How to Launch Your Ad Business

Sarah Wheeler
Sarah Wheeler
How to Launch Your Ad Business

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 twelve steps to launching your ad business are:

  1. Identify your goals
  2. Hire an ad products team
  3. Build your ad server
  4. Create an ad policy
  5. Update privacy/cookies policy
  6. Finalize your rate card
  7. Create an "advertise with us" page
  8. Create your media kit
  9. Determine the advertiser onboarding process
  10. Have reporting in place
  11. Publicize your platform

Let’s begin!

Identify your goals

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:

  1. Ad units: Different industries show different ad types: marketplaces monetize with sponsored listings, traditional publishers lean towards banners, non-traditional publishers display native ads, etc. Choose ad units based on your industry and how your users might best interact with ads.
  2. Targeting & reporting options: What targeting and reporting options can you offer that other ad platforms don’t? Do you incorporate first-party data? Define which kinds of targeting you can offer, and determine how you/your advertisers can view their performance.
  3. Advertisers: Are you looking for external advertisers like Nike to buy? Or is your product focused on relationships you already have, like vendors and sellers? Do you work with them directly and/or offer a self-serve portal for managing ads?
  4. Scope: How advanced will your MVP be? What billing infrastructure will you have? Do you need ad operation hires? Will you start with a beta program or open it to everyone at once?
  5. Performance: Find ways to deliver ad spend results for advertisers - such as return on ad spend, cost per conversion, cost per clicks, etc.
  6. Pricing: Will you charge flat CPMs or CPCs? What CPMs will you charge? Will you incorporate auction pricing?
  7. Revenue goals: These targets dictate what you charge, how many ads you display, if you build a self-serve portal, and what advertisers you’ll allow
  8. User experience: Do you want native ads or standard banner ads? How many ads do you throw in? Showing many ads at once may increase revenue, but frustrate your users.

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.

Hire an ad products team

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 Champion- This role might be played by the CEO, or GM of Ads, or a high-level product manager. The Champion drives product strategy, makes decisions, and moves the team forward.
  • The Architect- The Architect (usually a software engineer) designs the ad infrastructure, ensures scalability, and codes new features.
  • The Project Manager- This person ensures the Champion’s goals and Architect’s tasks come to fruition. They’ll often handle P&L reporting and high-level success monitoring.
  • The Salesperson- They drive advertiser growth by working with partners and external parties to sign and retain paying advertisers.
  • Ad Operations- This person executes daily tasks like setting up ads, approving content, ensuring billing, and following campaign performance.
  • The Data Scientist- They analyze the raw data to discover how to maximize product yield and revenue, informing future ad product goals.

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.

Product team chart Ultimately, your original goals determine your hires.

Build your ad server

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:

Create an ad policy

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:

  1. Privacy laws: Lawful ad compliance is your responsibility, but informing advertisers of privacy compliance standards will help you out later.
  2. Creative guidelines: Outline visual standards (like “no GIFs”), logistics (like ad dimensions), and general brand rules. Klarna policy
  3. Copy guidelines: Restrict any wording you view as untimely, inaccurate, and incongruent with your brand. Twitter policy
  4. Prohibited content: Be specific. If something doesn’t align with your company values, or you wouldn’t want it on your site, say that here.
  5. Ad review process: Let advertisers know how the ad review process works and the timelines for approval.
  6. FAQs: We recommend adding in any frequently asked questions here. This list can grow over time.

The more information the better. If you wouldn’t post it on your site, don’t let anyone else.

For more inspiration, check out:

Update privacy/cookie policies

Please note: This is for informational purposes only. Please seek legal counsel to determine how privacy laws affect your business.

It’ll be important to review your privacy policy, cookie policy, terms of service documents. This is especially true if you are using cookies or personally identifiable information in a new way.

Those include:

Cookies policy This outlines how you use cookies for ad targeting. For reference, here are the cookie policies of the major ad platforms: Google, Facebook, Twitter, eBay, Etsy, Spotify, Amazon, LinkedIn

Privacy policy You’ll also need to update privacy policies to reflect your new business. Here are privacy policies from other companies that touch upon their advertising practices: Google, Facebook, Twitter, eBay, Etsy, Spotify, Amazon, LinkedIn

Advertising Terms & Conditions We also recommend creating an “Advertising Agreement T&Cs” that is built into the onboarding process. Here are examples from Tribune Publishing, Facebook, and Yelp.

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.

Finalize your rate card, if applicable

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.

Rate card example

Create an "advertise with us" page

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:

  • User reach / scale
  • Viewer demographics
  • Ad units (with visuals)
  • Unique targeting options
  • Unique reporting, insights, or analytics
  • Expected ROI / performance

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:

  • “About us”- Highlight your backstory, mission, and other relevant company information
  • Testimonials/case studies - Offer advertiser success stories (specific data points are effective)
  • Rate card - Provide all packages and rates
  • Contact information - Make a clear call-to-action for how to get started

For more examples, click here.

wetransfer advertise with us

Create your media kit

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.)

Here are some downloadable media kits from Business of Apps, Hubspot, and Xtensio.

Determine the advertiser onboarding process

So, you have convinced an advertiser or partner to test your new ad product. What next?

There are four important things to remember:

  1. Contracts
  2. Billing
  3. Ad review
  4. Campaign creation / launching

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:

  1. Credit card is required to launch (and uploaded by them). Here’s one example.
  2. You automatically charge them for usage after-the-fact. How you do this is up to you. You could charge the card every, say, $500 in spend. Or, you could charge the card once a week, once a month, etc.
  3. You have a tab where the user can see past invoices and payments

Ad Review

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.

Have reporting in place

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. Facebook reporting

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. Linkedin reporting

Publicize your platform

Once you’re ready to officially launch, it’s time to let the public know! You might publicize by:

  1. Writing a press release: Many companies launch press releases about their ad platform. Here’s an example of Best Buy, Walmart, and Kroger.
  2. Pitching trade and industry periodicals: Create a narrative around how your ad platform reflects a larger industry trend.
  3. Informing your customers/vendors: If your partners would be advertisers, send them a mass e-mail letting them know about the new program; or, sales/BD reps can do individual outreach
  4. Promoting within your website / user interface: Run internal “advertise with us” promotions
  5. Starting a sales outbound campaign: Advertisers won’t just come to you. You’ll have to seek them out. The “Salesperson” role will be pivotal in leading the charge here. This could include reaching out to your existing partners, contacting major sellers, using your network for introductions, and/or cold emails to relevant brands and ad agencies.

Conclusion

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!

Sarah Wheeler
Sarah Wheeler

Sarah is an experienced writer with a software background, allowing her to translate between ad tech experts and lay readers. As Kevel's content writer, she writes for the blog and social media.