Guiding agencies & Junior Paid Media Managers to excellence requires an excellent Senior Paid Media Manager.
An excellent Senior Paid Media Manager helps agencies grow and drive scalability by increasing the agency’s capacity to accommodate more clients. An excellent Senior Paid Media Manager mentors and develops junior members of the paid media team seamlessly from novices to Rock-Stars. An excellent Senior Paid Media Manager possesses an innate sense of how to optimize campaigns, an absolute love for paid media and most importantly, a passion for developing paid media experts & excellence throughout an agency.
It’s a key role. Here’s what it looks like.
On the most basic level, Paid Media Managers, at any seniority level, require a basic set of skills.
- Analytical skills
- Strategy & Planning
- Problem Solving
These are just the prerequisite skills. But Paid Media Management is unique, largely because of how fast it moves.
Let me tell you why I love paid media. Paid media is like driving a race car. You can do all kinds of analysis and preparation for a race, but once the green flag drops, you have to make a lot of analytical decisions and adjustments in real-time. Things constantly change in a race. Maybe it starts raining. Maybe something on your car breaks. Maybe the temperature outside skyrockets and now you need to adjust your air-to-fuel mixture while driving 120 miles an hour and trying to pass another car.
I actually did race cars professionally for years and paid media is honestly one of the closest things I’ve found to racing a car. You have to know what your “levers” are and what to expect when you pull them. In a race, or during an active campaign, the speed at which you can correct your car’s setup, or optimize your campaign’s configuration, is often the difference between winning and losing.
To compare, when it comes to SEO, you have all the time in the world. In fact, SEO is notoriously slow and requires a ton of patience. You can solve SEO problems pretty much at your own pace.
Something else unique about paid media is the simplicity. Once you realize how fundamentally simple paid media optimization is, all the “bells & whistles” get really quiet. Which I’m sure is weird to hear since most people are intimidated by the infinite settings and configurations made available to you on any given paid media platform. But when you break it down, paid media only has three “levers.”
THREE LEVERS OF PAID MEDIA
No matter what platform you use. No matter what media you’re working with. No matter how bespoke anything about your situation is, everything about paid media performance and optimization fits nice and neatly into the following three categories:
- AD UNIT
The easiest way to explain is to look at a couple different examples.
Example 1 – Big Publisher
Let’s say you have a network of 300 websites that all have the same type of content, but differ by the types of users each site attracts (such as lyrics sites). And let’s say when a visitor reaches the site, you have no way of knowing what they searched for to get there, so no keywords. Furthermore, let’s say that even if you did know what they searched for, it wouldn’t matter since your network of sites is entirely about, say, music content, and has nothing to do with purchase intent and/or interests (except, of course, music). So how do you do targeting? Every big publisher will already have a well-defined demographic profile of the users that visit the different sections or sites on their platform. So, your first lever (targeting) is simply about choosing the content/site on your network that matches the demographic audience your client is looking for. Sometimes there’s an element of retargeting or look-a-like audiences you’ve created via a DMP, but in large part, targeting is about selecting a site list or section/s of your network that is made up of the desired target audience.
After that, you have to choose which ad unit/s you’ll use. Ad units have zero to do with targeting or Creative, but they affect performance, which is why they are their own “lever.” Each ad unit will have an expected level of performance across your entire network and also within subsections of your network. So, depending on your KPIs and other constraints, you’ll have a good idea of which ad units will work best. But what you won’t always know is how that expected performance will vary per campaign. The more constrained the campaign, the less confidence you’ll have as to expected performance per ad unit.
Lastly, you have the Creative. Now let’s say that you have optimized the targeting and are confident that the current ad unit is your best option, but the campaign isn’t performing. At this point, you can safely say that the Creative is the primary reason that the campaign isn’t performing as expected.
And, generally, you want to optimize in that order. Targeting, Ad Unit, then Creative. Your targeting might limit your ad unit options. And changing Creative won’t really matter if your targeting is wrong or if you’re using the wrong ad unit. But since platforms will almost always have a high degree of confidence about expected performance per site/section and per ad unit, you can always safely focus on the correct lever at the correct time.
