The Rise of Self Service

Considerations and safeguards for publishers exploring self-service inventory 

In 2017, self-serve advertising surged as media buyers sought transparency across their campaigns. Seven years later, self-serve is still on the rise. As demand grows for highly targeted digital content, even from the smallest businesses, many publishers seek to capture this long-tail revenue. According to Boostr Enterprise Account Director Jeremy Hines, offering inventory through a self-service buying platform is one way to do it at scale. 

“Self-serve” can be defined as any platform allowing advertisers to define criteria for a campaign independently, purchasing their digital ad inventory without working with an agency or publisher sales rep. From establishing timelines to selecting inventory, the buyer has control. For publishers, automation can make the process seamless with minimal human oversight.

“Broadcasters and publishers doing this successfully tend to have the data to back it up,” Hines says. “They have the scale and are seen as ‘must-buys,’ so advertisers will use their self-service platforms, leveraging the media company’s targeting capabilities.” 

Hines points to significant players leveraging self-serve platforms well, including LinkedIn, Hulu, and its owner, Disney, which is building a more comprehensive self-service platform. “For example, with Hulu, they realized they were spending 60% of their effort to acquire 30% of their revenue,” Hines says. “Since they do a lot of local advertising, the question became, ‘How do we get more efficient at getting those long-tail dollars?’ The answer, of course, is self-serve.”

Why self-serve, and why now

Hines explains that the success of self-service on platforms such as Google and Meta has forced the hands of many other media companies. With a combined market share of nearly 47%, the digital duopoly significantly lowered the barrier to entry for long-tail advertisers, leveling the playing field. At its best, self-service democratizes the digital advertising market, letting anyone participate regardless of campaign size. 

Amazon, Microsoft, TikTok, Hulu, and Disney have embraced self-service and an ads-for-all ethos. 

“There’s an untapped market of smaller advertisers that lots of publishers can tap into while potentially decreasing operational costs,” Hines says. 

With access to niche audiences, publishers stand to offer an attractive alternative to social and paid search. By creating self-service options on their platforms, publishers provide new opportunities for advertisers while taking advantage of new—and largely automated—possibilities for revenue growth.  

Self-service options can add an extra source of bid competition for a publisher’s other advertising demand sources, potentially increasing the overall value of ad space on their web properties in a predominantly “set it and forget it” way that is rare in the digital world. 

What to consider as you embark on self-service

“This isn’t Field of Dreams,” Hines quips. “It’s not an ‘if you build it, they will come’ situation. That’s where people have failed in the past. After you build it, you need your sales team to go out and sell it effectively. They must explain why they buy from you and show people how to use the tool. That’s how you make a self-service option profitable.”

Apart from educating sellers and partners on the details of your self-service offering, you must address other design, reporting, and integration considerations early to create the most functional and profitable platform possible. 

Hines outlines the top three considerations below:

1. Revenue + forecasting 

Billing and revenue recognition significantly impact your organization’s forecasting, which guides critical decision-making. “Will you recognize revenue immediately or monthly? Do advertisers pay upfront? All of this has implications for how you build your platform for maximum ROI,” Hines says. 

For example, upfront payments minimize the need for publishers to chase down what they’re owed. On the other hand, they may lose some business by not offering an option to pay later. Your business is unique; how you build your self-serve platform for optimal billing, revenue recognition, and forecasting will be, too. 

2. Design 

Hines recommends outsourcing the platform’s design and build to partners that can do it in a highly considered way. Self-service platforms must be refined enough for savvy marketers to accomplish their goals, user-friendly, and sufficient for novices without major human intervention. After all, a self-service system that creates a flurry of customer service tickets defeats the purpose. 

“Before you hand the project over to your internal engineering team, ensure they can build something for the advertisers that need to use this particular system. If they can’t do it, find the right partner. Outsource it. It’s worth doing right,” says Hines. 

3. Integration

Data must be shared fluidly across systems for your self-serve platform to work at its full potential. This ensures accurate order fulfillment, the ability to adjust order availability and personalized and consistent customer experiences, whether your partners are working with an ad rep or designing their campaigns on the self-service platform. 

“You have to be thinking about that overall architecture and how it works with your ad stack,” Hines says. “How does it plug into your CRM, OMS, and ad server?” When these platforms are seamlessly integrated, it becomes easier to manage ad placements and auction settings to capture the most revenue. 

Add to your ad stack with intention

Designed by media executives to address media publishers' unique and evolving concerns, Boostr understands the complexity of ad management in the modern world. We’ve built our combined CRM and OMS for maximum usability with automations that eliminate guesswork, rework, and missed revenue. 

Layering the robust data tracked and stored in our ad management platform with a well-engineered self-service ad platform enables sellers to easily set rules for inventory exposure and delivery, making self-service a win for publishers and advertisers alike. 

We work hard to support innovation across the mediasphere, including developing new ways to meet the needs of all players. Contact one of our on-staff experts to find out how we can support you in everything you do. 


Boostr is the only platform that seamlessly integrates CRM and OMS capabilities to address the unique challenges of media advertising. With boostr, companies gain the unified visibility necessary to effectively manage, maximize and scale omnichannel ad revenue profitability with user-friendly workflows, actionable insights, and accurate forecasting.

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