How AI Will Transform Ad Operations over the Next 5 Years

Ad operations teams are the IT functionaries of advertising: the business does not run without them, but they typically only hear from sales, finance, customer service, or yield if something goes awry. Carl Leskinen, CEO and co-founder of Burt Intelligence, believes AI can change that.

Burt offers revenue maximization solutions for publishers. Earlier this year, the company launched Burt Advisor, an AI-driven service that analyzes billions of data points to flag revenue maximization opportunities and issues to ad ops professionals each morning. Burt says it can identify millions of dollars in potentially missed revenue each day for its customers across thousands of flagged issues.

At the heart of Burt’s solution is usability — empowering ad ops professionals, who are perpetually overwhelmed with the task of putting out fires, to make the greatest possible impact on a daily basis. To do this, the company provides its users a single morning email with a short, prioritized list of tasks to tackle. Some fires are more dangerous than others. With Burt, the sales pitch goes, ad ops professionals can focus on the ones that threaten to burn down the house.

Industry headwinds threaten to exacerbate the inferno. With tech giants like Google and Facebook sucking most of the air out of digital advertising, privacy changes making it harder for publishers to monetize audiences, and burnout saddling publishers and the rest of the ad industry with talent acquisition and retention issues, many publishers stand to gain from opportunities to maximize the revenue at their disposal.

But helping professionals identify and solve issues or even seize operational opportunities is not the limit of AI’s potential on the sell side of advertising.

The future of AI in ad ops

Leskinen sees verticalized AI of the kind Burt commands eventually transforming ad ops into a far more efficient process where technology identifies and acts on issues while humans devote their time to tasks, like customer relationship management, that only people can handle well.

“I want [Burt] to be the decision operational system for the industry,” Leskinen said. He believes Burt’s edge is that it is a sophisticated AI engine designed specifically for the media industry, making it more effective than great AI by organizations like IBM.

But fulfilling Leskinen’s mission will require that Burt, which was founded in 2018, develops a massive database to increase the intelligence it can provide and, ultimately, act on. For now, Burt’s ability to solve issues — not just flag them — is limited to narrow use cases.

Skeptics might wonder whether AI powerful enough to not only identify but solve ad ops issues will put many professionals out of a job. Leskinen argues that this is not the most compelling value proposition of the technology his company is developing.

“Don’t cut from 40 to 20 people,” he said. “Use those 40 people to drive ten times the value.”

Ultimately, Leskinen sees Burt’s technology as elevating the status and possibly the impact of ad ops professionals in their organizations. Ad ops is well positioned to provide close-up intelligence on what kind of business is coming in, what products clients need, and how media organizations can run more smoothly.

For now, their time is occupied putting out fires. With the right technology, Leskinen argues, they might be able to build a bigger house.

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Joe Zappa is the Managing Editor of Street Fight. He has spearheaded the newsroom's editorial operations since 2018. Joe is an ad/martech veteran who has covered the space since 2015 and regularly consults with companies in the space on content and communications. You can contact him at jzappa@streetfightmag.com.