A Lesson Plan For Programmatic Advertising Careers

Programmatic advertising is a unique skill set that is in demand. For the past three years, I’ve been conducting a class on programmatic advertising for Sheridan College in Toronto, Canada. We fill 20 seats every semester with 60+ folks constantly on the waitlist.

Our students come from a wide spectrum and aren’t familiar with the details of programmatic tools. Some were just starting their careers and didn’t know much about the inner workings in media. Others were already working in the space, but did not have a digital media function — they worked in finance or sales.

Then there are those who serve as senior leaders at their organizations with many years of traditional media experience — but wanted to be prepared for the future.

Knowing how to execute a programmatic-driven campaign isn’t a requirement for a career in the ad tech ecosystem. But it helps a lot, whether you end up running campaigns or supporting the people who do.



Here’s a lesson plan to help people on their professional path toward programmatic advertising.

Programmatic Concepts

My students begin by learning how programmatic technology changed the buying and selling of advertising placements. I compare traditional and programmatic ad buying and review the alphabet soup of organizations in this field -- DSPs, SSPs, DMPs, CDPs and more. Inevitably, the Lumascape (commonly used to illustrate the industry’s chaos and opportunity) is shown. Hopefully, people don’t get scared away.

Campaign Planning

Students learn the best practices of effective media planning and walk through exercises on how to do it. Part of the lesson is evaluating demand-side platforms (DSPs). They observe what’s inside of one to get a better sense of how these tools work. They start forming opinions on various factors, such as the UI, features, channels and data availability. Of course, one could probably teach a class solely on the sell side and how to monetize ads. But that’s for another instructor.

The Buy

Students practice launching campaigns and buying ads, which they also get to optimize. They learn how real-time bidding (RTB) works and how to effectively reach and target audiences. Students take away tips on cohesively managing creatives, budgets, goals, KPIs and restrictions. They review granular tactical details of campaigns, such as ad placements, impression sources, targeting options and more. These all come together to show a well-rounded view of how to implement an ad campaign.

Real-Time Analysis

In this crucial part of buying ads — the analysis and optimization — students see how the campaign they’ve set up is performing. They analyze the data to determine the degrees of success and what they need to change, whether it’s targeting parameters, budget or anything else. From the information, students can optimize campaigns by using retargeting and data reports.

Advanced Strategies

Students gain an understanding of strategies and techniques on campaigns to ensure they meet brand-safety standards and have minimal exposure to fraud. I show them how to spot questionable methods by bad actors in the programmatic advertising space, and how to can guard against them. We review what happens with ad fraud and how to use tools against them.

There is plenty of programmatic advertising education available through industry conferences and seminars, free reading resources on the subject and online demos for virtual training. However, here is no substitute for practice. It’s like people trying to drive just by reading a booklet and passing a written test. They need to get behind the wheel and step on the pedal.

Workplace opportunities in programmatic advertising are plentiful. The skills and knowledge, whether they are for an agency or in-house at a brand, will be highly prized. More hands-on instruction for industry professionals will have an impact on how fast and healthy programmatic advertising grows.

2 comments about "A Lesson Plan For Programmatic Advertising Careers".
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  1. James Smith from J. R. Smith Group, October 9, 2018 at 7:48 a.m.

    Steve:  Great piece.  Wish more U.S. schools would follow your lead. 

  2. Colleen Jones from Martin Communications Inc., October 20, 2018 at 8:34 p.m.

    Where can we sign up? 

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