Debunking the top 5 stereotypes of programmatic traders

  •   June 20, 2019

Do you think programmatic traders’ jobs consist of basic data entry, playing around on computers and saying “no” to requests all the time? Think again – their role is far more significant in driving the bottom line than ever before.

From implementing and running programmatic campaigns across various DSPs, to the day-to-day management of client campaigns, programmatic traders are the first point of contact for troubleshooting or audience and optimization recommendations. And once a campaign has run, they’re responsible for producing and presenting campaign analysis to demonstrate the effectiveness of planning, testing and media optimization and management.

The workhorses of the advertising industry, programmatic traders, too often don’t get the respect they deserve. This is due in part because of a fundamental misunderstanding about just what it is that they do every day, even by their managers and colleagues.

Too many ad industry professionals think traders have simple jobs that don’t require strategic thinking, when in fact the truth is that the digital advertising world wouldn’t run without them, and the operational knowledge they possess. To illustrate this, we’ve outlined the top five programmatic trader myths and the reasons why traders are the foundation of a revenue-generating advertising group.

Myth #1:  Their days are filled with data entry

With so many automation and machine learning options available, many leaders in the industry think today’s traders are just responsible for plugging in some data, pushing a few buttons and letting their computers do the rest, right? Not so fast.

In reality, programmatic traders’ jobs are significantly more complex. Whereas sales reps and strategists might “sell the dream,” traders inhabit a world of practicality; they’re the problem solvers who must figure out how to deliver on any promise. A trader might have thousands of different line items and ad orders to handle while ensuring everything is running correctly and consistently reporting on all outcomes. It’s easy – but incorrect – to assume that all they have to do each day is plug and play.

Myth #2: They’re naysayers

As alluded to above, traders have to be realists, because systems have limitations and specific orders of operation that need to be followed. For that reason, traders are often the ones who have to set limitations. If they’re saying “no” to something, it’s likely because they know what’s realistic and what isn’t (e.g., capturing conversion data from the Safari browser). Traders are bombarded with direction and ideas from across their organization, and as much as they want to appease their clients, colleagues and bosses – not every demand is possible – and it’s on them to set realistic expectations. After all, a campaign that hasn’t delivered properly is much better than a campaign that can’t be delivered at all. Most traders simply want to be ethical and honest about what will work best based on client requirements.

Myth #3: They’re more involved than you think

Unfortunately, a lack of understanding about traders’ day-to-day lives can lead to some pretty cruel generalizations. Too many people don’t realize that traders are actually often spread too thin.

Think about it: They’re often involved before anything is sold, as a salesperson needs to be sure something is feasible. When an assignment lands on his or her plate, a programmatic trader then must find the right target audience, physically set up a campaign in a platform, troubleshoot when things don’t work, constantly search for optimization insights and keep their team informed on performance… and according to a recent survey from CtrlShift, the majority of them are operating in more than five platforms every day. That means they have to know how to do all of the above in multiple programs with different workflows and quirks and must stay up-to-date as each platform releases new features and formats constantly. Imagine the work involved in pulling a single set of insights from a campaign run in, say, half a dozen different DSPs.

Myth #4: It’s always their fault

Think it’s always easy to deliver on a budget and hit KPIs? Well, it’s not, especially when many campaigns are instructed to contain counter-productive targeting and other paradoxical limitations. While traders take the brunt of all the bad things that can happen throughout a campaign, chances are, they’re not 100% at fault. Lack of context on how things operate in programmatic can be detrimental when it comes to running some campaigns. With self-service and transparency on the rise, agencies and tech companies are more aware of bringing traders’ knowledge in pre-sales conversations. While some clients will always come with particular expectations or requirements, there at least needs to be warnings and caveats in place before operating on the “vision.”

Myth #5: They’re not strategic

In fact, strategic thinking is a major requirement in traders’ roles; they’re not just order takers and they’re not always low on the corporate totem pole. There are more director-level trading roles than ever before – illustrating that this foundational knowledge is an integral component to building successful relationships in a market focused on transparency. Traders across all seniority levels deal with exceptional limitations and demands every day, and it’s up to them to figure out how to operate within such stringent requirements. By their nature, traders must be creative, strategic thinkers, and the more adept they become at incorporating machine learning and AI into their day-to-day, the more time they have for increasingly necessary strategy. That’s something to remember the next time you’re considering brushing one off.

In an industry riddled with complexity and growing fragmentation, programmatic traders are tasked with compounding demands. Successful organizations are the ones who bring these skill sets to the surface in the form of consultative services. With the days of black-box operations coming to an end, organizations need to be prepared to supplement radical transparency with operational consulting that will help brands and organizations get acclimated with the realities of the new programmatic landscape.

Whether you work for an agency, tech company, or brand, the next time you see your trader (or trading team), give them a high five, and spend time learning what they know – their knowledge is undoubtedly a stepping stone for success.


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