According to the most recent Dentsu Aegis Network Ad Spend Forecasts, global programmatic ad spending is expected to grow by 23.2% in 2018 and 19.1% in 2019. Brands and agencies around the world are keen to continue exploring the opportunity to reach their most valuable audiences at scale, using programmatic media buying to consolidate buying strategies across formats and devices.

Despite the global trend of agencies offering in-house programmatic buying as a service to their clients, the use of third-party media partners, such as trading desks, is still an important part of the performance strategy mix. To differentiate themselves from each other, trading desks have been developing separate proprietary technologies, and have created a wide range of unique offerings to help deliver solutions to advertisers’ diverse business challenges.

One example of this search for differentiation can be observed in trading desks using newer technologies such as machine learning to analyse large volumes of data, and automatic bidders to perform real-time optimisations and extract as much value as possible from each impression.

These techniques are also being used to listen to bid streams across multiple DSPs, and to compare collected data with third-party data vendors to create custom segments and forecast the potential performance of untargeted audiences.

Such technology differentiations and continuous service improvements make me believe that trading desks will retain their place in media plans for the next few years. However, there is still one key element usually missing in the agency/trading desk relationship: transparency.

Although transparency has been widely discussed in the past few years, there is still some confusion around this topic and the market is still struggling to find a balance that fits everyone’s needs. While agencies can see the results that media partners drive and the value added to campaigns, it’s sometimes a challenge to get trading desks to explain their results.

Often, when agencies ask their media partners to send numbers and information about campaigns, we receive a table containing metrics like CTR, CVR, CPC, CPM, CPA, etc. broken down either by day or creative format. This isn’t as useful to an agency as one might think; we already have these numbers in our hands, and even if we don’t, such metrics can be easily calculated using ad server data. Rather, agencies and advertisers are more interested in the information we can’t extract using our own numbers.

To help extract more relevant information and improve transparency from media partners, here are a few questions to ask:


How are you structuring the campaign? What tactics are you using to compose it?

Ask your media partners to describe how the campaign is structured and which tactics they are using to compose it, even in the broadest sense. Also ask if there’s any opportunity to include new tactics in future activities, for example:

  • Contextual targeting
  • Behavioural targeting
  • Keyword targeting
  • Site targeting
  • 3rd Party Audiences


Which audiences are you targeting?

Ask for a list of audiences that have been used in campaign targeting and the performance breakdown for each one of them. Such information is relevant for agencies and advertisers to understand the value and potential of the targeted audiences, and to plan future activities.


Were any custom audiences built for this campaign?

Trading desks have the ability to create custom audiences using their own data as well as that of second and third parties. These custom audiences are built using learnings from the performance of previous activities, such as combining best-performing audience groups or doing lookalike modelling off the back of them. A description of how the custom audiences were created also adds value to post-campaign analysis.


Which signals are you monitoring and what are you doing to optimise the campaign?

This is one of the most requested questions and at same time the one that comes with the most frustrating answers. Typically, to optimise a campaign, trading desks analyse:


  • Performance by audience targeted
  • Performance by publisher/URL
  • Performance by geo location
  • Performance by demographic


Trading desks run several different reports each week, looking for key performance indicators to identify opportunities to improve campaign performance. They should be able to send you the breakdown of actions taken or a weekly summary of optimisations, or even system logs if the process is automated.


Which third-party brand safety filters are you using?

DSPs normally have their own brand and fraud protection filters, but quite often trading desks use third-party technologies to avoid bad actors and unsafe impressions. Some trading desks even combine multiple technologies to create additional layers of protection. Ask your media partners which digital content label and sensitive category exclusions are applied, as well as any third-party verification services.


Which DSP do you use?

Some DSPs, such as Appnexus, let you customize and build tools on top of their platform. Ask your partner to walk you through their platform capabilities. It’ll not only give you a better understanding of what they do, but mostly importantly, it’ll allow both you and your media partner to explore the platform better in terms of targeting options for future campaigns.


What information do you have about the audience reached?

Unless a user goes to an advertiser’s website, agencies are unable to track as many data points as trading desks. To bridge this gap, ask for information from media partners about which audience groups their users belong to and what their interests and affinities are. Ask for user demographics and which type of content they’re consuming. This helps agencies and advertisers understand how users in different audience groups engage with each campaign; this will provide the information you need to improve current and future activities.


With these answers in hand, the overall quality of your post-campaign analyses, along with your level of understanding about programmatic media buying and the services you consume, will improve drastically, allowing you to deliver much more value and effectiveness to your clients and target audiences alike.

Thiago Ricardo

Thiago Ricardo is a creative programmatic strategist with over eight years of multi-disciplinary experience in advertisement operation across Latin American, European and Australian markets. He started his career in digital supervising a team responsible for ad operation and customer service of a group of sites spread across 5 countries in Latin America, United States and Spain. After moving to Europe as head of programmatic insights and development of an independent trading desk, he developed passion for media trading and all the possibilities that it can provide. Last October he joined iProspect Australia with the challenge of developing our programmatic culture. He works close to media guys ensuring we are using the best technical and tactical programmatic approach for our clients. He always quotes: “Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work” — Aristotle"