Learning from our past

One of the greatest strengths traditional media companies bring to digital marketing is hidden in plain sight and all-too-often overlooked in our frenzy to develop new online solutions.

Over the past 150 years, newspapers have developed robust systems for making sure that we are delivering what we sell. We have systems to ensure that ads get built and proofed and approved, systems to ensure that, when necessary, ads are paid for before they’re placed, systems to ensure that every ad gets billed, systems to ensure that every ad billed gets placed. When we screw up, we have systems to ensure that credits or credit ads are applied, and we track all of our errors to learn from them.

Ten or 15 years ago, the systems were all paper-based, with tickets and proofs and all of the other forms we needed shuffled through wire baskets as the ads went through the mill and into print. Now the systems are mostly electronic, but lots of newspapers still measure and tally the ads in each day’s paper.

The systems are sometimes cumbersome, and they’re never foolproof, but they’ve been critical to our success. They have been the foundation of customer satisfaction and internal accountability. They are what gave us confidence we would deliver exactly what we sold.

But when we started dabbling in digital advertising, we ignored all of that. We hacked our ad-entry systems to book digital ads, sometimes making it virtually impossible to run a manifest that would tell us what should be running on any given day. We shoehorned digital ad production into our existing workflows, relying on e-mail chains to keep track of their status. We used whatever ad-delivery systems we could cobble together, without much thought to how we would be able to delivery against ads ordered. And if something went wrong, if we over- or under-delivered on impressions, we dealt with it on the fly, tossing a few thousand more impressions onto the order to jam the ad into rotation.

For banner ads, most of us cleaned up our processes after the early Wild West days. They’re not that dissimilar from print ads, after all.

But now, as papers dive into “digital marketing services” by whatever buzzwords they’re called – reputation management, SEO, social media marketing and the like – we’re doing it all over again, forgetting to build the checks and balances that keep us on track.

Keeping it simple, there are three key outcomes you want, whatever you’re selling:

  • An efficient, effective workflow. You need to build systems that ensure you can track work performance and quality. That’s trickier when you’re dealing with what are essentially consulting services than when you’re dealing with relatively tangible ads. You may need to deploy time-tracking systems as well as quality-control systems.
  • Delivery confirmation. You need to be able to replicate the kind of delivery certainty you got from matching up sales manifests against the measured paper. You never want to be in the position of having promised SEO-optimized marketplace listings only to find out the customer has nothing but a name and an address posted.
  • Verifiable adjustments. Until all of us are replaced by robots, we’ll make mistakes. You need a system to approve adjustments, make-goods and corrections and ensure they’re delivered.

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