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Real-time bidding (RTB) provides a great opportunity for companies to vastly increase their online presence to an interested audience.

However, as this market continues to grow, the options available to brands for management of their RTB increase and choosing the right agency for your company’s needs becomes harder.

One of the main problems faced with anyone researching their options for RTB management is that they have to navigate a minefield of display ecosystems, agencies, DSPs, trading desks etc.

However, in choosing an RTB agency to build and manage successful campaigns the most important first questions to ask are not always the most technical.

Having been involved with a number of RTB pitches and working with our clients we have found they have gained the most from asking questions such as those outlined below:

How long does a RTB account take to setup?

A lot of agencies will tell you that you can be up and online with your ads in up to five days. But consider this, if an agency can get you online that quickly what time has been taken to:

  • Engage with your company and goals.
  • Define a strategy.
  • Speak with key members of your organisation to gain additional insight.
  • Complete a thorough setup process. 

You are investing your media budget in RTB, so for this investment to be successful your agency must invest it’s time in your company.

Can we meet the people who will be working on the account?

Your first port of call when speaking to any agency about their RTB or display advertising offering is usually the commercial team in whatever form that comes in i.e. sales rep, client services manager.

Restricting your contact to just the commercial team, however, before your ads go live is not the way to build a successful campaign or working relationship. In our experience the best campaigns are achieved with clients when they meet the people actually working on the account, have a full setup and enjoy ongoing contact.

Can I get a breakdown of media spend and fees?

This seems like an obvious question to ask. However, for some reason agencies have what they describe as ‘non-transparent’ fee breakdowns. There is no problem in the fact that there are a number of ways to calculate management fees from media spend.

It is, however, unacceptable to think that for your investment which could be anywhere from the thousands to the hundreds of thousands a day/month/year you aren’t allowed to know how much of that is for fees and how much is invested in media.

Your RTB fees should be as auditable and transparent as your accounts’ performance. 

What do I get for my management fee?

You should be getting a dedicated account manager specifically for your RTB account, who will be supported by any executive or internal colleagues. In our opinion it isn’t advisable for this person to also be managing all of your other media buying i.e. PPC, SEO & TV on their own.

This approach won’t provide the attention or specialist skill-set that your account deserves.

It’s important to note that all other marketing channels should still be monitored and utilised to discover how they interact with RTB, i.e. is there a relative increase in brand searches? A successful RTB account requires a considerable number of focused hours for optimisation, testing and general management.

What are you optimising towards?

There are plenty of RTB agencies who will tell you they will drive X clicks or provide Y impressions for your target audience. They may also optimise towards a sale, ROI or conversion. The important thing to remember is that you shouldn’t have to ask this question - they should be asking you.

By engaging with your company to understand how success will be measured a good RTB agency will recommend all of the available metrics of success to optimise. They should work with you to determine which metric should be optimised towards to best meet your goals.

Can you protect my brand image?

This is an absolute must for any company considering real-time bidding. The agency needs to understand the company’s brand image prior to starting RTB in order to ensure that it is not being displayed on websites which may be deemed inappropriate.

Considerations need to be taken into both individual websites and categories of websites such as political, adult material, user generated content etc.

It’s important to avoid the possibility of ads receiving negative connotations from the site on which they are appearing.

Do you take a mathematical approach to optimisation?

RTB is about data, ‘big data’ in fact. There is no point in having all of this data available unless it’s not only the focus of your optimisation, but also utilised with a statistically-led approach to optimisation.

It doesn’t matter if it’s click-through rates, conversation rates, CPAs or engagements – whatever the metric, bidding decisions must be calculated with statistical significance a key priority.

It’s true that RTB is the best option available in display to improve performance on media spend in comparison to only utilising traditional direct buys. You will only achieve these sorts of results with a mathematical approach, testing, evaluating and re-testing and basing decisions on the statistics that are available. 

How long will it take for the account to be successful?

If your agency is claiming to reach your long term CPA target in two weeks then alarm bells should start ringing.

How can they claim to hit a target so soon without seeing performance data? The campaigns stats have not been accessed, landing pages and banner ads not tested, poorly performing sites not blacklisted and most importantly, extensive bid reviews have not taken place.

A good agency must invest a considerable amount of time on a daily, weekly and monthly basis to achieve great results from RTB. These results certainly don’t have to wait for the long term, but they also won’t come in the first two weeks.

How often will you communicate and what kind of reporting will I get?

As well as reporting results, your RTB agency needs to be in touch with you regularly to understand what’s happening in your business and keep you updated on the strategy moving forward.

Reporting should be flexible to your company’s needs. Whether you are running a branding or direct response campaign there may be one or multiple measures of success. You need access to as many or as little of those metrics as necessary to receive an overall assessment of the impact of your campaigns.

Where do you sit in the RTB marketplace?

Wherever they sit in the marketplace the most important factor is whether they can achieve your targets/goals for your RTB campaigns.

Do not accept agencies outsourcing their RTB work, it’s vital to ensure that they are the ones managing the campaigns on a daily basis and the person you are in contact with is the person responsible for your account.

Ian Harris

Published 16 December, 2013 by Ian Harris

Ian Harris is the CEO and founder of Search Laboratory, and a contributor to Econsultancy.

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