to some consensus on ”programmatic premium,” perhaps we could help fix the problem quickly.

I knew that most of the folks involved were likely to attend the AdExchanger Programmatic I/O conference in San Francisco, so I suggested that the group meet at the conference and discuss this. A few weeks ago, this informal industry roundtable – including representatives from eight companies – met during the conference and also gathered input before and after the meeting from others who couldn’t attend in person.

After lengthy debate, we came to a unanimous decision: The best name to describe inventory purchased in an automated way through a buying or selling tool that is directly integrated with a publisher’s ad server is “programmatic direct.”  This name reflects the difference between programmatic real-time bidding (RTB) and the growing category of directly integrated buying and selling tools that enable the replacement of the antiquated request for proposal (RFP) and insertion order (I/O) approach that have been in place since industry began.

Last week, John Ramey from isocket published a summary of the discussion on AdExchanger, to which all the participants added comments. The effort ended in success, and now we can move forward as an industry.

How to Drive Change: Do Something

But this is just one example of many. My point is that the potential to move the industry forward lies in all our hands. We are creating the future of advertising and media – and most people don’t realize the power they hold in that process. Every fire needs a spark to ignite it. It’s from you that real change can come.

There are dozens of examples like the one above, showing how with a little effort, consensus building and leadership, the industry can change.

Another such example is the Universal Ad Package that the IAB pushed through in record time back in 2002. The legend is that this effort started when some folks from Microsoft, Disney and Yahoo got together for drinks at a conference and realized that they could shortcut the whole process of pushing better ad formats through the IAB if they did the legwork ahead of time. They invited several other publishers to the conversation, and before long they had a consensus and a very complete body of work that made the standardization job much easier by the time it arrived at the IAB.

Whether you’re trying to change the name of a category, fix a fundamental problem with the number of standard ad formats, or change the way that some major piece of technology works, don’t shy away from having those conversations. If you don’t like the way a product works, don’t complain to your colleagues. Instead, send an email or pick up the phone and call the person in charge of product management for that product.  You’d be shocked by how few people do this, and how much the product managers want to hear this kind of feedback.

If you are passionate about changing the industry, then do it. Join an IAB committee. Write emails, write articles, have dinner at conferences with like-minded colleagues – and even competitors.  That’s how change happens. That’s how you get things done.


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