Secret weapons are a must-have for any self-respecting superhero or supervillain; but fictional characters are not the only custodians for such objects. Everyday people and institutions have secret weapons too. While our comic book favorites use them spectacularly, individuals use them in privacy, governments clandestinely, and private institutions flaunt them publicly. AdTech companies in particular boast and differentiate themselves along this very line. Claims about proprietary tools like a fourth dimensional analytics algorithm, locally sourced first party insights, or a data alchemy engine are commonplace, but what exactly are these top-secret weapons? Better yet, what is yours?

Hammers are the opposite of secret weapons. They are as old as time, as common as the cold, and as mundane as Mon-day. But what it lacks in mystique is recovered by its utility. The secret subtleness of hammers — like any good tool — is not divined through the tool itself but brought out by the skillset of the person using it. For a campaign manager or AdOps[1] coordinator the analog to this tool is a software program familiar to everyone: Microsoft Excel.[2] Like a hammer it is as simple as it is ubiquitous and if used skillfully, Excel can triplicate the efficacy of an AdOps division.

Like twins, the technical innovations occurring in digital advertising grow hand-in-hand with advertisers’ appetites for improved performance and attribution. Without question, the most efficient way to address this need is to first organize a campaign in Excel before scheduling it in a DSP or RTB platform. For this reason, any self-respecting digital ad-buying platform will offer full Excel integration, both through importing workbooks and by publishing reports. Silicon Valley hopefuls may push back and assert the notion that the offspring of machine learning and programmatic ad-buying could render AdOps an anachronism but this cannot be true. The A to Z of campaign planning is rife with decision-making and has too many inputs, many of which are predefined by the advertiser. Whether it is the advertiser or the campaign manager, there will always be a human inputting parameters and the extent with which Excel facilitates that process cannot be understated. Particularly in the case of location based advertising, Excel efficiently maps an array of unique locations, ad sizes, ad copy, schedules, and audience lists based on a set of changing parameters with comparative ease — like a hammer driving in a nail with just two or three strokes. Of course there are limits, and as the proverb goes: “when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” As such, we must be careful not to limit our thinking within one piece of software regardless of its utility.

The antidote for getting caught in a one-size fits all approach is cultivating a willingness to seek out new information and new software tools. Figuratively speaking, one must use another secret weapon: the library. To software engineers the value of good programming libraries is self-evident. Unfortunately, AdOps coordinators do not have this same luxury. In the very first sentence of The AdOps Podcast, Dan Layfield, founder of AdPipes, says, “[programmatic] can be a hard world to keep up with and research because so much of the detail about how things works are either not written down or hard to research.”[3] All too often the resources that do exist are fractured and/or insufficiently documented. It is true that the IAB provides a wealth of information, so much so that certificates are awarded to those who study it. By in large, AdOps teams are happy to earn this certification but seldom have the time. In lieu of this, good campaign managers will seek out new tools or resources through a number of web based and person-to-person channels.

One example is to choose a DSP with a well-documented API and to integrate one’s processes with it. Having a working knowledge of HTML and JavaScript are also great tools for AdOps coordinators and ones that can be honed at brick and mortar libraries. Finding public mapping tools, third party analytic platforms, new software to build better advertisements, and staying current with the latest whitepapers are among other research skills that fall under this category. Lastly and perhaps most influential is to attend industry panels. Not every panel will enlighten, but meeting other AdOps coordinators and sharing information with them is the best way to circumvent the task of decoding scattered resources. Metaphorical libraries like the IAB, industry panels, and good old fashioned web search are not secret weapons per se, but are clearinghouses of them. The real secret is in understanding the maxim that most problems are not new problems, and that the solutions likely exist if one chooses to find them.[4]

When hammers are too blunt and the shelves of the Stockholm Public Library too numerous, one turns to a business’s most coveted tool: innovation. Seasoned AdOps teams know that some challenges do not follow the aforementioned maxim, that some tasks are beyond capabilities of Excel and are too unique to have pre-packaged solutions. The obvious examples are creating new classes of KPIs for a campaign or simply resolving technical issues pertaining to the digital advertising ecosystem. The early developers of view-through conversions and burn pixels are the type of innovators that AdOps teams should aspire to be. A class above this is the products that AdTech companies build as their primary product; however this is mainly outside the purview of AdOps.

Spurred on by team of software engineers, Blue Bite is constantly innovating. Whether it’s single lines of code for AdOps, esca (Blue Bite’s dual mode BLE beacons[5]), or even our fully integrated mobile experience platform, we are innovating on every level. All of these physical and digital products are consequences of our ideology, which is to become experts at using tools like hammers and to be students of the industry around us.

Put in another way, it is not simply our skills, products, or innovations that give Blue Bite an edge but our ability to improve upon them that is our secret weapon.

Michael Elfassy
Campaign Manager
Blue Bite

[1] For those unfamiliar, agency side AdOps refers to the implementation, scheduling, and maintenance of ad campaigns in addition to the development of new digital ad capabilities, reporting, and analytics. Acronyms like CTR, CPM, DSP, and RTB are abound in the day to day of AdOps coordinators.

[2] The author recognizes that this hardly the most thrilling of secret weapons and that Excel could quite possible be least likely candidate of answers to an eponymous Family Feud category.

[3] “How to Hire, Train, and Develop AdOps Staff — A Talk with Ryan McConaghy.” Interview by Dan Layfield. Audio blog post. n.p., 19 Nov. 2015. Web

[4] And Google probably offers it for free.

[5] Ask us about our 3D printed firmware flashing device.

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