A Publishers Guide to Demand Partner Accountability

Updated on: January 9, 2024
Sometimes, all it takes to hit your goals is to ask the right questions. Here's some help.

Every now and then, we come across interesting takes on ad tech and fresh perspectives on how to solve problems in the supply chain. We tend to cover it on the weekly roundup posts so that it reaches more people in the industry. But this time, we read an actionable piece on ‘Demand Partner Accountability’ from Andrew Hayward-Wright, Head of Programmatic Solutions at Guardian News & Media. In the post, Andrew talks about how publishers can select the right demand partners, and before finishing the post, we knew that it will be useful for many.

So, here’s the complete post.

Demand Partner Accountability

In our market it is often difficult for publishers to keep their heads above water; from demand partners through to data providers the pitches, asks, and decisions are never-ending. Publishers often under-estimate their ability to challenge and ask for more when working with new demand partners.

It is apparent that they [publishers] need to start sharing best practices more that change can start to occur and the market develops for the betterment of two main parties the advertiser and publisher. In an effort to self-regulate they need to start developing standards must-haves in all demand partnerships. By doing this will publishers can start to ensure they work with partners who are aligned with their business objectives.

So here are the seven tips for demand partner selection and the questions that publishers should be asking along with why they are important. After all, a measure of our accountability is the company we keep.

1. Clean Auction Dynamics

Auction dynamics and the manipulation or changing of bids is a constant topic of discussion starting from hidden fees through to questions around bid shading. This question is particularly important if a publisher ever wants the ability to understand what is happening in their auction.

Ambiguity on 1st or 2nd price models, hidden fees or changes in bid prices brings a variable into the picture. If you ever have the intention of diving into the world supply chain forensics or analysis it is paramount that you know the auctions that your demand partners run aren’t being manipulated by them or anyone, without your knowledge.

A request like this could be structured as follows:

The Vendor commits that no auctions executed on behalf of the X will be manipulated in such a way that affects the outcome of said auction beyond the explicitly agreed auction model. This includes but is not limited to the Vendor’s use of ‘soft-floors’, ‘dynamic-floors’, ‘modified-prices’, ‘bid shading’, the insertion of house bids or any other mechanic.’

This is not to say that all the aforementioned are necessarily bad or of issue. The problem arises when you as the publisher are not aware or cannot determine when such an action has been taken.

2. Supply-chain management

The question of resellers is often one that sparks debate, to allow them or not. Whilst resellers often prop up a large portion of demand, as a publisher you run the risk of losing a lot of visibility and control over your inventory.

This is not just on a reporting and insights front but on an ad quality front, as rtb is reliant on information and flags passed in the bid response these vital points of information can be lost as you introduce more steps in the chain.

From a sales point of view, resellers introduce the possibility of partners who you would not normally allow access to your inventory finding ways around your pricing and blocks.

One approach is to limit the number of reseller accounts you work. Most demand partners will have the capabilities to turn these paths off, and if you are met with the challenge of ‘it will greatly diminish the value and revenue we can drive’ then take this into account when selecting that partner.

As a recommendation, start with reseller paths blocked and then iterate and test, however, be sure to have adequate reporting and analysis in place when you do so.

If you look to enforce or request that a vendor manages their supply chain effectively you could use wording similar to the following:

‘The Vendor commits that only inventory directly-sourced from the [insert publisher name] will be made available to buyers for purchase. Explicitly, the Vendor agrees to block all non-direct sources of [insert publisher name] inventory, for example, ad networks, resellers and/or ‘channel partners’ before the partnership will commence. Furthermore, the Vendor acknowledges and agrees that no Buyer will be permitted to purchase [insert publisher name] Ad Inventory through the Vendor Platform where such Buyer operates as a reseller in relation to such [insert publisher name] Ad Inventory.’

3. Fraud

This is more of a general hygiene question that ensures the company you keep is acting in the best interest of the industry. By partnering with a demand partner you expose your own brand to risks involved around their practices.

It is important that they take ad fraud seriously and are running anti-fraud scanning across their entire inventory pool on a regular basis.

Do not shy away from asking for anonymized results of their fraud scans, most partners will be working with companies such as white ops and should have this available. You will then be able to benchmark their exchange quality against your other partners

A starting point for a conversation to address ad fraud management could be:

‘The Vendor acknowledges and agrees to operate a policy of zero-tolerance to ad fraud and will provide a regularly updated view of their methodology for doing so. Furthermore, the Vendor commits that 100% of ad traffic carried by the Vendor is measured by an independent third-party, and from which exchange-level benchmarks will be supplied to the [insert publisher name] on a monthly basis.’

