Although you can hard-code sponsor images onto your web pages and e-newsletters directly, you’ll be better-served to implement ad serving and trafficking software. Ad server software can do a variety of things for you: rotate messages, organize campaigns, track ad views, track click-throughs, generate reports, etc. Much like the affidavits and reporting you already prepare in regards the on-air side of your business, sponsors (and their agencies) expect similar reporting for the web as well. Ad serving software makes this possible easily, and in real time.
There are a variety of free and affordable fee-based ad management tools available for the web, some of the most popular being Doubleclick For Publishers Small Business (used by NPM’s PMI Network), Open X and Ad Juggler. Xaxis is another common choice (though has costs attached).
There are additional, complementary tools available for serving and measuring the performance of more robust ad units, including online video and streaming audio. NPR Digital Services offers a Webcast Metrics service to all NPR stations, via its relationship with Triton Digital, that is designed to accurately measure your online listening audience and provide insights into your online sponsorship strategy. PBS Digital is exploring online video ad serving software options for stations. ^top
Whatever tool(s) you use, you will need a point person in your station who understands and can synthesize all the data you’re getting from your online traffic management tool and respective ad serving solution(s), so you can get a sense of how your web site is being used and how you’re performing for sponsors. This is especially true if you are hard-coding images or using more than one solution to serve and measure your online ad units, and may require a separate calendar program to help keep track of your overall inventory, campaign start and stop dates and deadlines for sponsor deliverables. You’ll also want to be sure to sync up your online sponsorship reporting and measurement with your on-air reporting. Sponsors are interested in multi-platform opportunities and expect integrated reporting. You will also need to determine how your station will handle online ad operations. Some stations have a designated Digital Traffic Manager position responsible for manging the various online sponsorship campaigns, as well as (sometimes) a separate Systems Specialist, whose job it is to work with the third party ad serving vendors and implement the software accordingly. While not all stations are resourced to have full-time digital traffic and ad serving positions, there are ways to scale your operation. Read on. ^top
To ensure integrated trafficking and reporting to sponsors, and to best position your station for online sponsorship growth, the online ad serving function should ideally be overseen by your station’s traffic department, with cooperation –or even a liaison staff person-- as appropriate from your station’s sales and online teams. While the tools are different, the model is (or should be) in essence the same as it for on-air underwriting, and the respective complementary roles played by Sales, Programming and Traffic. ^top
That said, it can be easy to, and many stations do, delegate ad serving to the online team, as the function relates to the website, and the process and terminology are seemingly different enough from broadcast traffic that it can be daunting for those not already familiar or comfortable with the online medium. The truth is that online ad serving management is not difficult, and requires little more than some online data entry experience to successfully use the various ad serving software tools available in the marketplace. So, online ad serving does not necessarily have to be expensive. Indeed, several stations use interns to enter data, with this intern reporting to Traffic and working with Sales and Online respectively, on issues relating to the underwriter relationship, editorial/creative approval and site tagging. ^top
At this point, you really should not be hard coding ad units into your site unless your traffic levels dictate selling on flat-fee basis for longer terms and you have reliable online traffic measurement tools in place. Unless client reporting expectations are low to nonexistent, there is little reason not to implement and use one of the many free ad serving tools that exist to measure and report on performance. At the very least, offer an IAB-compliant 300x250 ad unit above the fold on your most highly-trafficked web pages and/or within your regular e-newsletters. Take advantage of NPM’s PMI Network to get the aggregate traffic, ad serving and staffing support you may need to get started. ^top
Think strategically about your web presence, employing a user-focused approach to increase your website’s value and corresponding traffic. As your site starts to generate traffic levels worthy of significant online revenue, develop or tweak your organizational structure, workflows and processes to support online ad serving as a function of your Traffic department.
You might also consider signing-up for NPM’s Public Media Interactive Ad Ops, short for Operations, which provides outsourced sponsorship operations support for member stations and other public media partners, cutting overhead costs and boosting profits. Service includes assistance and consultation on ad tagging and optimization; documentation from insertion orders to campaign reports; workflow structure and oversight; and access to experts in digital trafficking and strategy. The idea is to get your station the support and training you need to grow, and potentially bring operations in-house at the appropriate time. ^top