Chances are that if you’re a small to medium-sized publisher that is ad-supported, you’re relying on an ad network or ad rep firm to move your ad inventory.

There’s a lot to like and dislike about ad networks and rep firms but for most publishers, they’re a necessity. Choosing the right one can mean the difference between success and disappointment.

Here are 10 tips for making sure you bet on the right horse:

  • Think niche. There are plenty of all-purpose ad networks out there that are trying to be all things to all people. That may be okay for you, but it’s probably not. Instead, you may want to consider a network that is focused on the market you’re in.

    In my opinion, networks and rep firms that focus on specific verticals offer significant advantages because they’re more focused and usually have fewer publishers by virtue of that. While this isn’t the only factor in making a decision, it might be a big one depending on your situation.

  • Go local if possible. While it may not always be possible, consider
    working with a company that is located near you because there’s no
    substitute for being able to meet with the people who are representing

    Last year, I stopped by one of the networks I use while traveling and
    was given the opportunity to talk to the network’s sales team. It was
    well worth the time because it gave me the ability to give them a
    better understanding of the property they were selling to prospective

  • Consider all your assets. It’s a multi-channel world and if you have assets in multiple channels, you might want to look for a rep that can sell against all of your assets. AdWeek recently profiled a niche ad network that is selling ad inventory across multiple media channels, including print, television and radio.

    Be sure to let the ad networks and rep firms you’re looking at know what other assets you bring to the table and see if they have the capability to leverage them.

  • Ask tough questions before signing on the dotted line. Your experience with ad networks may be similar to my own general experience over the years: lots of big promises, mediocre delivery two-thirds of the time. It’s understandable; to win your business, you’ll usually be told what you want to hear.

    There’s no way to prevent this but you can be more strategic when evaluating a network or rep firm. Ask the right questions. Don’t just focus on CPMs. Ask about other important topics, such as fill rates, what happens when there’s unfilled inventory, what sort of real-time access to stats you’ll have and if there are additional costs for serving any ads you may need to deliver. The answers you receive will tell you a lot.

  • Pay attention to payment terms. Cash flow is the lifeblood of
    a business and if you’re heavily reliant on ad revenue to run yours,
    you had better pay close attention to payment terms, since they can
    vary quite significantly from company to company. Depending on your
    cash flow needs, a network that pays on a Net 120 basis, for instance,
    may not be an option.
  • Negotiate. While negotiating the terms of an agreement with an ad network or rep firm can be difficult (most have standard agreements), depending on the leverage you have and the number of other publishers they represent, you may be able to successfully haggle over key terms.
  • Beware the exclusive. If you don’t have personal experience or a solid recommendation from a trusted source as it relates to a specific ad network or rep firm, be very careful about signing exclusive agreements for any length of time. ‘Nuff said.
  • Be proactive. Once you’ve got a deal, you shouldn’t just sit back and assume that your ad network or rep firm is going to focus day in and day out on selling your property. You need to be involved; the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

    Example: if you have well-defined traffic cycles and know that you’re going to receive a boatload of traffic in November (eg. thanks to an event you cover or are associated with), be sure to let your account manager know well in advance so that the sales team has knowledge of the opportunity.

  • Manage your inventory. An ad network or rep firm probably isn’t going to help you manage your ad inventory. One of the biggest mistakes a publisher can make is believing that creating the maximum amount of inventory and dumping it on an ad network or rep firm is the path to success. It isn’t. If you’re not being strategic about your inventory (especially how much of it you create), chances are you’re minimizing your return.
  • Don’t forget direct sales. No matter how good an ad network or rep firm is, nobody can sell your property like you. If you’re not pursuing a direct ad sales strategy, you may be leaving money on the table.

Photo credit: Brian Hillegas via Flickr.