The programmatic field is growing and changing every day. New wranglers are needed to keep on top of the work and help guide companies and agencies to success. In this guide, we'll help you learn more about the field and how to find your dream job!
Let’s begin with a quick history lesson! For a long time, advertisement purchasing was a simple process. Publishers sold their ad space directly to advertisers. When the Internet came around, this “Mad Men” type model was no longer possible. Online, ad networks acted as brokers. They helped organize the Wild West of the early internet by buying ad space from publishers and selling that space to advertisers. Eventually, ad exchanges that connected many ad networks opened. As the Internet continued to grow, these tasks became difficult to perform manually. Programmatic advertising was born.
At its core, Programmatic is the process of buying and selling online ads through special software. These are usually not traditional search ads, like Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising. You may know these as Display, Video, or Mobile ads. Sometimes, even DOOH, or “Digital Out Of Home” ads, may be sold programmatically (you likely know these as video billboards). These ads are mainly bought and sold through an instant auction process, or real-time bidding (RTB), and are usually highly targeted, sometimes down to the individual level. The old days of buying ad space on a site or spewing ads across the web are over.
Programmatic ads trade across many systems, navigating complex interactions. Advertisers generally use Demand Side Platforms (DSP) to purchase ad space. Publishers and those selling ad space on their site use Supply Side Platforms (SSP) to make that space available.
Programmatic is on the rise for a number of reasons. It replaces much of the manual bureaucratic work involved in the “old world” of advertising with machines. It introduces AI, machine learning, and other automated improvements into the advertising workflow. Humans get sick, make mistakes, and fall asleep at work. Machines don’t.
Programmatic Traders are in the driver’s seat of online ad buying. They can sit as part of an in-house team or, often, on a larger agency trade desk. A lot goes into a successful programmatic campaign. Programmatic Traders are the day-to-day managers keeping everything in line.
They help manage expectations from across the company – from what results are possible to what limitations a particular platform may have. They must be Excel masters, as they often need to pull together reports across multiple platforms. In some workplaces, Programmatic Traders may also act as client contacts, providing feedback and recommendations to clients on how to spend their advertising budget.
Each DSP has specific quirks and special instructions. It’s up to Programmatic Traders to both handle these differences and educate clients on what is in the realm of possibility.
As with anything on the Internet, Programmatic Traders need to be wary of various forms of fraud or unsavory content. Bot traffic is one form of fraud where automated scripts click on ads. This charges the advertiser for impressions never actually seen by a human and can cost big money. Traders also need to be aware of how their DSP vendor deals with brand safety. When you buy ad space programmatically, you’re buying an “audience” more than the traditional “space on a specific site”. It’s rare to be 100% sure of which specific site your ad will appear on. Ads that appear on websites or pages with unsavory content can damage a brand’s reputation.
Programmatic Traders should have an understanding of how the bid process itself actually works. The method most widely used is “waterfall” bidding, and happens at the time a user navigates to a webpage connected to an ad server. Some sites use “header” bidding, where the auction is held in advance of a user’s arrival. There are other important differences between these methods, which you can learn more about here.
It’s also important to note that at the vast majority of agencies, Programmatic Traders are not at all involved in the creative side of the business. Their job generally focuses exclusively on the management and purchase of digital ad space.
Programmatic trading is a rapidly growing field. More agencies and publishers join the web’s largest ad exchanges every day. While new Programmatic Traders are needed every day, it remains difficult to land a position due to the unique mix of job requirements.
Programmatic Trader jobs typically require at least an undergraduate degree in a related field of communications, marketing, math or statistics. Employers hiring entry-level Programmatic Traders will want to ensure that their candidates are comfortable with both marketing and advertising concepts, as well as the advanced mathematics involved in interpreting complex output from multiple systems and analyzing data. As they grow in their field, Programmatic Traders should also be prepared to interface with clients, a task that often requires a specific decorum and detailed knowledge of their work.
This represents a quick summary of what recent job listings in Programmatic Trading have requested of their applicants:
Many of these skills are essential to success as a Programmatic Trader as they will be needed regularly.
The ability to learn and adapt quickly is critical to success. While many employers provide on-the-job training, the field of programmatic advertising is evolving extremely quickly. Employees need to stay up-to-date on the latest information and be aware of any issues so they may be proactively managed.
While programmatic trading is highly focused on results and data, it remains important to have good communication and presentation skills. Client relationships are paramount in this field, and everyone at an agency needs to focus on their client’s success.
The programmatic industry is still very young, so trader salary expectations may vary significantly. Programmatic trader pay is extremely variable based on experience and job functions. Set your expectations based on the job description and assess your experience in the field.
Some Programmatic Traders focus specifically on functions traditionally handled by Ad Ops or Ad Trafficking positions. These team members typically focus on setting campaigns live in the assorted DSP systems and maintaining live campaigns, or flights. Traders in these sorts of positions may perform some analytical work, but usually focus on ensuring the best client return. They may also act as a line of defense in terms of brand safety and staying on plan. A salary of $30,000 - $50,000 is typical for these sorts of roles. This number may vary based on the overall market, your agency’s size, and many other factors.
Another specialization within the overall programmatic marketing space focuses on the analysis side. These team members generally project outcomes, forecast revenue, and other tasks to help account leadership teams make better decisions. Some agencies may refer to these positions as “Insights Specialist” or, a bit more creatively, “Data Wrangler”. While they collect and format the data, these traders generally do not perform the optimizations themselves. An average salary for this sort of position would fall around a midrange salary
These team members perform the actual optimization work. This is where the moneymaking happens for the client, as these are often the best opportunities to reach a new audience. Traders working at this level often require advanced skillsets and a very good sense of the outcomes of a given decision. Client results and brand safety are paramount here, and a poor decision could spell trouble. Given the high demands placed on this part of the team, salary expectations are normally far higher.