Ad Ops Specialist & Custom Creative

The Client

The Ad Operations division for The Walt Disney Company handles sales, account management, ad trafficking, ad technology integrations, marketing, and other related services for Disney's portfolio of properties and web sites.

The Project

I worked for over a decade as an Ad Ops specialist for The Walt Disney Company, originally hired as an Ad Producer for ESPN. Over time, my role and responsibilities changed and grew with my increased experience. I gained a lot of knowledge of the online ads industry and kept up with the advances in ad technology that also occurred over those years. With new technology to learn and integrate, changes in business needs, and a dynamic ads landscape, my role continually changed and shifted over the years. I kept on my toes and pursued new opportunities for my personal advancement.

What I Did

How it Went

Unlike the other sections on my portfolio, this page will not cover a single project. Instead, this will outline my 10+ years of experience working in Ad Operations for The Walt Disney Company. When I graduated with my bachelor's degree and went looking for work, I knew relatively little about online advertising. Soon, however, with my web design and development skills and general knowledge of technology, I ended up becoming an expert on this subject matter. My role grew and changed over the years as the ads technology sector continually changed. As did the needs of the business, while I also learned and grew along with it.

Fresh out of school I was hired on as an Ad Producer specifically working on the ESPN web site. The ad tech landscape was far different back then, where rich media ads were still built using Flash and ActionScript. I started out doing some of the most basic, but essential tasks. I assisted Account Managers with trafficking creative files and managed Disney's in-house proprietary ads system that they were running at the time.

Being a quick learner, it did not take me long to master my first responsibilities. From there I established myself as a knowledgeable and dependable member of Ad Ops. I excelled at trafficking and troubleshooting. This led me to getting placed in the position of QA lead for all advertisements running on the ESPN web site. With my excellent attention to detail, I improved the QA process and reduced ads-related issues and errors to as close to zero as possible.

I'm very proud of the work I did and the expertise I brought to my Ad Producer role. I was so successful early on that the company actually raised their hiring standards following my addition to the organization and contributions to the Ad Ops group.

screenshots showing the change from the old design to the redesign

How the ESPN web site looked when I first began my career at TWDC versus how it looks today. While there are similarities in design and layout, the site build was completely overhauled, coinciding also with a big shift in the online ads industry. The major changes being the move to a responsive site design and also the rapidly-deprecated use of Flash technology in favor of HTML5.

The next major phase of my career in Ad Ops at TWDC came when the company decided to make the switch from their own ad delivery system to Google's DoubleClick—now known as Google Ad Manager. Compared to Disney's other properties, ESPN was and remains the one that serves the greatest amount of advertisements for display and video. This includes the acquisitions of Lucasfilm, Marvel, and 20th Century that came later.

The shift between ad systems was quite monumental for the company. I, with a handful of my other Ad Ops teammates, worked diligently to migrate all advertisers, orders, and creative files from one system to the next. With thousands of advertisements, over several weeks we made sure the transition went as seamlessly as possible. I helped ensure the accuracy of ad products, orders, and trafficked creative in the new ad system. At the same time learning the ins and outs of the new ad tools and sharing my discoveries and knowledge gained with the rest of the team. For my essential contributions to this I was awarded the highest ranking possible for my end-of-year review.

As recognition of my ad tech expertise, I was then offered a new position. I made the shift from Ad Producer to a more technically-based developer role.

image examples of the Cinema Ad format developed for ESPN

The Cinema Ad is one of the custom ad formats our team helped develop with ESPN Creative Works and the product team. This responsively-designed ad is designed to work on desktop and mobile devices and prominently features in-banner video. Our team did some light UX design work in helping to choose graphics and iconography, as well as how the advertisement functions.

In my transition to the Ad Development team, my role and responsibilities expanded significantly. Primary trafficking of ad creative shifted to the account management teams, so as developers we were there to assist with the technical side of things. We were there to step in when things got complicated. This also meant I got the opportunity to work with a wide variety of contributors. This included account managers, site and app developers, creative agencies, and international teams. I helped manage communications, kick-off calls, asset delivery, troubleshooting and support, and new ad tech integrations.

I also finally had opportunities to put my design skills to the test. Outside of troubleshooting and custom ad creative, I and my teammates also helped to build tools to assist internal teams. I did design work for the UI of tools as well as assisting in the building of internal web pages to make everything we created accessible.

