Launching a direct-sold ad platform is a great revenue-driver – in theory. But getting your ad business up and running can be complicated.
This guide outlines the logistics of launching your product from a business perspective. Each ad platform has industry-based needs, making some steps more relevant than others. Each step has accompanying materials/templates for your convenience.
Our eleven steps to launching your ad business are:
We’re assuming you’ve decided to launch an ad business (or have one already). From a technical standpoint, this means building it yourself or using ad APIs like Kevel to build it faster. We won’t go into detail about how to build it (though here’s a build vs buy overview), but as you implement the program, consider these factors:
These goals impact each step of the process: from creating an ad policy to publicizing the product. Re-align your strategy if these goals change.
A custom ad product isn’t a “set it and forget it” revenue stream. You’ll need a team to launch it and keep it running. Below we outline the six needed roles you must fill in order to have a successful ad business.
These are areas of focus you need to cover. Based on your resources, these six hats could be filled by two people taking on multiple roles. Or, perhaps each of these has its own department with large teams. Either way, if you’re missing one of the six key roles, put your ad business at risk.
Those key players include:
The importance of these roles varies by industry and ad business. A marketplace with a self-serve ad portal may not need a dedicated sales team, but someone nonetheless needs to pitch it to their sellers.
Meanwhile, a non-traditional publisher might need a full sales team, but perhaps is content with their basic ad product and doesn’t need many Architects to improve it.
Books could be written about this, but we’re focusing this guide on the non-technical aspects of launching an ad program.
If you don’t have ad serving tech in place already, we recommend the below resources to help you build one quickly:
Let’s assume you’ve built out your ad server. From a business perspective, what are the next logistical steps to getting advertisers testing?
One task is creating your ad policy. You’d share this with advertisers to outline ad content standards, privacy compliance, and review processes. This is not a legal T&C; more of a guidance to set expectations with advertisers. While it’s not exciting, it forces you to identify who you will and won’t work with.
In it, make sure to cover these six points:
The more information the better. If you wouldn’t post it on your site, don’t let anyone else.
For more inspiration, check out:
Please note: This is for informational purposes only. Please seek legal counsel to determine how privacy laws affect your business.
Consent management platform Finally, if you are using first-party data for ad targeting, you’ll need to update your consent management platform (CMP) to reflect that data usage. We have a guide to how to do that here.
We recommend speaking with your legal team to understand exactly what changes are needed.
Your rate card specifies your set CPCs and CPMs, usually broken down by ad unit and targeting. These aren’t applicable for auction pricing and/or self serve platforms. However, they’re necessary for standard direct ad deals.
You might offer different ad packages, where advertisers can pay an annual or quarterly fee for a few different ads. Or, you can just offer a la carte ads.
Include impressions, views, etc. that the ad will garner, along with the cost, and a short brief description of the ad unit.
Here’s an example of Business of Apps’ rate card.
This page is a useful sales tool for outbounding and convincing advertisers/partners to spend with you. This is true even if you have a self-serve ad platform -- your partners/advertisers won’t hand you money if they don’t see the value.
The “advertise with us” page is your opportunity to highlight what makes your ad product special. Topics to cover include:
We recommend using this exercise to hone in on your target advertiser and identify how you position your ad product to them. Imgur, for example, makes this pitch in their “advertise with us” page:
“The Imgur Community is fun and quirky. They are trendsetters when it comes to tech and gaming, and are constantly on the hunt for funny, informative, and uplifting content. For Imgurians, the promise of discovering something exciting on Imgur is always just one tap or post away.”
The doctor marketplace ZocDoc, meanwhile, stresses the fact that doctors can be the #1 search result by spending with them:
“When a patient makes a relevant search on Zocdoc, your Sponsored Results advertisement will be featured above the rest of marketplace search results in a separate section, making you the first doctor they see when they’re looking to book an appointment.”
These brands both successfully identified their target advertiser and crafted a powerful message for them. You should do the same as you write this page’s copy.
Other information you could provide include:
For more examples, click here.
Media kits are effectively your “advertise with us” page in PDF, PPT, or similar format. You’d make it downloadable from your site, sent in emails, or pitched in person. (Media kits are different from press kits, which promote your brand, not the ad product.)
So, you have convinced an advertiser or partner to test your new ad product. What next?
There are four important things to remember:
Contracts & billing
Your approach will depend mainly on whether you are launching with a self-serve ad portal or not. Most publishers do not; even if they build one eventually, their beta program tends to be manual invoices.
With a manual approach, you’ll want to start with an Insertion Order, which will list out deliverables, targeting, pricing, and payment terms. You can send these out manually or through a contract tool like DocuSign, HelloSign, or PandaDoc.
Billing will be based on what terms you set. Maybe you require an upfront payment via credit card, or you invoice them with net 30 terms (they have to pay within 30 days of receiving the invoice). How you charge is up to you and your finance team.
If you have a self-serve ad portal, you’ll have more automation, including:
Nearly every direct-sold ad platform has an ad review process. This involves someone manually ensuring that the ads are on-brand and accurate. Even self-serve platforms like Facebook, Google, and Amazon require reviews before going live.
This is where the “Ad Operations” role comes into play. They (and it could be the GM of Ads, a single ad ops hire, or an entire department) would be tasked with auditing submitted images, videos, and content.
The upfront work you’ve done with the ad policy and media kit should make this process easy. Make sure you’ve set expectations with your advertiser on how long this review process will take, though, and how to deal with errors/issues.
Campaign creation / launching / pausing
Also a project for the Ad Operations role, someone will need to set up these ads within your ad server. This includes not just uploading creative, but setting targeting rules, prioritization rules, start/stop dates, daily caps, and so on.
You should also have an open communication with advertisers when ads are live. This could be in the form of an automated email, Slack channel, manual emails, etc.
Proving your ad platform’s ROI doesn’t stop at your “advertise with us page” or media kit. It’s a continuous process throughout the entirety of your advertiser/publisher relationship.
Your first iteration of reporting will likely be simple. It could be manual reports that look at impressions, clicks, and conversions for each campaign. They could be shared via Excel files, Google Sheets, automated reporting emails, a self-serve portal where advertisers can log into, and so on.
Long-term, you’ll want to build your reporting capabilities out, with data such as “return on ad spend (ROAS)”, “# of saves/likes”, “% of video watched”, etc. But initially, focusing on the high-level metrics like impressions, clicks, and post-click actions is a good place to start.
Once you’re ready to officially launch, it’s time to let the public know! You might publicize by:
Following these steps helps your platform get off the ground and generate revenue. Remember, every platform is different, and you’ll need to tailor these steps to your company. Stay tuned for more tips, templates, and articles on launching your platform soon!