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As the programmatic landscape continues to evolve, it can be challenging for marketers and agencies to know where to start. How do you effectively reach your audience across screens and devices without a huge in-house team of media experts? In an age where advertising is everywhere, trading desks can help brands cut through the noise and execute robust campaigns to generate awareness with their intended audience.

What is a Trading Desk?
Forrester Research defines trading desks as a centralized, service-based organization that serves as a managed service layer, typically on top of a licensed demand-side platform (DSP) and other audience-buying technologies. More simply, a trading desk is a platform that helps marketers manage their programmatic media buys in real time across all channels. In addition to display, trading desks can give you access to native ads, paid search, social, TV, and video. Trading desks come in two flavors: agency trading desks (ATDs) and independent trading desks (ITDs). The difference between these is pretty basic: ATDs are owned by large agencies, while ITDs are independently owned and operated.

Trading Desk vs DSP
Trading desks are not the same as DSPs. A demand-side platform, or DSP, is software that purchases advertising in an automated fashion. Trading desks, on the other hand, work with multiple DSPs, giving you access to more inventory than just one DSP. While one DSP typically reaches 70-80% of any given audience, using multiple DSPs can allow you to scale the reach of your campaigns.

Another difference between a trading desk and a DSP is service. Many companies who work directly with a DSP probably have an ad operations team on hand to manage the complex business of programmatic and RTB. The service offered by a particular DSP varies from company to company. Trading desks, however, include a service model. You are essentially paying for someone else to manage your campaigns, so you get access to an account manager to help you navigate the programmatic landscape and offer strategic advice while working together.

The pricing models for DSPs and trading desks are also different. With a DSP, you pay for a “seat” on the DSP, and there are generally very high minimums to be able to access this platform. With a trading desk, however, because you are one of many customers accessing their seat to a particular DSP, the entry price to each platform is much smaller, because you are sharing that cost with many other marketers. So trading desks are often seen as more affordable options than DSPs.

Who Uses Trading Desks?
Anyone looking to purchase programmatic ads uses a DSP. If a marketer or agency is looking for more specialized help on a really important campaign, they oftentimes work with a trading desk and the managed services that come along with that to help ensure the campaign delivers in full. There may be a lack of education or resources in-house for campaign set-up and optimization. The benefit of a trading desk over a DSP is the expertise you gain by working with people who manage data-driven campaigns all day long. For marketers who are juggling more tasks than they can count for a particular omnichannel campaign, trading desks can be a good option if they need extra help.

How Do I Know If I Need a Trading Desk?
If you’re running ads programmatically and want to expand beyond one DSP without paying the high minimums of a DSP, a trading desk could be a good fit. The alternative to working with a trade desk is getting a seat in the specific DSP you want access to, but this process can often become costly or slow. Independent trading desks give you access to multiple DSPs that you can utilize in a way that works best with your campaign goals. The service component of a trading desk also means that a programmatic expert or ad operations specialist will manage all your campaigns and reporting post-campaign.

Independent Trading Desk vs Agency Trading Desk?
Why choose an independent trading desk over an agency trading desk? Three reasons: transparency, pricing, and insights. Marketers are (justifiably) concerned about where exactly their money is being spent, and regardless of whether you choose to work with an ATD or an ITD, transparency should be part of your working relationship. The pricing structure varies from platform to platform, so make sure you understand what you’re in for before you get started. Some smaller, independent trading desks don’t require the same costly minimums as DSPs or ATDs. Additionally, independent trading desks are privately owned, so there’s no outside shareholders to push on revenue goals.

What Should You Look for in a Trading Desk?
Obviously, the type of vendor you choose to work with is up to you. But among some qualities of the best trading desks are excellent customer service and support, as well as omnichannel capabilities including search, social, and design services. While programmatic display ads are important, they aren’t the only way to attract and retain customers. So make sure the vendor you are working with offers a full suite of services that meets your needs. Another important way to choose a trading desk is strategy and support. The team that is running your campaigns should be experienced and able to provide dashboards, reports, and metrics for your review. What kind of reporting do they offer? Are the dashboards customizable to meet your particular needs? It’s also wise to consider the number of DSPs they work with as well as any partnerships they may have, to determine if that trading desk matches your needs and can get you in front of your target audience effectively. But most importantly, performance of your actual campaign is likely a high priority for you. So check out the other companies your trading desk has worked with in the past and the case studies showing results they can deliver for you.

As the largest independent trading desk, tdX offers access to over a dozen DSPs. Our proprietary DSP grading system determines the best channel mix for your KPIs by assessing platforms on over 200 evaluation criteria, sorted by over 50 filters. For more information about tdX and how it can help power your campaigns, contact us.