This was also around the time where I began to assume control the ESPN media kit web site and its content. With my extensive background in trafficking and QA, I knew the ad spec requirements by heart and was familiar with ads industry standards.

screenshots of the ESPN and Disney Advertising media kit web sites

I helped write, research, and develop content and guidelines for the ESPN and Disney Advertising digital media kits. Content for both sites was managed by me personally for accuracy and consistency. I also filled in additional design work for both sites including the original mockups and design direction for the redesign of the ESPN media kit.

My complete work on the ESPN media kit is detailed more fully in another section of this online portfolio. I started out managing and updating content on the site and doing minor graphic design work as-needed. Later, when the ESPN site redesign came, the media kit was in need of a major overhaul as well. Not only to bring the design more in-line with the new ESPN site, but significant changes were needed to the ad specifications and guidelines, as the ad delivery set-up had major changes with the new version. That and the industry shift to HTML5-based advertisements.

My team and I worked with our product and site developer teams to help devise the new ad strategy for the redesigned site. I also helped create the early design concepts and mockups for the redesigned media kit. I wrote and produced new content and advertising guidelines for the major changes coming to the site. After deployment, I continued to create and manage content and do design work for the media kit web site.

A video demonstration of a Cinema Ad that I worked on for Disney's UK office (no audio). Well before the launch of this ad format, I developed the video process for our ad development team. This meant we could bring more of the processes for rich media formats such as these in-house, without reliance on creative agencies or other internal groups.

Having primary ownership over the ESPN media kit and its content was a big responsibility. I knew the importance in making it helpful, accurate, and consistent as it was an integral resource for both internal and external groups. However, I also still had a day-to-day workload. This involved helping to execute on custom and rich media ad placements that ran across TWDC's portfolio of sites.

Our team assisted our account managers with trafficking these custom high-impact ad executions. We also did some light UX design, as we worked with our product team to develop new ad formats and help design how they would function. Many incorporated custom code and multimedia elements, especially in-ad video. This is very popular with advertisers. With a big shift to in-banner video in the ads industry, I helped develop processes for editing and optimizing these clips for use in advertising creative. This expanded our ad development team's role in building and launching these executions. Other benefits being the streamlining of trafficking by bringing some of these processes in-house. My web design and development knowledge also made me keenly aware of how assets should be delivered and optimized for the web.

We worked closely with account managers, advertisers, and creative agencies from around the world. We launch hundreds, if not thousands, of these custom high-dollar and high-impact executions. Over my career I've helped ensure the successful delivery of millions of dollars in ad buys. My design and coding skills to made sure every custom unit launched without a hitch. Our team developed and maintained custom templates and code libraries, while integrating tracking and ad measurement utilizing Google Ad Manager and Google Analytics. With this we could provide valuable performance metrics to account managers and their clients. In addition we also provided documentation and training for them.

The Vertical Video is a custom mobile-first ad format that our team also helped develop and support. These included vertically-formatted videos and images designed specifically for display on smartphone screens.

Before leaving the company at the end of July 2023, I had also assumed ownership and control for the Disney Advertising media kit web site content. With my success with the ESPN media kit, I updated and improved the ad guidelines for all of Disney's properties. My design work had also been recognized by my peers and I was recruited for a in-house volunteer design team for the company's career development program. Unfortunately I left before I could begin work on this directly, but I appreciated my skills being seen by others in the organization.

My Takeaways

When I finished my education, I hadn't anticipated having a career in online advertising, but life has a way of turning out in ways we don't expect. Thanks to the continuing advances in ad technology and my shifting roles at the company I always had opportunities to learn and grow my career. While it was not primarily design-focused, those skills I had built up still proved invaluable in many ways.

My career with Disney offered me a huge amount of experience working in a large corporate environment. I utilized my knowledge of web design and development and used my interpersonal skills to work with a huge array of different people and disciplines all over the world. It ended being a surprisingly diverse job, requiring me to be quick, flexible, and able to adapt and learn quickly, which I continuously excelled at. I wrote code, managed content, designed, tested, troubleshooted, and so much more. These are skills that will serve me well into the future for whatever role I land in next.