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Guide to Programmatic Planning - Beginner

Updated: Apr 2

Whether you're new to programmatic, or a seasoned trader, getting started with a new campaign brings several challenges – in this guide I'll cover a typical planning process, taking us from briefing to trafficking. As we explore the material prepare yourself to find ways the outlined approach could be adapted to even better fit your particular ad account.

The author primarily uses DV360 so some technical details may be specific to DV360.

Programmatic advertising is a unique field, most people I've met didn't intend to work in programmatic - you often start in paid search or paid social and wind up getting asked if you want to try programmatic. Those are gateway paid media channels. I've worked in media for 8 years now, 4 of those focused on programmatic media and I've gotten a chance to work on some really cool brands; I've also had the chance to make every mistake you've made (or are about to make) and I hope to help you avoid them on your next campaign; I didn't see myself becoming a content writer or educator in the programmatic space, but I've become a little fed up with the lack of resources available for training in programmatic; in this guide I will cover the basics -

  • After receiving the client brief, how do you get started?

  • Audience Research in DV360 and other tools

  • Collaboration with planning/strategy

  • Budget Allocation

  • Logistical impacts on planning (AKA only plan what you can do)

  • Documenting & Prepping for building

  • and we're passing the savings on to YOUUUUU!

Programmatic advertising is a career with higher than average salary opportunities, if you work at your craft you will succeed - it's that simple. Let's get into it and learn about programmatic planning. One quick note, after planning - we will dig into beginner level campaign building.

So You're A Programmatic Trader?

I'm so sorry to hear it. SIKE, that's the kind of zinger you're going to have to be ready for in a guide from The Daily Progger. The more emphasis you put on the planning phase of your campaign, the smoother the process will go. I'm of the personal opinion that smoothing out your efforts is the best way to avoid burnout - what I mean by smoothing out is a more continuous and efficient workload than what a lot of traders (myself included) seem to do; work HARD to get shit live and out the door and if you're ever just planning a campaign when there's nothing live it's basically the same as PTO baby. Put your records on and let your hair down. I've been all too guilty of trying to relax from my last fifty-five hour week, which if I'm being honest is because I was relaxing from being burnt out the previous week...see what I mean? If you feel the same it could be because you're not putting enough of your time and creativity into planning, let's dig into programmatic planning starting with a little more discussion on why you should, frankly, give a damn.

Editors Note: This guide is going to be a little different from what you might be used to, the author uses a mixture of technical writing and fiction (denoted by the pink bar on the left, and enlarged text) illustrating an example to provide multiple ways for the information to be articulated. It's also fun.

Heading #1: Why Is The Planning Phase Worth Extra Investment?

Heading #2: How Do I Make a Programmatic Media Plan?

Heading #3: How Can Planning Make Programmatic Buying Easier (DV360 examples)?


Section #1: Why Is The Planning Phase Worth Extra Investment?

Two days from campaign launch, the creatives had just arrived in Jayden's email and he could now finish naming the creatives for trafficking/tagging. Not at all concerning. Actually, he was pretty stressed about it but knew he would get it done, so it's that sort of stress you just marinate in for a spell. At the same time; however, Jayden was also waiting for approval of a demo targeting change - he hadn't notated demo in the targeting recommendations because he been trying to clean up the document for easier reading. Big mistake, with an audible sigh bordering on passive aggressive, he got back to work.

From the moment we get a finalized/approved media plan, until the campaign launches an untold number of changes to our audiences, budget allocation, settings, demo targeting, creative dimensions ... it's naive to think nothing will significantly change. With that knowledge, the single greatest thing we can do to reduce those variables along the way is to increase the time we put into planning, as well as develop our planning skillset.

The brief narrative at the start of this section could be completely made up, or real - but my guess is in some way, you can relate. We are none of us, humans nor programmatic experts, perfect and sometimes we name an audience somethings stupid we have to change later. The problem is, every time we do this in programmatic it can screw someones shit up down the line, primarily ad ops and analytics if we don't notify them. It's an unfortunate part of our job, but similar to the critically acclaimed but publicly underrated film The Butterfly Effect there are ripple effects to every change we make. We have to deal with it, but instead of using journalistic time-travel let's try planning first.

Heading #2: How Do I Make A Programmatic Media Plan?

So you just got briefed on a campaign, and need to come up with something resembling a plan. Maybe you've even gone full Catch Me If You Can, and somehow find yourself in a situation where you know nothing about programmatic but are now in charge of a team of programmatic traders. Any situation, really. Ignoring the intricacies of how different agencies function, we can safely say that we all start from a pretty similar place. The client needs to run a campaign, there's a budget and a target audience we are asked to create a plan to reach. Pretty straightforward, right? Wrong, I got you AGAIN even after that silly opening to this paragraph.