Example 2 – Local Google Ads Search Campaign
In this case, you have seemingly endless targeting options, but they all live under the same umbrella. You usually focus this step on keywords layered with geography or time of day or behavioral filters available within the platform, but they are all about targeting.
Again, ad units have nothing to do with targeting, but will affect performance in a generally expected way, so once you have your targeting optimized, you need to focus on your ad unit/s. There will definitely be an ad unit that achieves your goals better than the rest. That might be about utilizing specific sitelink extensions or using an ad unit that allows you to dynamically show a certain type of creative, such as shopping ads.
Now that you’ve identified the correct keywords (targeting) and chosen the best sitelink extensions (ad unit), you’ll have a very good idea of how your campaign should perform. At this point, you can confidently place your optimization efforts on Creative.
Paid Media in the context of our three “levers” is simply about performance.
But paid media optimization involves much more. Campaigns come with all kinds of constraints. Maybe the media has to be delivered over a specific window of time and often during certain parts of the day. Or maybe the media has to be shown in some special coordinated way, such as with full site “take-overs” or “roadblocks.”
So, while adhering to all the required performance constraints, you have to spend the correct amount of money in the most ideal way.
For example, many agencies get paid based on what they spend, so it is crucial, from an agency perspective, that you spend as much as possible without going over your allowed spend. Let’s say that a client wants to spend $1000 per month. And let’s say that your agreement allows you to go over-budget by 5%. So, being the responsible Paid Media Manager you are, you absolutely must spend at least $1000, but no more than $1050 per month. And despite what Google Ads tells you, relying on them to pace your budget is not a good idea.
But what if you spend $1050 in the first three days and nothing for the rest of the month? Even if you meet your performance goals, you’re Client isn’t going to be happy. They’re going to ask why their leads dried up after three days and will probably question your competence.
And what about the flipside? What if you only spend $300 over the first 27 days and now you have 3 days to spend $750? Even if you do spend the money, the fact that you’re now rushing to spend means that performance will likely suffer.
So, budget management is a crucial aspect of paid media management, but technically has nothing to do with performance.
Budget management is especially important if you want to scale your small-to-medium sized ad agency. The time and resources required to manage pacing ideally can be significant.
One way to address this is to write your own automated programs. Manual budget management isn’t hard and it doesn’t take much brain power, so it’s perfect for automation because of the time you can save. You can write scripts in the internal Scripts section of Google Ads or you can write more powerful programs using Ads API. I’ve done both. And here’s what I can tell you. My scripts and programs work better than anything else I’ve tested against. But even if they ONLY did as good as doing it manually or using other 3rd party BBM’s, I’d still have the massive advantage of saving time and/or money.
So, using the example above, I can hit my budget window between 100% and 105% for each and every campaign I manage, knowing that it will pace evenly and spend little to no time babysitting it. Which means I can focus entirely on campaign performance and developing my team members.
MENTORSHIP, MANAGEMENT & GUIDANCE
Mentoring Junior Paid Media Managers is just like mentoring young race car drivers. Let me tell you a secret: becoming a pro race car driver is actually pretty easy. You just have to put the time in. It’s all about confidence. Not cocky confidence. I’m talking about the kind of boring confidence where you’ve done something a million times and everything about it just feels slow and easy. If someone has the basic skills to be a Junior Paid Media Manager and wants to put in the time and effort, I’m here to tell you that all they need is to put in that time and effort to be good.
SETTING CLEAR EXPECTATIONS AND GOALS
It’s not enough to just make Rock-Star Junior Paid Media Managers. There needs to be frameworks and processes in place that make sure everyone on the team produces the same high level of performance on a consistent basis. Goals and KPIs need to be painfully clear. If a Junior Paid Media Manager knows they need to meet a CPA target and that there are clear processes in place to achieve that, no matter how complicated the campaign is, they’ll have consistent success.
More than that, Junior Paid Media Managers need to know their Senior Paid Media Manager personally expects them to learn and grow. They need to know their Manager is going to push them professionally because they expect them to be great. And at the same time, they also need them to know that whatever they need to get there, personally or professionally, their Senior Paid Media Manager is on their side and that there’s nothing they wouldn’t do for them.
