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How to Choose the Right DSP for Your Company

programmatic

Picture this: You’re an experienced programmatic media planner, who also is comfortable executing social campaigns in-platform. You know the ins and outs of Facebook. You crush it on a search campaign. But, your company is still outsourcing all programmatic media buys that come through your agency’s door…and you think it’s time that changes. 

Are you that experienced media planner—or maybe agency owner—who is looking to run programmatic media in-house? There are obvious reasons to encourage this undertaking, including greater control, skill development for your team, and profitability. This shift towards hands-on-keys buying is becoming the norm, and the marketplace has responded. Companies who previously only ran media for clients are now offering their own DSPs to traders everywhere.

Before bringing media buying in-house, ask yourself these questions:

  1. What benefits does this transition pose to our clients?
  2. Do we have the necessary resources in terms of talent/hours to undertake it?

Once this is addressed, and you choose to move forward, you’ll need to know how to select the right media buying platform for your company. And you’re in luck, because the following guide will help you do just that—while avoiding some traps of the industry that are often overlooked when vetting partners for the first time.

01. Budget Considerations

Google DV360 and The Trade Desk are often considered best in class DSPs by most experienced programmatic traders. While these are advanced platforms, they aren’t going to be the perfect fit for everybody. As the gold standard DSPs of the industry, obtaining access requires clearing several hurdles. First, neither DSP will allow agencies direct access without a guaranteed monthly spend in the neighborhood of $100,000 or more. If you don’t meet a minimum spend threshold, you will have to work with an accredited reseller to gain access to the DSP. In this scenario, you are essentially paying the reseller to use their seat at the table, so to speak.  With this comes increased fees, which helps make up the difference between what you actually spend and the minimum threshold. The advantage to this route, however, is that resellers can provide better support than DSPs themselves. 

At the opposite end of the spectrum are more ‘bare bones’ DSPs that are not as advanced and have fewer capabilities. These DSPs are meant for low budget campaigns and are typically best suited for awareness tactics. These platforms often take a lower percentage of media. There are many limitations to these DSPs, such as a lack of algorithmic personalization, reduced inventory sources, and planning tools. However, they can be considered a viable alternative when first dipping your toes into the programmatic space. 


Neither DSP will allow agencies direct access without a guaranteed monthly spend in the neighborhood of $100,000 or more. If you don’t meet a minimum spend threshold, you will have to work with an accredited reseller to gain access to the DSP.

Key Takeaway

02. Training and Support

It’s inevitable that when setting up campaigns, you’ll encounter problems along the way. Line items won’t go live, PMPs won’t deliver, and creative gets rejected for seemingly no reason. It’s important to recognize this going in, so you can vet support options. This will set yourself up for success and avoid unwanted conversations with a client about why their campaign hasn’t launched yet. Support options vary greatly with spend level. If you spend enough money, you should expect white glove service.  Read your contracts carefully to understand their response times to support requests, dedicated support staff hours per month, and overall account check-ins.     

When your programmatic team manages a buy hands-on for the first time, you’ll want to ensure your partner keeps their hands on the training wheels while your team learns how to ride the bike. The last thing you want is to spend your full budget in the first hour! Even after the training wheels come off, it’s always helpful to have a second set of eyes on your work—no matter your experience level in-platform. 


Read your contracts carefully to understand their response times to support requests, dedicated support staff hours per month, and overall account check-ins.”  

Key Takeaway

03. Campaign Planning

A strategic omni-channel approach to campaign planning has increased the importance of planning tools within your DSP. Along with increased programmatic capabilities is an increased client awareness to assess unique reach and frequency across their campaigns when sending RFPs. When planning media, you then need to be able to accurately assess how each channel will affect consumer behavior, and ultimately, what channels will be best at moving consumers to convert. This is all done most efficiently with sophisticated planning tools provided by your DSP.


When planning media, you then need to be able to accurately assess how each channel will affect consumer behavior, and ultimately, what channels will be best at moving consumers to convert.”  

Key Takeaway

04. Performance

Ultimately, campaign performance should dictate which DSP you choose. Like all things in life, not all are created equal. Some DSPs perform better than others, and that can differ based on the campaign goal or strategy. One DSP may be video-centric, while another’s strength is native placements. 

You may also want to pick and choose which DSPs run which placements in an omni-channel scenario. Even though DSPs are rolling out omni-channel capabilities, that can present its own set of challenges. An omni-channel DSP is typically born by means of acquiring another ad tech partner, by an emergence of the companies’ tech stacks. Quite often, this leads to a Frankenstein DSP, rather than a truly ‘new and improved’ platform that can run all your channels in one place.  


An omni-channel DSP is typically born by means of acquiring another ad tech partner, by an emergence of the companies’ tech stacks.

Key Takeaway

05. Take a Test Drive

A good DSP salesperson will reel you in with a demo pitch that blows you away. It is their job to convince you that their product is superior to the competition. It is then your job to assess the validity of their claims.

It’s imperative that you get your own hands on the keyboard before deciding you have found your solution. Do not commit to any money until you have played around in-platform first.  You might find that the UI is slow, glitchy, and a potential source of endless frustration. Maybe the UX seemed intuitive to the salesperson, but to a first time trader it might look like a foreign language. Ultimately, until you get a close look under the hood, you won’t know the pain points of the platform. Do you best to discover them before anything goes live.  


Do not commit to any money until you have played around in-platform first. 

Key Takeaway

06. Off to the Races

You’ve vetted every DSP under the sun, and the team is finally ready to go live with your first programmatic campaign. This is an exciting move for your business! Once you hit the ‘launch’ button, you need to remember to be patient as you observe and learn from the initial campaign performance. Too often, programmatic media is considered an immediate solution to conversions. But the truth is, there’s machine and human learning involved in campaign performance. With patience and a sharp eye for what works and what doesn’t, you’ll begin to see success. 

Once you’ve become comfortable executing media in your first DSP, and you’ve learned the pros and cons of the platform, our advice is to get a second. This gives you the opportunity to optimize buys between platforms, which is a skill you’ll learn over time. 

Are you ready to take the next step in your business by choosing a DSP? We hope you found these steps helpful! As you get ready to reach out, be sure to have this list of questions handy when you schedule your first demo.

  • What SSPs are you integrated with?
  • What are your tech/platform fees?  (If these are over 20%, RUN)
  • Does the DSP company own any SSPs?
  • Is your DSPs tech built in-house, or has it been built on top of another?
  • Do you have internal brand safety/viewability metrics?
  • How does the DSP vet SSP partners?
  • What does data cost – and what partners are you connected to?
    Are there any formats of media that cannot be placed?
  • Can you ingest CRM data directly?

Still curious about choosing the right DSP? Contact us and we’ll help you out!

Written by David Mahaffey

David is the resident operations nerd here at Arm Candy. As as naturally competitive person, getting in platforms and seeing how we can beat ourselves keeps him loving the job. Outside of campaign performance, you can usually find him sipping an adult beverage in the pool or reading a thrilling historical biography.

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