OK, so the client has given us a brief, we have the big three things (budget, audience, goals), what's next? Our objective is to turn those things into a client-facing media plan for approval and to lay out the template for our campaign structure/QA process. I typically take the overall targeting direction I've been given and identify a good number of targetable audiences available to propose to my counterparts in strategy before we get client sign-off; to do this (let's say it was my first day working on a new account) let's go through an example.

It's my first day on the job and there's a campaign coming up in 6 weeks - the client (a gaming company, CrackTivision) has provided a brief and overall strategy. The strategy team is proposing a $1M budget for programmatic based on the client's objectives that are going to lean heavily on social, TV, press & events (conferences, esports, that kind of thing) so I'm being asked to get efficient impressions & add frequency where possible against the core audience that the strategy team is activating against.


Hey there, quick beginner breakdown. Skip ahead if you want.

The strategy team

could be called something else, but typically if your agency does more than programmatic you are reporting into/working with a team that is guiding all of the media strategy/investment

is proposing a $200k budget for programmatic based on the client's objectives that are going to lean heavily on social, TV, press & events (conferences, esports, that kind of thing) so I'm being asked to get efficient impressions & add frequency

When programmatic is but a piece of the overall media pie at the agency, we often are asked to fill a role like this - buying media direct from publishers like Conde Naste or in this example more likely IGN/Vulture comes at a cost. High CPMs or Cost/100k Impressions, say $12-$15 for Display or $20-$30 for Pre-Roll Video (A video ad spot that plays before video the audience wants to see). The goal here is that by targeting gamers in other ways we will reach this same group of people again through programmatic which can deliver much cheaper impressions. Depending on my DSP, targeting and margins (oh boy), if any, I would plan programmatic display $5 - $8 CPM and Pre-Roll Video at $12 - $15. Frequency refers to the amount of times we reach a specific user/device/cookie/sentient ipad, think about what you might do if you see an ad for a game coming out soon that you're interested in. You probably need to hear about it a few times before you buy, we try to use frequency building tactics like retargeting in particular to reach people who saw another ad and clicked through to the landing page.

where possible against the core audience

core audience is a fancy way of saying this is the tightest approximation of our audience we can specify. It's a guiding principle for everyone to use across all media buying on the campaign.

that the strategy team is attempting to activate.

Activate is a fancy word for getting impressions, and ideally frequency/action..


Beginner breakdown over, that was intense. Let's carry on. It's time to find audiences to use that match the core audience.

Where were we? At this point the client has told me a campaign is coming up in 6 weeks, I've been given a brief with important details including targeting direction and budget (total budget and a programmatic budget). We may have gotten research from a strategy/investment team member as well, now it's time to turn that into actionable audiences.

When performing audience research, I like to start with any relevant data my coworkers have pulled from Comscore, MRI, Mintel, or other providers and create a list of several of the top audience behaviors. Pay special attention to any targeting indicators that line up with audiences mentioned in any briefs/materials provided by the client as you'll find it easier to get your overall plan approved if you lead off with audiences that most closely match the client's expectations. After reviewing outside data I'll check YouTube Insights. This tool is especially handy in getting your job done because of how easily you can create slides to present audience research, I HIGHLY recommend this as a step you take early on in campaign planning. Let's see how Jayden is doing as he reviews the audience research and brief in preparation for his own research for the upcoming CrackTivision game "Fists Full of Guns"