PROVIDING COMPREHENSIVE TRAINING
When it comes to paid media, formal training is actually quite simple. As I’ve described in the “Three Levers” section above, paid media isn’t very complicated. What can be complicated are the tools you use. You need to master your tools, or in this case, the platforms you work in, which more often than not is Google Ads, but can also be a bespoke proprietary platform such as the ones you would find at major publishers. Frequent ad-hoc technical training in these tools is important.
ON-THE-JOB LEARNING AND SHADOWING
Most of the real meaningful training you need to be a Junior Paid Media Manager is done through on-the-job learning and shadowing. This is where you hone your soft skills and build your confidence in making real-time intuitive decisions. The Senior Paid Media Manager needs to be available to answer questions and provide guidance in real-time. If the team can’t sit in the same room, they should have reliable chat, call and screen sharing options available, such as Slack. Again, the strength of Paid Media Managers is in making correct decisions quickly, often with incomplete information. So, confidence is crucial.
EFFECTIVE FEEDBACK AND PERFORMANCE REVIEWS
Honesty is crucial. Paid Media Managers spend other people’s money, so if there’s an issue with how they do that, it needs to be addressed as immediately as possible. And ad-hoc reviews should be common. Quarterly and annual reviews aren’t as useful for Paid Media Managers. Senior Paid Media Managers will have access to all the performance data produced for any campaign in real-time, so feedback and reviews should happen quite frequently and should be rooted in the context of live campaigns.
On the flip-side, confidence is key, so feedback and reviews shouldn’t be limited to corrections. It’s probably even more important to the growth and development of Junior Paid Media Managers to know that the decisions they are making are positive. This kind of feedback should be acknowledged publicly as an achievement as needed. We’re developing Rock-Stars after all.
MONITORING PROGRESS AND ADJUSTING STRATEGIES
Even if we follow formal processes for campaign optimization, there will always be slight differences in results between Managers. That’s because different parts of the process excite Paid Media Managers differently. Some of us are more creative. Some of us are more numbers focused. Some of us really like mastering the tools. So it’s important to make sure your Paid Media Managers are allowed to shine in the areas that excite them. And it’s equally important for Senior Paid Media Managers to learn what they can from their team’s strengths and find ways to share those strengths with the rest of the team. Perhaps that means one Paid Media Manager focuses more on Creative optimization of not just their accounts but the accounts of others. Or perhaps it means that another Paid Media Manager is allowed to lead training sessions on how to best use different tools.
Finally, a major responsibility of a Senior Paid Media Manager is to foster a number of soft-skills that lead to innovation, strong performance and growth of the team as a whole:
- Critical Thinking
- Problem Solving
- Knowledge Sharing
- Growth Mindset
SCALABILITY & UNLOCKING GROWTH
We’ve looked at the basic skillset of a Senior Paid Media Manager and how they can guide Junior Paid Media Managers to excellence, so now let’s wrap up by looking at how all of that actually moves the needle and leads to growth of the agency and/or brand.
CLIENT ACQUISITION AND RETENTION
The performance of the paid media department is a product in and of itself. If an agency can promise and deliver a high level of performance, not only can they attract new clients with past results, but they offer programs to clients that align better with client goals, improving retention.
For instance, if an agency charges clients a flat fee, the incentive for performance is really to just keep the client happy enough to stick around. Which, in turn, generally leads to questionable reporting and misaligned incentives between agency and Client.
But here is where a good Senior Paid Media Manager can scale up revenue, boost campaign performance across the board and improve client satisfaction all in a single move. Instead of charging a flat fee, a good Senior Paid Media Manager should be able to show a clear ROAS and offer services on a percentage of spend. What this does is to incentivize the agency to optimize their work around that ROAS because the better they perform, the more likely it is that a client spends more. It incentivizes the Client to spend more because the more they spend, the more they get back. And it incentivizes the Agency to propose larger budgets because the more they spend, the more they earn. The whole system becomes very scalable.
