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The awkward role of product management in online advertising network companies

April 28th, 2010 · 1 Comment

I don’t envy any product management professional who work for any of the online advertising networks.

There are tremendous amount of hype in the online advertising network industry. But, I’m going to make a controversial statement today: most ad networks are ad agency in disguise. They’re essentially ad agency for the digital world.

Two groups of people have the power leverage in online advertising network companies: ad sales, and ad operations.

Online advertising is a transaction based business. Ad sales continue to sell campaigns to bring money to the company.

Ad operations run the campaigns. They do the dirty work to fulfill ad sales’ promise to clients. And the truth is: most of the work done by ad operation are manual work. There are some technologies, but most of the work are done by ad operation professionals.

As ad networks need to scale their business, they cannot afford to do everything manually. So, the software development teams become an IT support team to automate processes and create tools for ad operation team.

Now, it comes the brave product managers. They want to listen to the market, create product requirement documents, prioritize requests, and work with development to launch the product.

But, where is the “product”? While the product managers are arguing with everyone in the company and fighting for his cause, the sales guy just sold a campaign. To run the campaign, the ad operation person needed a customized tool from development. He would bypass the product manager, and told developer what he needed. He got the tool from the developer, and he made the client happy. The sales guy was happy. The CEO was happy because the company just made more money.

The product manager is left sitting there and arguing: “we need to be more strategic. We need a road map. We need to be more methodical in prioritizing.”

Nobody listened to him. Most ad network companies are not your typical technology product or SaaS company. They are largely service business. The senior management are most likely coming from media or ad sales background. They don’t understand the role of product management. They probably don’t give a damn about the role of product management.

I feel your pain, my fellow product managers who work in online advertising network. Don’t blame yourself — there are structural reasons that make your job really hard.

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Tags: Frustration@Work · Product Management

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 deadhedge // May 11, 2010 at 5:26 pm

    As a product manager in health insurance, I both laughed and cringed at your post. Absolutely true to some degree for product management in a lot of companies with some level of variation. I'm glad that I'm not the only one.

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