When I worked in analytics at my ad agency, a good portion of my job was pulling reports, copying reporting data to excel, wrangling data together with vlookups, stuffing data into templates and making the same charts every month.  As you can imagine, the novelty of this job wore off rather quickly.  I felt like cog in some kind of reporting machine.  Almost immediately I came to an important realization: the machine that creates reports really ought to be 100% unmanned.

It took me a month or so to figure out how to do it.  I spent a lot of time with excel and even more time scheduling automated reports in our ad server.  In the end, all I needed was a few minor process changes (different naming conventions in our ad server) and a small tech investment in database software.  The whole thing would have been very reasonable as far as costs and it would have saved our analyst team at least 50 hours per week.  After just a few months, the savings in labor would have dwarfed the initial software investment.

I brought my automation ideas to a senior member of my agency and excitedly launched into my presentation.  As I progressed through my cleanly prepared powerpoint slides I found myself getting very excited.  In my mind, the solution I had proposed was powerful, yet elegantly simple.  I had no doubt that I was about to transform the way we looked at reporting and analytics.  Also, I was going to make life easier for the entire analyst team.

As I detailed point after point about how my system would eliminate discrepancies, make data easy to access, automate metrics and streamline optimization my audience sat patiently and waited.

After I finished my treatise – the senior member of my agency paused for just a moment and thoughtfully offered these words: “That’s a terrible idea.”

I was shocked. I thought that I was on the verge of revolutionizing measurement in the world of digital media!  As I sat there deflated, the senior leader explained to me this hard fact: ad agencies make money off inefficiency.  Every manual step, every data pull, every data merge, every manual reconciliation – it all means money for the agency.  If it were easy, the agency wouldn’t be able to charge as many hours for the labor.

It wasn’t long before I left the world of ad agencies.

I wonder how much longer some agencies can hold onto the business of inefficiency.  Not too much longer, I hope.

Inefficiency Pays
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  • >As I sat there deflated, the senior leader explained to me this hard fact: ad agencies make money off inefficiency. Every manual step, every data pull, every data merge, every manual reconciliation – it all means money for the agency.

    This is hilarious, and a perfect example of a business that’s going to be disrupted (soon).

    If you business model has incentives that cause you to act against the best interests of your client, your business model has a problem.

    Also, that executive sounds like an idiot with a self-inflated understanding of the importance of your previous company. It sounds like he doesn’t think that company competes on price, thus a decent amount of work done in the company is just to increase billable hours to maximize revenue.

    That’s insane.

    I mean, it’s really insane.

  • Andrew Eifler

    Couldn’t agree more!

  • Sharon Chen

    I really don’t think it’s fair to generalize across all agencies – though I am curious where different agencies fall on this spectrum of inefficiency versus efficiency. Your senior leader’s approach works if he’s looking to stay status quo in a box (hypothesis that this might be more pronounced for those working in traditional media), as opposed to reducing process inefficiencies to free up time to pursue new opportunities – of which there always are in this changing media landscape – and more strategic roles working with advertisers.

    I was in an almost exact same situation on my agency analytics team. I didn’t prepare a PowerPoint or a formal walkthrough, but had the reverse outcome and was able to convince my department to purchase our own hardware, set up our own shared access MySQL database, and set up a SAS server… all of which completely transformed the level of data analysis we were able to do. Beyond our analytics team, there were also efforts underway (that I was a part of) to create automated, scalable, and flexible dashboarding solutions for advertisers. Reporting time is wasted time that for a smart agency, can be focused more productively elsewhere.

    By the way, great blogging :).

  • Andrew

    Sharon – thank you for reading and for sharing your experience! For the sake of progress and efficiency I hope that more agencies out there are acting like your agency than like mine.