Top 8 Reasons to Work in Ad Operations

Even as the global economy limps along, the job market in digital advertising and Ad Operations specifically has never looked so bright, and anyone looking for their first job would do well to consider ad technology as a place to start their professional lives.
So why exactly would you want to work in Ad Ops?  Here are some of the best reasons as I see them:

1. There’s no better place to learn about digital advertising.

Because the Ad Ops department controls and operates the ad server as their primary responsibility, almost everyone else in the company depends on them for something.  Whether it’s the marketing team trying to get an internal promotion live, the finance or billing group needing accurate historical reports, the business development team trying to evaluate and implement a new technology, or just the day to day interaction with the Sales team to understand what clients want, Ad Ops is an information hub within the company, and a key resource for getting things done.
From a strategic standpoint, virtually any new technology, from workflow management to analytics to data management eventually needs to interact with the ad server, so Ops is inherently at the center of those conversations and product rollouts.

2. Ad Ops is challenging – no matter what your skill set, it forces you to develop lots of new ones.

Ad Operations is the primary bridge between the business groups and technical groups within a company; as such, the people who work in Ad Ops are among a rare breed that need both excellent hard and soft skills to succeed in their day to day jobs.  For example, working in a sales organization will teach you how to set client expectations, and keep your head above water in an aggressive, sometimes stressful work environment that demands a lot of face-to-face contact with impatient people.
On the technical side, you’ll learn how to read HTML at a basic level, almost without trying it’s such a critical piece of the job.  Moreover, you’ll get a sense for how coding languages like JavaScript and Flash work, how to look for problems within the code, and solve those problems.
There’s a project management piece to working in Ad Ops as well, since the department often plays a big role in implementing new technology, and is looped in on software builds and site updates.  In these situations, Ad Ops tends to represent the business and sales needs of the organization to the technical groups, which can be strange, because the business and sales teams usually think of Ad Ops as representing the technical side of the organization.  The truth is though that Ad Ops has their feet in both areas, and learns to think about things from both perspectives, giving them a unique, consultative strength.
Finally, there’s no doubt that Ad Ops is a great place to build an analytical skill set, and learn how to work with data to answer questions.  Chances are you’ll be familiar with a number of reporting systems regardless of your job function and will be adept at using the more advanced features of Excel.

3. Ad Ops is the ideal platform for just about any job in digital advertising.

Since Ad Ops develops a broad range of skills, it creates lots of options for career advancement.  Aside from all the vertical opportunities within an Ops department, such as leading an Ad Ops group outright, or moving into a management position in the yield and pricing groups or billing groups, Ad Ops veterans often transition into client service leadership positions at technology companies because they understand the products so well.  They can move to formal project management jobs, really implementation specialist roles, because they understand how to roll out complex technology integrations that require inter-departmental teamwork.
Transitions to the sales or marketing groups are also common because Ad Operations people have such a solid foundation in reporting, analytics, and how to optimize campaigns for performance.  Finally, there are all kinds of horizontal opportunities, too, where talented Ad Ops people move from the publisher side to the technology or agency side, and vice versa, or go from a display advertising focused job to one centered on mobile or social advertising.  The possibilities are really exciting.

4. Major job security – virtually everyone is hiring and there aren’t nearly enough qualified people.

Practically speaking, there are a lot of jobs available in Ad Operations, at almost every level of experience – and that includes no experience.  In fact, Ad Ops tends to have an outsized amount of job opportunities at the junior and entry levels and is a great place for inexperienced workers to get their foot in the door, and find some early success.  If you’re looking for your first job out of school, consider working as a trafficker, who are the implementation foot soldiers of any digital media organization.  Working as a trafficker will teach you everything from how an ad server works to how to debug a flash file, not to mention deal with an impatient sales rep.

5. As a strategic team, Ad Ops is only getting more important within digital media companies.

Advertising has been statistically smart for decades, but has only recently sought to be technologically smart, too.  From a macro perspective, this means there is a big shift happening in the types of people and skill sets required to succeed in the industry.  Namely, there is an enormous need for a new breed of flexible, tech-savvy workers who can still work in a client-facing organization; people that blur the line between the business and technical side.  Ad Ops plays a central role in developing those types of people, and over the relatively short life of the digital advertising industry has developed into the ideal training ground for future leaders.

6. The industry is growing at an incredible pace and diversifying into new areas that all need Ad Ops leaders.

Ten years ago digital advertising was a $7 billion dollar industry – this year it will be a $30 billion dollar industry, and five years from now it’ll be a $50 billion dollar industry.  Now that’s growth.  You only need to read through the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s Ad Revenue Reports to see the industry has grown at a double-digit clip almost every year, resilient in spite the tough economy, and that’s not likely to quit anytime soon.  And within the industry at large there are pockets of mega-growth, such as mobile advertising, real-time bidding platforms, data management, and social media – all of which are still in their infancy, in need of Ad Operations expertise and looking to hire.  As employment opportunities go, both for today and in the future, you really couldn’t ask for a more perfect storm.

7. Ad Ops has a great community built on cooperation.

More than other areas of digital advertising, Ad Ops has a tight-knit community.  The amount of interaction and cooperation between companies between ex-colleagues, conference acquaintances, or friends of friends is surprisingly high.  Can’t remember how to append the click-tracking code in Dart Enterprise?  Post it on the AdMonsters message board, send a request out on LinkedIn to one of the many Ad Ops groups, ask a question on an Ops related topic in Quora, or just IM an old colleague.  Chances are someone else has faced the same issue before and is willing to offer some advice same day, or even walk you through it. Ops people love to solve problems and help each other, and are usually more than willing to share that information to anyone who wants it.  Worst case scenario, reach out to me directly on this site through the comments and I’ll try to help you!

8. It’s Fun!

Part of the reason people want to work in advertising in the first place is they think it will be fun.  You know what?  They’re right.  Advertising is a blast, and digital is the best part.  Offices tend to start later in the morning, the dress code is relaxed enough that virtually everyone outside sales wears jeans to work, and the industry tends to be young and energetic.   It’s not surprising to see people with a beer on their desk on Friday afternoon, especially if you work at an agency, and there are frequent industry events and sponsored happy hours that allow people to network and kick back a bit.
The major difference in digital is that you get to sit on the leading edge of innovation; you get to be part of the real-time invention of an industry, and work for exciting companies that are changing the world.  Could there be anything more fun?