What’s The Difference Between a Media Agency, Ad Server, and Publisher?

Media Agency, Ad Server, and Publisher

What’s the difference between a media agency, ad server, and publisher?

In the world of advertising, there can be a lot of confusion around who exactly does what. So, let’s have a closer look at media agencies, ad servers, and publishers and where they fit within the digital advertising space.

What does a media agency do?

Media agencies advise companies on how and where to advertise online. They know how to plan, serve, and measure the results of advertising campaigns in various media outlets, such as television, radio, print and of course, online digital display. A media agency will inform you how to present a positive picture of your business to the public. And they will give you the insight and expertise to ensure your ad spend reaches the right people.

What is an ad server, and how to does it relate to HTML5 Ads?

Ad serving is the technology and service that places online digital ads on websites and apps. For instance, the ad server is where you store an HTML5 banner ad, and it also sends winning ad placement bids to the publisher to serve.

Depending on the type of ad server you use (first-party or a third-party), it allows you to:

    • Storage and manage banner ads.
    • Set rules to determine what online ads will appear and when (including targeting, priorities, and pacing).
    • Select the best ad to show using an ad decision engine.
    • Track and report campaigns.


How does a media agency use an ad server?

Media agencies are the people that help clients work with the advertising systems (ad servers and publishers). They are the human connection between the technology, the clients and their final served digital display adverting campaigns. And part of this process is done by using a first-party or third-party ad server.

How do media agencies use a first-party ad server? First-party ad servers store, target, and segment specific users on publishers’ websites and apps.

How do media agencies use a third-party ad server? A third-party ad server helps media agencies ensure that their clients’ creatives are rendered and optimized throughout all digital ad campaigns.

Media agency’s pay for space on an ad server, which helps them ensure control over their ad placement, ad delivery optimization, and statistics delivery.


What is a Publisher, and where do they fit in online digital advertising?

A publisher provides the capability and inventory that allows advertisers to run their online banner ads on their websites and mobile apps. Publishers sell space on their websites/apps to media agencies and buyers. They also set the file size limit for the online advertising for their websites.


How does a media agency use a publisher?

Media agencies use a process called programmatic media buying. Programmatic media buying aims to identify and purchase ad space on the publisher’s website/apps for their target audience. Media agencies and buyers must negotiate with the publishers for the best price and placement of the ads.

However, media agencies aren’t really buying an ad. They are buying people. Media agencies can buy their desired target market using data collected from thousands of different systems and platforms. For instance, say a client sells perfume, they would want to target a specific group of people—women, aged 25-45, interested in perfume, and not men. This is done via a process called ad trafficking, where the parameters of each ad buy are set. Read more about ad trafficking here.


What is programmatic media buying?

Once the media agency has set the ad parameters, the programmatic media buying process begins using automated technology to purchase advertising space. The ad server must then work quickly to place bids and implement strategies for the digital display ads. This method utilizes data insights and algorithms to serve ads to the right user at the right time and for the best price. This process is over in a matter of milliseconds due to the high speed at which ad servers can process data and serve banners. And the system not only launches the digital display campaign but also monitors the ad spend to look for areas of improvement.


How does an ad server help a publisher?

Publisher’s websites used to work like magazine advertising. The advertisement (banner ad) would be sent to the magazine (website) and printed each month in the magazine. Or, in this instance, the publisher would insert the ad themselves, which they then display on the website. However, this process no longer works due to file size limitations and storage issues. That’s where ad servers come in. Publishers sync their websites or conglomerate websites to the ad server, which holds the banner ads and implements the ad bidding process.


Ad servers for publishers: how does it work?

Ad-serving technology is a bit complex. Here is a simplified version.

      • A user visits a website or app, and the browser sends a request to the ad server asking for content.
      • The ad server returns the HTML5 and renders the content on the website/app.
      • Next, the ad server receives a request to select an ad slot on the page.
      • Then, based on targeting information, the publisher’s ad server chooses a relevant ad campaign.
      • Finally, the ad server sends back an ad to the website.
      • The digital banner ad is then displayed. 

As you can see, media agencies, ad servers, and publishers are interconnected, and all have their place within online digital advertising. They are a network of humans and advertising systems that connect consumers with brands. Without them, your ads wouldn’t reach the right people at the right time and would never even be seen!


Looking for help with media buying and your online advertising strategy?

Then contact a media agency for more details. If you need help creating outstanding HTML5 digital display campaigns, contact TBM today!