I Miss Insertion Orders (Just Kidding!)

It’s that time of year when we all sit back with family and friends and give thanks for the wonderful things we have in our lives.   For me, as I sit back and think of the changes that have happened, I find myself thankful that I no longer have to worry about the single most dreaded, inefficient piece of media process that ever existed:  the insertion order.

Insertion orders were necessary when you had to have some form of legally binding document that stated an exchange of funds for inventory.

When we started the online media world, insertion orders were an immediate carryover because we primarily bought media in the same way.  You would decide to buy the homepage of AOL or Compuserve for a month.  You could buy some keywords on Excite, Webcrawler or Infoseek, but they would run for a period of a week, two weeks or maybe a bit longer.  

Maybe you went to your rep at Starwave or Winstar and secured a few individual “run of site” placements on a specific publisher that hypothetically delivered the right audience, but there was no way to prove it.  Data was not even a glint in the eye of the agencies.  It was a time of pure innocence for online media.



Executing an insertion order was a blast.  You would have it emailed to you so you could print it out, then have the media director sign it and fax it back.  Then the rep on the other end had to sign the faxed copy, and fax it back with the countersignature.  

That phrase “fax it back” still haunts me to this day.  At first pass it might sound innocent, but the problem was twofold.  First off, fax machines suck.  Second, when the industry started to learn about optimizing campaigns, you would spend hours getting updated versions of an insertion order, checking that the changes were correct, gathering signatures and filing these away.  

Yes — filing them away!  We kept a copy of every IO, with every signature and countersignature, stapled together to follow the path of the optimizations.  There was no digital storage of IOs.  You had to have them handy for when the publisher inevitably made a mistake and ran you on the wrong page.  It was the age of the makegood, which took over my life.  

By the way, have you ever tried to read the fine print on an emailed, printed, signed, faxed, counter-signed, refaxed document?  It’s like a redacted intelligence brief, but the words that aren’t run through with a black marker are also unreadable.  

These days media is purchased programmatically, and through self-serve platforms.  Billing details are handled through online forms, and even large partnership deals are handled through online booking methods.  Insertion orders are a thing of the past, and I could not be happier about it.

So, this Thanksgiving, when you are sitting with friends and family, take a moment to mourn the demise of the fax machine, but raise a glass to toast the passing of the insertion order.  

Although many of us made successful careers on the backs of those skimpy little rolled paper documents, we have bigger, better and brighter days to look forward to.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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