Running since 2019, the Colab Consulting Rev Ops Barometer monitors the needs, concerns and priorities of revenue and advertising operations teams across the globe.
Aimed at giving a voice to an important group of specialists in an underrepresented facet of the industry, the report covers the challenges faced by rev ops teams, those managing the tech at the heart of the media industry.
Duncan Arthur of Colab Consulting, sees the importance of highlighting these challenges: “For all the talk of automation, algorithms and AI, our industry still requires highly-skilled people making sensible plans, supported by management who understand and value their contribution to the enterprise. In our view, the revenue operations team is the canary in the coal mine and the ultimate point of truth on whether a media business is set for success or failure.”
The H1 2022 report is released amid a turbulent time for the industry, with a cookieless future edging ever closer, and the findings have highlighted some key areas for consideration:
A challenging year ahead?
Confidence in plans for the end of cookies is plummeting, yet finding solutions to fill the gap left by cookies is not the top priority. Most are more focused on things within their immediate control which connect directly to revenue generation, such as proving the quality of inventory.
Sharper pain for high-programmatic businesses
Respondents from businesses through which more than 50% of revenue is generated programmatically are clearly more concerned about Google Chrome sun-setting cookies.
Three-quarters of this group say it will have a significant or critical impact, compared with just one third of those in businesses that generate less than 50% of revenues programmatically.
Resourcing appears to be a growing issue. Both in terms of growing and keeping knowledge in rev ops teams, but also across adjacent teams in the enterprise, especially sales.
Is management buy-in the key to success?
When we look at businesses reporting a high-level of management buy-in we see a marked increase in confidence across the board. For instance, respondents reporting high management buy-in are 60% more likely to have confidence in the business’s identity solutions than those with low management buy-in.
So, in light of these findings, what does the industry think? We spoke to some key figures across media and publishing to hear their thoughts:
Publishers must act now to thrive in the post-cookie landscape
Publishers are at the end of the value chain of ad spend, so while spend is still heavily geared against cookies and Chrome, they will want to stay in this space. However, publishers should understand who is spending against their inventory and, ideally, start to transition this spend against non cookied metrics. Buyers will continue to trade against the cookie until the last minute, so it's great to read in the report that publishers are prioritising matters they can control, around data, metrics, formats etc
Retaining talent is an issue, with revenue ops in high demand. We have been able to transition non ad tech professionals into this space, as we can provide a playbook on how the process works. I would also encourage businesses to review partners, both from a technology and demand perspective. Working with fewer partners frees up time and resources for your teams, giving them opportunities to progress and, in turn, helping businesses to retain these people as they develop their talents.
Rob Brett, Publisher Collective
The industry faces a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity
It's not surprising that only 44% of ops professionals feel confident about the preparedness for the deprecation of the cookie: the focus of the industry has been on buy-side solutions that enable the status quo.
Most ops professionals realise they face a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the sell-side to take more control of how their inventory is monetized, but they need new partners to help them to deliver this. Building out declared or “zero party” data is feasible, but ops teams need support from management to do this successfully.
Cadi Jones, QMee
High programmatic businesses may be reliant on partners to adapt
When it comes to deprecation of 3rd party cookies, businesses classed as low programmatic are feeling better prepared to collect and monetise 1st party data compared to those classified as high programmatic. This possibly reflects that many classified as ‘high programmatic’ are waiting for ad tech partners to implement and release features that support Topics and FLEDGE and, as such, may not be in a position to be proactive. Once features are available within ad tech then it is likely priorities will adapt. Those publishers who are able to improve their 1st party data are already doing so whilst also seeking to provide improved service for guaranteed spend and feel better prepared as a result.
With an increased focus on 1st party data and attribution models shifting to be in aggregate, there will likely be a gradual shift from open market programmatic to programmatic guaranteed, private marketplaces, and also new technologies, such as data vaults. That will allow marketers to make better use of the 1st party data that has been collected whilst ensuring the necessary due diligence and contractual obligations are met.
Anthony Hitchings, Financial Times
As cookies deprecate, publisher first-party data is the most viable option
It’s not surprising to see declining confidence around preparedness for a cookieless future as there is still no consensus on the best route forward, but it’s a real shame some advertisers have now stalled in exploring future-proofed solutions.
The Telegraph switched to using only first-party data in 2020 in anticipation of cookie-blocking, and we've found this approach is already enabling advertisers to access high-quality audience targeting, contextual, and data matching solutions in a privacy-centric way. In addition to having a strong print heritage, The Telegraph was the first European news brand to launch a website in 1994 and today is a successful digital subscriber-first publisher. As a result, we buck the trend of the print-based businesses in this report - a key highlight being our pioneering of programmatic advances through the establishment of The Ozone Project, a leading marketplace for highly-engaged, premium digital audiences at scale.
Camilla Child, The Telegraph
Businesses to face two main challenges as cookies depreciate
Programmatic in 2022 is in an ambiguous situation - on one hand, ad spend is booming, on the other, confidence in targeting and attribution mechanisms is plummeting as the deprecation of third-party cookies approaches and privacy regulations are tightened. Due to this, businesses face two main challenges in the future: finding and adopting privacy-friendly mechanisms for performance measurement and targeting; and assembling teams that are prepared to operate these solutions, in addition to growing their expertise.
By cultivating new talent, businesses can redefine advertising practices while they adjust to the new post-cookie landscape.
Roman Vrublivskyi, SmartHub White Label Ad Exchange
Programmatic will make a return to automation
Perhaps we just have to wait and see what actually happens when the third-party cookie disappears. The programmatic ecosystem has a history of adapting to change: why shouldn’t it do so now?
Automated, real-time trading of ads offers multiple advantages, including flexibility, price competition, and reduced costs. However, the past years have shifted the focus of programmatic to data, with an emphasis on targeting the right user without any regard for the individual user’s privacy. That has now changed. I think we’ll see programmatic reverting back to being primarily automatic, providing the market with a cost-efficient and privacy-centric way of transacting ads. And that’s not that bad, is it?
Thomas Lytzen, Ekstra Bladet
The lack of preparedness for post-cookie landscape is unsurprising
It’s no huge surprise that preparedness for cookie deprecation has dropped; when it was imminent, everyone was focussed on a solution but now, programmatic-dependent publishers will be looking to capitalise on the stay of execution as much as possible.
Rev ops also have increasing numbers of stakeholders to placate, internally and externally, as publishers push traditional advertising aside in pursuit of first-party data collection and subscription revenues.
Mike Dee, DC Thomson
Publishers must commit to change to experience growth
There is little surprise that this latest barometer shows the relationship between high levels of programmatic revenues and greater exposure to data challenges - and from a publisher perspective, we see a clear and direct correlation between the number of ad tech partners a publisher has and the likelihood of data value being extracted from their business.
This presents publishers with a decision; more of the same, or time to take a stand and do things differently. This decision is not to be taken lightly - it requires a fundamental shift in strategic thinking, a move that is contingent on behavioural change and senior business sponsorship to execute. But we're seeing more and more publishers take that path, and it's through doing so they have broken from their peer-set and are enjoying growth.
Danny Spears, The Ozone Project
Pragmatism will enable ops to thrive post-cookie
In my experience ops people are eternally pragmatic, so it comes as no surprise that they are affecting what they can while keeping an eye on the big changes that are on the horizon.
This report is drawn from experienced ops people who have all seen big changes before, so even if the depreciation of third party cookies in Chrome isn’t top of the list right now, we can trust that there are plans being thought through with an eye on the future.
Nathaniel Francis, Bauer Media