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What is ad ops?

Published May 17 2024 4 minute read Last updated May 17 2024
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  • Sean Dougherty
    Written by Sean Dougherty

    A copywriter at Funnel, Sean has more than 15 years of experience working in branding and advertising (both agency and client side). He's also a professional voice actor.

Ad ops, digital ad ops, online ad operations, advertising operations — whatever marketers want to call it, ad operations can be kind of confusing. That's because it has so many different meanings across different contexts and, rather annoyingly, nobody can seem to agree on a single definition. (Nope, "ad ops" doesn't appear in any of the major dictionaries.)

Google this term, and you'll find a handful of meanings, which can leave you scratching your head and wondering why things have to be so complicated.

So what is ad ops, really? And why should you care about this component of the ad industry? Today, we'll clear up the confusion and provide a comprehensive definition of this term. We'll also explain how ad ops works for brands, media agencies, and publishers and how to start a career in this field if that's what you want to do. Let's get going.


What is ad ops?

We think the best definition of ad ops is this one from Gartner:

"Ad ops is the management of investments in paid media, which includes search, display, and video across online, mobile and social destinations, and the use of programmatic techniques to measure and optimize advertising.”

If that's still a little complicated, let us break it down for you. Ad ops means managing all your paid ad campaigns on the internet, mobile devices, and social media and then tracking and optimizing those campaigns. It's pretty simple, really.

Of course, this is just one answer to the question, "What is ad ops?" — and the one we prefer. But there's no true definition of this term. In fact, ad ops might carry a different definition for two competing organizations. The meaning above refers to ad ops being a process, but we've seen ad ops refer to the department in a company that handles paid ad campaign management. 

Nobody's right or wrong here. However, we're going to stick with Gartner's definition for the rest of this guide. Believe us, it will be simpler that way.

Ad ops involves lots of tasks like creating compelling and creative ad campaigns from scratch, using tools and technologies (like Google Publisher Console) to enhance these campaigns, and troubleshooting any issues that arise from online advertising.

Ad ops also involves lots of people. We're talking about campaign managers, data analysts, digital ad traffickers, and so on. Ultimately, someone needs to manage an ad ops team — an ad ops director, ad ops specialist, or ad ops manager, depending on the job vacancy.

But how do brands, agencies, and publishers use this process in their day-to-day online advertising operations?

Related reading: The future of performance marketing - part 1


Ad ops in large advertisers (brands)

Large companies use ad ops to make their paid campaigns more effective. Internal ad ops professionals carry out various tasks daily, such as:

  • Creating paid marketing strategies
  • Setting up campaigns
  • Monitoring and enhancing those campaigns
  • Optimizing ads if they don't perform as expected
  • Managing stakeholders
  • Using ad servers and ad exchanges
  • Reporting
  • Ensuring ad campaigns comply with data governance legislation 

Ad ops takes place from the time a campaign starts to when it finishes. 

Ad operations for these enterprises is becoming more complex, involving more employees, technologies, and workflows than ever before. That's because the online ad industry is booming, and there are more opportunities to connect with consumers. In fact, the global digital advertising market is valued at $601.8 billion in 2023, making up nearly 70% of all expenditure on media ads.


Digital ad operations in advertising agencies

Ad agencies use ad ops similarly to large brands but use this process on behalf of their clients rather than themselves. An ad operations team within an agency will still create paid marketing strategies, set up campaigns, use ad servers and ad exchanges, and the like. However, they will do this according to the needs of their paying clients. In other words, agencies help companies connect with consumers through:

  • Search engine ads
  • Banner ads
  • Display ads
  • Online video advertising
  • Mobile advertising
  • Other online ads

Agencies take a strictly client-centric approach to ad ops, which involves customizing paid ad campaigns and coordinating with clients across different platforms at different stages. 

Related reading: A 2023 guide to display advertising


What is ad ops for publishers?

Ad publishers use ad ops differently than brands and agencies. They manage ad inventory on their online properties to increase revenue generation and find different ways to optimize the selling of ad space. Ad operations in this context involves:

  • Finding the best places on their websites to position ads
  • Using A/B testing to learn the best places for companies to advertise 
  • Ensuring ads display correctly
  • Determining the price of paid ads
  • Working closely with ad buyers

While most of these processes are automated, large ad publishers still have multiple staff members who manually manage and review ad inventory, including programmatic ad managers and advertising revenue specialists.


Starting a career in ad operations

Advertising operations is a highly lucrative job field, with the average salary for an ad operations manager in the United States now $108,936 per year (including bonuses). Here's how to kick-start your career in ad ops:


Members of ad ops teams might have a business, communication, or marketing background, especially those in managerial positions. Research shows that 79% of ad ops managers have a bachelor's degree, and 79% have a master's degree. Sometimes, experience trumps formal education. For example, someone who has worked in a marketing position for five years might easily make the transition to ad ops and get a job working for a brand, agency, or ad publisher. 

Industry certifications

Those who want to pursue a career in ad ops might gain an industry certification after completing their higher education or to further their career. Perhaps the most popular is the IAB Certification, which provides people with the latest skills required for the digital media and advertising industries. For those who want to work in ad ops for a publisher, the IAB Digital Media Sales Certification is the only globally recognized certificate designed specifically for media sellers. 


Those who work in ad operations have a diverse set of skills, including campaign optimization, campaign management, video ads, and experience with ad networks and multiple ad exchanges. They will also have a comprehensive understanding of digital marketing as a whole and know how to maximize revenue from campaigns and reach a target audience.

Related reading: 7 free marketing report templates

Potential career paths

Those with ad operations experience can progress to even higher-paying roles in the digital advertising industry. For example, someone who has worked as an ad ops manager for a reputable company for several years could become an advertising director or account manager. Then, eventually, a director of sales and operations or account director.


Understanding ad ops

The term "ad ops" can refer to different roles and responsibilities, depending on the context. However, we use it to describe the management of paid media investments, including search ads, displays, and video ads — as well as measuring and optimizing these investments.

Brands, agencies, and publishers all use ad ops to achieve specific goals, and many people make up ad operations teams nowadays, including ad operation managers, campaign managers, and digital analysts. If you want to enter the world of digital advertising, there are plenty of career paths you can choose, and you could end up making a lucrative salary. If this is the route you want to take, we wish you the best of luck!


Disclosure: the featured image for this article was created using generative AI. 

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