16 Questions to Ask Your Programmatic Provider

I have been asked for advice a number of times recently on whether a managed service or self-service programmatic display solution is the right way to go. Of course, the answer to this question is generally, “it depends”. And it depends on a lot of things, but mostly it is about scale and control. What is the scale of your programmatic display activity and what control are you looking for.

At some ends of the market, the validity of managed services is being questioned. With few barriers to entry for the available self-service options on the market, why do people still need somebody else to do it to them? The answer is again two-pronged, this time capability and control.

Nearly all advertisers and agencies I speak to are on a journey with their programmatic display, with a view that the end goal is self-management through a 3rd party platform. But right now, they lack both the capability, and also the scale of activity to justify it.

So, for the foreseeable future, while businesses are on this journey, managed services still have a role to play. However, in order to avoid some of the common pitfalls that can arise from entrusting a 3rd party provider with your budget, there are a number of questions you should look to ask, and you should be comfortable with the answers you receive. These are equally applicable when looking to compare potential providers.

This is far from an exhaustive list, but it should be a good start to better understanding of what a managed service provider has to offer and to enable to compare the solutions that exist within the market.

  1. What do you classify yourself as? A trading desk? A DSP? Something else?

The answer to this question will tell you a lot about the service you can expect and also the flow of funds from your budget to the end publisher.  If they are a Demand Side Platform (DSP) they will be using their own tech, and probably supporting the management fees through their own margin. If they are something else (management company, trading desk, platform company….) and aren’t disclosing their fees then they will likely be taking a cut before money reaches the DSP buying the advertising space.

  1. What DSP do you use? is it different based on inventory type (desktop, mobile, video)? Is it your own or a 3rd party?

Question 1 will probably go some way to answering this question too, although it is always worth asking explicitly. Different technologies apply different fees and can also add complications such as cross-device frequency capping, so it is always worth understanding what technologies a provider is going to be using.

  1. Do you have your own direct PMP deals or do you trade on the open exchanges?

Private Marketplace (PMP) agreements bring control, open exchange buys bring scale. There is no right or wrong answer to this question but it is worth understanding how a provider plans to trade your activity so you know what control you can expect from them.

PMPs also open up certain inventory at proprietary rates to the provider so it may be a benefit to you if they have them in place.

  1. What split of retargeting vs prospecting are you proposing and can this be monitored ongoing?

This is always something you should agree and define with any managed service provider. Retargeting understandably converts at a much higher rate than prospecting. But these may be customers you would have received anyway. So if it is new customers you are after, then you should define this up front and also accept your response metrics are going to be less impressive.

  1. Do you offer creative services? Does this include dynamic/rich media?

A lot of display advertising providers will provide creative development services free of charge to remove a barrier to purchase. It may not be something you feel you need, but it is definitely worth being aware of.

  1. What are your fees and how are they calculated?

If they are a DSP, this will generally be a % tech fee. If they claim to be a “managed service” or a “platform business” then it will generally be non-transparent and non-disclosed. Whatever your views on whether fees should be disclosed, it is worth understanding how your provider addresses this question and comparing them to their immediate competitors.

  1. What buy models do you support? CPM, CPC, CPA?

Most programmatic display will be bought on a cost per thousand (CPM) basis although it is always worth knowing if there are other models available to you.

  1. What post view and post-click conversion window will you apply to my activity?

Attribution of sales is something to address up front. If you don’t or are unclear, then you can end up in a position where the provider is claiming and managing activity against sales you are allocating elsewhere.

Aside from allocation of sales, you should always be comfortable with the allocation windows a provider is working to and the measurement model for success of the activity.

  1. Can you run off my ad-server data so I can deduplicate against my other channels?

To avoid your display activity claiming sales you are allocating elsewhere then you need a single tracking solution across all channels. You can then set attribution criteria for all activity and also ensure you aren’t double counting conversions.

  1. What third party data providers do you typically use?

For DSP providers you should understand what data providers they are using for their audience profiling. This will help you get an understanding of its accuracy and whether you are really reaching the people the activity is aimed at.

  1. Can you onboard 1st party data for me?

1st party data is a great tool for reaching previous purchasers or upselling to existing ones. However, utilising what 1st party data you have available is a sensitive process and must be done in the right way. There are technology providers that can help you, and it may be that the managed service partner has one they typically use and can support this for you.

  1. What level of transparency do you provide on reporting? Can I get a domain list including impressions served?

Transparency is a major issue in programmatic display and will continue to be the hot topic for 2018. Traditionally providers have been pretty opaque in how they operate which can lead advertisers to find their ads in some pretty unsavoury places.

As an advertiser, the minimum you should be asking for is domain reports. If they can provide additional metrics as well, then all the better.

  1. How much can I tailor my strategy for you to implement?

Working with a partner on a tailored strategy for them to implement, is the ideal situation if using a managed service.  This might be a different retargeting approach dependant on onsite behaviour or more aggressive bidding for particular valuable audiences. Being able to define this and have a service provider implement gives you the element of control often associated more frequently with self-service trading.

  1. What brand safety technology do you utilise and what assurances can you provide?

Brand safety has been top of the programmatic agenda through 2017, and as an advertiser, you really don’t want to fall foul of ad misplacement. Most providers will have a preferred brand safety provider they integrate with. They all work slightly differently so understanding who they use and how is an important step in partner selection.

  1. If you are a DSP, do you have a self-serve interface and if not, do you have any plans to put one in place?

Most providers are on a journey towards offering up their technology for you to access directly. Some have set up specifically to do that, others are migrating from a managed service to a self-service solution.

As an agency/advertiser, you may have plans to manage the activity yourself as your knowledge and scale grows, so understanding where a provider is on this journey is key.

  1. Is there anything automated in you bid optimisation process or is it managed by people?

Each provider will have a different stance. Some will claim AI or Machine Learning capabilities which optimise activity on your behalf, others will be people led with traders managing your bid process on a daily basis. Whether or not you believe they have computing capabilities they claim, you should understand their position as it will affect how your activity will run.

Are there any other questions you’d like answers to? Let us know in the comments!

About Rob Weatherhead

Rob Weatherhead is an independent advertising consultant. Working with agencies and advertisers to make them harness the power of programmatic advertising and understand its impact on the future of the advertising world.