And on top of all of that, it’s actually way easier and simpler to report performance this way. Clients just want to make more money, which generally boils down to agencies generating leads or some other conversion along the funnel. A good Senior Paid Media Manager should be able to distill reporting to focus all the data around that story. Does it really matter if impressions or clicks went up if it didn’t lead to an improved ROAS? Probably not.
CAPACITY PLANNING AND RESOURCE ALLOCATION
Let’s build on the previous section. Now that you AND the Client have an incentive to spend more money, you have to ask, ‘can you as the agency even handle that?’ How does this change your operations? When you multiply a campaign budget by 3 or 5 or even 10 times as much, you’re going to run into a whole new set of obstacles. Is there even enough ad inventory to spend on? If not you need to expand your targeting to include more places to spend. Does your performance suffer as you spend more? Planning and strategy for campaigns usually changes dramatically when you scale up spend.
And what about time? This is usually what holds most agencies back from scaling. A lot of work that you do in managing campaigns is simple, but takes time. For example, let’s say you have a client that spends 50K per month on local search campaigns across the U.S. And let’s say that the budget covers 300 campaigns. As an agency, you absolutely need to spend that entire 50K to maximize revenue, but in order to do that and also optimize the spend between all 300 campaigns, you need to calculate pacing and performance for each campaign at least daily. That’s a ton of time. But it’s not a difficult task. This is where a skilled Senior Paid Media Manager can build simple tools to automate the process of budget management. It’s actually relatively simple to write a program in Python that connects to Google Ads API and does this for you. It sounds scary, but it’s pretty simple and super low risk. A good Senior Paid Media Manager should be able to automate these types of simple tasks that take time. That type of simple automation can be the difference between scaling and not.
MAINTAINING QUALITY AMIDST GROWTH
This section builds on the last. In order to get the expected results for each campaign month over month and from several different Junior Paid Media Managers, it’s absolutely crucial that every process used is detailed and followed. Most of these processes will become second nature after a while and individual managers won’t need to open up SOP documents regularly, but SOP documents play three very important roles outside of simply describing the process and teaching someone how to do something. First, it relieves you from having to memorize anything. All you have to remember is that the process is documented and available. That takes much less mental resources and frees you up to focus on campaign specific optimizations. Second, it creates accountability. If the process is documented and your job is to follow that process, there’s no excuse for missing something. And third, it normalizes expected results. Individuals can have good months and bad months, but when a performance SOP is followed closely, it’s actually pretty hard to not meet your performance goals. This is particularly important if you are trying to scale your work up over several hundred campaigns per manager.
EFFICIENT CLIENT ONBOARDING AND MANAGEMENT
And while we’re on the topic of SOPs. Onboarding hundreds of clients and/or campaigns efficiently requires clear exact processes. Setting the campaigns up initially can involve lots of variables and new questions that haven’t been answered, so knowing exactly which questions to ask and what information is needed quickly is fundamental to onboarding a large number of clients and/or campaigns efficiently. This allows you to fundamentally accommodate more clients.
PERFORMANCE TRACKING AND REPORTING
A good Senior Paid Media Manager should be able to design tracking systems that meet the needs of however data is being presented to clients. For small-to-mid-sized agencies, this likely means being an absolute expert with Google Tag Manager and Google Analytics. They should be able to design a system to clearly shows how the work of the paid media department is creating value. From the agency’s perspective, that should be priority number one. If you focus on local campaigns, the Senior Paid Media Manager should be able to design tracking that shows how paid campaigns are related to foot traffic or shopping ads. If you charge based on spend, you need to clearly and simply track and report on how every dollar spent by the Client returns value. You have to show ROAS, or ROI at the very minimum.
Furthermore, reporting should be automated and live. You simply can’t scale an agency if you have to build reports manually.
TEAM DEVELOPMENT FOR CLIENT EXPANSION
Finally, as your team grows, certain clients will usually require specialized attention because of size or complexity. This means that certain Junior Paid Media Managers will need to be dedicated to these clients. Understanding the strengths, weaknesses and limitations of your team will help you develop, allocate and expand your team accordingly.