4. Auction data

There are many different transparencies and trust initiatives in the market at current. All of them will be underpinned by the need for access to auction data. However, the request for auction data should not only be based on a publisher’s search for transparency but also for them to then be able to develop methods of understanding and optimizing their auctions.

As a general rule of thumb, even if you don’t have the capability to use or understand the data yet, you should ask for it, so as to future proof your business.

There is also often the question of what data is useful, the old saying rings true here – garbage in garbage out, more is not always better. As you explore the world of logs it will so become apparent that there is a reason a lot of publishers and buyers don’t know what is going on, that is because the quality of the data is so poor and there are no standards taxonomy’s in place.

A focus on impression-level data is a good starting point, however, that does not say that in the future there may be an interest or need for bid level data.

Here is a useful opener to ascertain if log-level data will be made available:

‘The Vendor commits to pass the [insert publisher name] a minimum of the winning impression log from the Vendor’s auction including but not limited to bidder, buyer and brand IDs. Furthermore, the Vendor will provide the [insert publisher name] with access to a feed of data via a predetermined method ie: API or bucket.’

5. Data ownership & usage

Clearly defining ownership and usage rights in particular around both bid and audience data from the onset of any partnership is a must. The publisher is placed at the most risk from both compliance and a reputational aspect as it is their brand that users will attribute to any misuse of data.

If used correctly both bid and audience data (along with premium quality context) can be a publisher’s most powerful asset, so they need to make efforts to ensure that they own it and grant non-exclusive and revocable use of it to partners.

Publishers could use the following:

‘The Vendor acknowledges and agrees that the [insert publisher name] auction, bid, audience, and site data shall be owned by the [insert publisher name].

[insert publisher name] will grant the Vendor a non-exclusive, revocable, license to use the data for the duration of the partnership to the extent necessary for performing its obligations under the Agreement.

6. Provision of audit rights

Getting into the habit of auditing partners is just good business practice. Not only does it ensure you keep them honest and on the straight and narrow, but it also gives you the opportunity to reassess your partnership in a granular manner then reset and at times realign with the partner. That being said it would not be wise for publishers to do this on a quarterly or even yearly basis with every partner however it is a useful provision to have to hand.

Wording to ask for this provision could be:

‘The Vendor acknowledges and agrees that [insert publisher name] will maintain full audit rights pertaining to the transactions which are carried out on behalf of [insert publisher name] and executed via the Vendor’s platform and agrees to store all auction records inc. events for a minimum period of 12 months.’

7. Avoidance of incentives

Programmatic at its core was designed to create efficiencies and to drive the business outcomes of buyers and sellers. Along the way it got lost somewhere, there are now so many business outcomes and objectives affecting the outcome of an auction.

These business outcomes are often no longer aligned with that of the publisher or advertiser. In order to clean up the industry the use of incentives to buy media must be challenged. Publishers are the owners of inventory and there is a question to ask of partners incentivizing other partners using a commodity (publisher ad space) that they do not own.

In practice, the digital and media industry is built on incentives so this is a hard one to police or enforce, however, to effect change Publishers need to start somewhere so here is a way in which this request could be worded:

‘The Vendors acknowledges and agrees that it is prohibited from:

  • Charging any non-disclosed fees or collecting any revenues in relation to the sale of [insert publisher name] inventory or data which are not fully disclosed to GNM.
  • Offering any payments or rebates (volume-based or otherwise) in relation to the sale and purchase of the [insert publisher name] inventory’

Putting it all into practice

All these points and questions are great, but like anything it’s putting them into practice and applying them that is the tricky part.

An easy way is to send these out in the form of a survey to any new partner, as a publisher you will need to fine-tune the wording of the questions you ask, but it will allow you to begin your conversations in an informed manner and also apply a partner quality scoring system to Demand partner selection.

By then applying these principles into your own Master Demand Contract you can build the groundwork to be able to enforce them. This helps in keeping consistent standards across all partners.

One last tactic can be through your Quarterly business reviews, assess how each of your partners is performing or abiding by these principles, and challenge them if they aren’t.

It may at times require taking that brave step of ending a partnership, however as an industry digital advertising can’t keep turning a blind eye to malpractice and partners who aren’t aligned with publisher and advertiser businesses.

Final thoughts

Our marketplace is complex and ever-evolving and it’s never a case of one size fits all. Some of the mentioned tactics will work for some and not for others. But by asking these questions you can start to frame a view of your partners’ business objectives and ensure that they are aligned with yours and your clients. Importantly publishers need to start asking, challenging, understanding and engaging with the right partners and ultimately become more accountable for our set up and supply chain.

Originally Published by Andrew Hayward-Wright on Redefine Digital.

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