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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Ad Operations - Our Industry's Connective Tissue

Last week I attended the Leadership Forum run by AdMonsters, the association dedicated to online advertising operations and technology. As is AdMonsters MO for these kinds of things, the Forum was attended by a pretty small and senior group. There was good representation from around the ecosystem, including publishers (e.g CNN, NY & Washington Times, MTV, Gawker, YouTube, Time, Inc.) top tier agencies (e.g. MediaVest, Razorfish, Universal McCann), Networks (e.g. Platform-A, Undertone Networks) as well as some of the usual, appreciated suspects in the 3rd party/sponsor set (e.g. Google/DoubleClick, BurstMedia).

I'm no stranger to the operations world and I was blown away by this Forum.

The deep dive I took re-impressed upon me the importance of operations work - here's the key: These people exist across the entire online marketing and advertising ecosystem (publishers, agencies, networks, 3rd parties). Throughout the day, I kept wishing that C-level executives on all sides could listen to the dialog. Understanding and improving the connective tissue of operations is critical to elevating our entire industry - and key to diminishing the pain in all of our professional lives.

I tuned in and chimed in most when talk turned to process - and there was a lot of it. Themes common to the plight of PM's emerged: need for better communication, collaboration, documentation and tools. The most important area for improvement I heard about was to get the ops folks upstream (themes near and dear to my heart see previous posts: The Best Predictor of Project Outcome - Project Initiation & Project Management Success - Where's the Evidence?!

I know it's scary to peer under the hood and see some of the dirty machinery, but it's a necessity. Support of operations staff by bringing them into the conversation early, so they can participate in defining execution and innovation strategies, rather than being relegated to playing defense, will yield benefits for all.

Do yourself and your teams a favor. Connect with the people in your organizations responsible for operations and learn about and support groups like AdMonsters. In addition to the Leadership Forums, AdMonsters runs conferences for junior team members that are invaluable. The next one in the US, Ad Ops 360°, will be held in New York in May. I hope that AdMonsters gets around to an executive conference or forum soon.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Letter of Agreement (LOA) - Getting paid from the beginning

"Is there a signed Scope of Work (SOW)?" is one of the most frequently asked and important questions that comes up in an agency.

The competing needs listed below are among the most vexing, catch-22 components of a project's initiation phase:
  • agencies need to have a signed SOW before starting work and committing resources
  • the substantial amount of work and information required to develop a proper SOW
  • clients need to know what they are buying before they sign off
  • projects need to start quickly lest they go away or will not be finished on time
  • client-side vetting and delays in getting a full-blown SOW approved

Enter the Letter of Agreement (LOA). This short document can be enough to satisfy both agency execs and clients alike that there is value on its way. The goal of the LOA is to quickly and painlessly establish that the agency, under the direction of the client, will carry out a preliminary set of activities and deliverables and will be compensated for all substantiated fees and costs incurred.

Additional parameters such as upper fee limits, general timing and deliverables can also be included if necessary. However, it's preferable to avoid these details or you will find yourself on the road to developing a bad SOW. Once you get sucked into this, it is easy to slip into project kick-off with no agreement signed.

To help move LOA approval along, it's worth pointing out to the client and that the agreement protects them with phrases like, "directed by the client" and "substantiated fees and costs". Including a statement in the LOA that a subsequent agreement, such as an SOW, will govern the final compensation terms, activities and deliverables, also helps mollify clients and agency execs.

I've been advised that these letters really don't have much legal bite, but that's not the point. The LOA is simply a tool to break through the typical project initiation impasse and prevent projects from starting with nothing in writing and ending without the agency being paid for all their efforts.

Issuing an LOA is the lesser of many evils. However, standing firm by not allowing a project to begin unless there is a signed SOW, when there is a hard deadline that can't move, isn't so great either. Just make sure you get around to issuing a proper SOW.