If online advertising were a person, he’d be a young teenager. He’s learned how to take care of himself to a certain extent but still needs quite a bit of supervision.

And, although he has matured, he’s got a long way to go before he can be expected to be self-sufficient.

Like an early teen, online advertising is still in a life stage in which we can shape it and help craft it in ways that will ensure it will grow and prosper in the years ahead.

I’m talking about establishing a foundation on which to build a future empire. And that empire is digital advertising for news media companies.

But we’ll only get there with the help and guidance of digital advertising programmes, procedures, metrics, and, most importantly, advertising sales reps and their advertisers. All of these things need to have a solid foundation for future growth to be sustainable.

News media companies should not have primary interest in the short-term gains that digital advertising could bring. As an industry, we’ve been far too dismissive of future growth.

In the early days of online advertising, we were happy to take online ad buys, put simple display ads up, and collect the money. It was, essentially, the same process for accepting print advertising we’d done for so many years – order taking with the expectation of success and repetition.

The approach we need now is one of foundation-building. We’ve got to start with a solid framework, build solid walls and plumbing, and put on a roof that will last 30 years — not one we’ll need to replace every five years.

For advertisers and sales reps who have little or no knowledge of how digital advertising works, now is our time to establish some basic education and understanding and plant seeds for future growth.

We can’t be in this for short-term gains. Certainly, we need a sense of urgency. But it’s more important to educate sales reps and advertisers with a deeper understanding of what they need to know, and get a better (and more effective) campaign commitment within weeks instead of days.

It’s never too late to address foundation issues. In some cases, it may mean tearing out what you have in place (internally, if your infrastructure at your news media company for digital advertising is not sound), and/or addressing the basic needs of your advertisers to help them understand what their digital marketing goals and possible gains could be.

I’ve known some sales reps who haven’t felt comfortable asking some of their long-time accounts basic needs assessment questions (with respect to their digital marketing), because they thought they’d appear as if they don’t know their account as well as they should after so many years.

There is no shame in approaching advertisers honestly with the “let’s grow, learn, and evolve digitally, together” mentality.

So let’s take a look at our young teenager with fresh eyes and make sure we’re bringing up someone who will be ready to lead us into the next phase of news media. If we’re not sure, it’s not too late to revisit the basics and ensure our foundation is sound.