I don’t think one can overstate the impact header bidding has had on programmatic advertising over the last few years. It’s pretty remarkable how fast it has been adopted. Gone are the days when a publisher would have their main SSP partner who could claim preferred access to that publisher’s inventory just by the sheer fact that they were at the top of the publisher’s waterfall.
Header bidding makes a splash
Of course, once header bidding made a splash, publisher after publisher realized the potential of increasing the number of header partners they worked with. Something that’s limited only by the number of http connections the typical browser can handle. With relatively little effort, publishers were able to make their auctions more efficient and increase yield. So, adding more partners they did. I have spoken with some publishers that went from one or two partners in their waterfall to up to twenty vendors in their header. However, for many, latency loomed as the larger issue.
Back in the days of the waterfall, when a publisher selected a supply partner to work with, they were able to form a true partnership with that vendor. They worked on day-to-day yield, fostering a deeper working relationship with regards to strategic plans and future efforts and goals. However, just as consolidation in the industry continues its march forward, complexity is also increasing, as are the complexities of relationships. Thus, publishers are defaulting and are forming fewer partnerships while actually working with more vendors.
Vendor versus partner
This distinction between vendors and partners is an important one. At a high level the interests of vendors may not always align with the publisher, while partners’ interests generally are aligned. A partnership takes work on both sides and publishers are in a position to decline spending the time to form these types of partnerships. Working with vendors may have lower returns, but you can deal in volume. In many ways, it seems to make sense. No one is going to log in to twenty different platforms on a daily basis. Nor does anyone have time in their schedule to have that number of in-person or phone meetings on a weekly, bi-weekly or even monthly basis. The irony of header bidding is that the purpose is ultimately to help publishers take back control of ad decisioning…but in many ways publishers’ approach to header bidding is doing the exact opposite.
Partners will help navigate the sea of change
Publishers’ are increasingly having to acquire skills sets and knowledge fairly rapidly that are not in their traditional wheelhouse nor are they resourced to support. In my experience, at a time of increasing complexity, what publishers seem to need the most is support in navigating this sea of chaos. Headers, wrappers, client-side integrations, server-side integrations, ads.txt, inventory quality, brand control, integration types, auction dynamics, reporting…the list goes on. This greater complexity has fundamentally changed the relationship that many publishers have with their partners. Many vendors may seem the right choice, however it may be shortsighted. The distinction between partner and vendor is an important one – a partner is going to help a publisher navigate this sea of change. They are in it together, looking at the long-term health of the relationship rather than short term gains.
Re-orienting oneself to invest more in a few relationships can seem like a daunting task given how vendor use has proliferated for most. However, by being laser focused on what matters most you will help clear the way. Publishers have come a long way to regaining control over ad decisioning. From publishers that I have spoken with, transparency and control are the two most important considerations.
Obviously, every publisher wants to increase monetization. However, publishers looking for clarity in a complex environment while also keeping an eye on control of ad decisioning should prioritize partnerships that can help them make sense of the changing tides, to keep an eye on what is over the horizon. They should also look for partnerships that are grounded in transparency that have the ability to help them enhance their business future.