Staring at the blank page before him, Jayden opened up the dirty window next to his desk to illuminate his working area. Recalling the client brief as he waited for the Comscore pull to open, he knew his targeting should skew 18-34 and focus on gamers. With only $200k for programmatic Jayden felt his best opportunity lay in focusing entirely on gamers, while developing several sub-audiences that fit under the overall gamer audience as testing opportunities. Excel had finally opened and he could take a look at that data. There didn't seem to be anything too surprising in here. However, he did note that while many of the games that showed up in the target audience's interest were very similar in that they were shooters or action games. He did also see a lot of interest in sports and racing games as well as a really strong cross-interest in Action and War TV/films & Comedy Fans.
Taking note of that, he opened up YouTube Insights and began to crawl through the myriad data points. Because CrackTivision’s new game “Fists Full of Guns” was not part of a series of games there wasn't any related information in YouTube’s database yet when he tried searching for the game itself. So as a starting point, Jayden decided to use the first title that was called out in the competitive research from the client briefing. A hyper successful indie war game called A Little Bit of War Goes A Long Way (or ALBWGLW as it’s fans call it), released in 2021, was still the reigning title in the first person shooter market. Jayden typed as a dazzling display of interests, customer behaviors, geographic trends, and still more information poured out before him.
According to what he saw, there were several different ways he could go about targeting this audience. Jayden first noticed that there were several video lineups that were about gaming that would be of interest to his audience. These video lineups are nice because they’re contextual, meaning that Jayden would be reaching people as they were watching videos about similar games. That made a lot of sense as a targeting input and felt like something that the client would go for. Mousing over to the user composition and interests section of YouTube Insights he found something even more interesting though. In addition to the out-of-the-box targeting segments about gaming that he was seeing in the contextual video lineups. YouTube Insights was showing him a number of top channels on YouTube that his audience was frequenting as well as the top videos that they were consuming. This information would be invaluable to him in learning this audience more and put together a plan. Leaning back in his chair, trying to make sense of all the data that he had seen, Jayden paused to gather his thoughts. Opening up the media recommendation deck (v11.a, for some reason) and thinking out loud, he said “OK, I just make a list of audiences to run by the team in status tomorrow, start with the most obvious ones and work my way out from there.”
With that, he bent his head to work - tilting his neck uncomfortably in a way that would prove problematic in years to come. Finally, he landed on 12 segments to test across YouTube & open web inventory after combining Comscore info with YouTube Insights and finding matching segments within DV360. Opening up his template campaign, a shell for duplicating to build other campaigns, he opened up a YouTube ad group and began exploring Affinities & In-Market Segments. Next, he pivoted to a display Line Item and searched for the key terms he'd seen popping in research. He would supplement audiences that didn't exist out of the box with custom affinities and third-party segments. Moving his cursor to click the "download slides" icon, he prompted the creation of a full audience deck that would give him everything he needed to back up his findings.

Jayden's full audience list breakdown

  • 2 Retargeting audiences

  • 1P Data (Purchaser/Marketing List) & a YouTube Channel Retargeting audience

  • 7 Gamer audiences

  • 4 Behavioral (including Sports Video Game Fans), 2 Contextual, 1 Custom Affinity based on keywords and URLs

  • 3 Conquesting audiences

  • Action/War Movie Fans

  • Action/War TV Fans

  • Comedy Fans

At this point we have a list of audiences and can now translate this into a media plan. Let's use our basic media plan template for reference, Jayden is a pretty green planner so in his brief from the strategy team they specified the channels they would like him to buy across - as a more advanced planner this would become his responsibility. For this title the plan is to buy OOH and Linear/CTV direct, Jayden will be focusing on buying Display/Native and Pre-Roll video. Jayden will not be getting a chance to request any custom assets, there's simply no time - he'll move forward using the existing standard sized assets already in development. This is something he used to forget about, as a beginning planner/trader it can be an easy thing to miss - what creative sizes will I be getting? Pay attention to that!

With no previous historical data for this franchise he plans to launch with even budgets and use automated line item optimization at the Insertion Order level, this will allow him to spend less time worrying about budget shifts in the first days of the campaign as winners and losers start to stand out. Those are the basics of programmatic planning! There's no right/wrong budgeting or planning process in all situations, the key for Jayden was to slow down and think through WHY he should budget a certain way. Without data, he made the simple choice, which is often the correct one. There are a thousand other items to cover along the way but Jayden has successfully navigated the planning process in his first campaign.

Heading #3: How Can Planning Make Programmatic Buying Easier?

OK programmatic person, so you're probably still feeling a little overwhelmed with the idea of planning your own campaign. But let's tie it all together and wrap this up. Your individual situation may be slightly different than Jayden's, but if you're a programmatic trader buying media as part of a larger media strategy this should feel close enough to home that you can apply it to your own situation. By taking what his client leads gave him, Jayden made sure that he was tying his strategy into the overall plan. This is absolutely crucial. From there, he utilized Comscore and other resources available to his agency. Next step was digging into audience options in DV360 that matched his targets and translating that into a simple media plan after determining what type of budget allocation made sense.

If you've recently been given the opportunity to add programmatic planning to your duties in addition to buying, this process is an opportunity to understand the decisions you make in your DSP at a deeper level. Take this opportunity to ask questions like

  • Is my taxonomy setup in a way that enables reporting/insights to get better learnings?

  • Is there a smarter way to build my campaigns, looking at the wholistic plan?

  • Should I look for any ways to combine budgets, or audiences, in order to get the learnings I need from Brand Lift Studies?

  • Etc!

Dig deep my friend, you can do this! Anything you think should be covered for beginner planners, or any questions you have? Reach out to us!

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