It’s time to de-frenzy PPC

PPC work doesn't have to mean late-night, last-minute urgent client requests. Learn the seven causes of PPC frenzy and how to avoid them.

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I have a secret to share.

I’m almost embarrassed by it in this hustle culture, but I’m also proud of it. 

My secret is that I obsess over keeping PPC at our little agency frenzy-free (as much as possible). 

Sure, there’s the occasional client mishap, last-minute promo, and late-night conversation (about once a year for us). But, overall, everybody on my team doesn’t work nights or weekends and we just don’t really have many last-minute “urgent” requests by clients.

Let me repeat that:

We’re a PPC agency that doesn’t work nights and weekends!

Hard to believe, huh? 

The reason this is almost scandalous to admit is that PPC has become known as a frenzied activity. In fact, I’ve seen it worn like a badge of honor!

Unlike our professional counterparts, we must work night and day, managing budgets, replacing ad creative, and taking 2 a.m. calls from anxious clients. Why? Because, PPC! (Or so we’re told.) 

But, I’d like to push back on this culture. 

I’d like to make the bold claim that PPC doesn’t have to be so frenzied, and for the good of everyone’s mental wellness, we should begin making purposeful steps within our departments and agencies to de-frenzy PPC. 

Rather than frenzy being a hallmark of PPC, I think we should work toward stability. Stability is the opposite of frenzy and the goal with which to aim. Stability will improve your client relationships and employee morale (as well as your own mental well-being, if you’re a PPC manager or owner).

With stability, you have the time and energy and resources (let’s call that, margin – more on that later) to actually focus on building and managing well rather than be constantly tossed around by the urgent nature of frenzied tasks. 

So how does one push for stability in PPC? Shouldn’t PPC, by its nature, be frenzied? I don’t think so, and I will identify the seven key causes of PPC frenzy below – and solutions. 

Ready? Let’s begin to make healthy changes and de-frenzy our industry.

1. Mistakes

One of the primary causes for frenzy in PPC is the need to make up for a mistake that was made – oftentimes by the PPC manager, but sometimes by someone else (like the client). 

For instance, a novice PPCer may be in a rush to hit their quota of tasks for the day, so they push forward a campaign with tROAS set to 20% rather than 200%.

They also set a daily budget far higher than it should be, causing the bidding algorithm to run amok in spending all of that client’s monthly budget in one day.

The client sees it that night and angrily calls the agency to fix it. Hurry! Fix this costly mistake! Emergency! Frenzy! 

On one hand, it’s an emergency. On the other hand, it could have been easily avoided. 

Not all mistakes are avoidable, but I think most are. In PPC, I actually think pretty darn close to all mistakes are avoidable. 

The solution

Slow down and check your work. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so build into your agency process a plan for double-checking work as part of campaign builds and optimizations. 

Also, make sure you’re hiring people with strong attention to detail. I think PPC frenzy often happens because managers get sloppy, and I have found that hiring team members who notice things naturally is an immensely valuable soft skill to obtain. 

Finally, if a team member has strong attention to detail, but is making mistakes, it could be that the mistakes are coming from an unrealistic level of tasks and priorities.

Perhaps you need to rethink what your team can actually accomplish within the allotted time they have in a day, rather than just assigning them all the things and expecting them to get it done. That is a key source of employee burnout.

2. Poor planning

Another primary cause for frenzy in PPC I run across is the age-old failure of poor strategic planning. You’ve probably seen a version of this quote somewhere:

“Your lack of preparation does not my emergency make.”

Well, the same goes through for our own failure to plan in PPC.

A last-minute urgent email from a client leading to a team needing to work late in order to finish getting creative ads live before the promotion begins at 12 a.m. Eastern time isn’t actually an emergency. The team should have had knowledge of the promotion for two months, and the failure here was in the last-minute nature of the request. 

So what about when the client fails to adequately notify the PPC team of necessary changes?

This gets a little more complex, but communication and expectation-setting are important parts of PPC. In that case, an honest discussion should be had as to the correct way to notify of something like upcoming promotions.

Perhaps it could go like this:

“Hello, {Client}. We are unable to get that promotion live by the end of today since our team is heading out the door. However, we will jump on this first thing tomorrow. Also, let’s plan to connect on our next call as to a good way to plan promotions together so we ensure these ads are live when they need to be for future sales. I want to make sure we do everything we can to set you up for success, and being included on your promotion calendar will give us the information we need to get this done on our end.”

The solution

Recognize that emergencies based on a failure to plan accordingly can (and should) be avoided, and take the necessary steps to educate and train your team or collaborate with your clients to be able to anticipate the inevitable activity. 

The great PPC team is the anticipatory team. Many false emergencies arise that could have been easily avoided had they simply been thought of beforehand.

For instance, if an important holiday is coming, and your team hasn’t heard from a specific client on a sale, but your team knows this client loves to run promotions, then great planning means your account manager proactively contacts that particular client to inquire about a sale (and perhaps even introduce the thought to the busy client business owner) well before the week of the event – when the client suddenly decides they want to do a sale and causes everyone to scramble. An unnecessary, and poorly planned, false emergency. 

3. Disorganization

Ahhh, disorganization. This has caused many innocent-sounding account managers to feel more mentally stressed than they actually should be.

A disorganized account, task management solution or communication parameter leads to false emergencies. 

For instance, when you land a client, there are certain things you will need to know about every single account that you take on to manage, and it’s important to have an organized process for gathering, storing and accessing that information.

Failure to identify this, gather, store, and make accessible this data will increase the likelihood that this important information cannot be used for the good of an account. 

False emergencies are worsened by disorganization as it leads to faulty decisions made in the account that would never have been made if the information to avoid the false emergency had been taken into account. 

This is also where lack of margin (below) comes into play, and we’ll discuss that at length. I have found that some people are naturally disorganized, true. However, some disorganization can come instead from poor internal processes and policies, or too many tasks.

It’s difficult for your account manager to be organized when they are stressed and overworked and jumping from task to task without time to think and plan ahead and organize their lives. 

See how many of these things blend together? 

The solution

Recognize that easily accessible and properly organized information lays the foundation for proper planning and proactive choices that stop false emergencies before they ever can get started.

4. Unrealistic expectations

While many of the frenzy causes I address can be applied to either client or PPCer, this is about the only one that is solely the fault of either a manager or client (i.e., not the PPCer). Sometimes, false emergencies thrust upon the PPCer are simply because the client or the PPCer’s manager has faulty expectations for what can or should be accomplished.

Let’s say a PPCer gets three voicemails over lunch and six emails from a client in the same timeframe. They are alarmed. “Call me back immediately!”

When the PPCer calls them, they hear something like, “I’ve been looking at our keywords and I noticed that CPCs have risen by 25% from yesterday! This is alarming, something has to be done! I’d like to hear of three action steps you’re going to take as soon as you hang up to address this.”

In this made-up (yet not far off-base story), the client has suddenly taken it upon themselves to wipe clean the PPCer’s task list for the afternoon to address what they consider an emergency but is not actually an emergency. 

The reality is that those outside of PPC (especially those with some power over the PPCer) can have faulty views of what should occur. Thus, they can try to instill a sense of urgency onto the PPCer that may not actually result in improved account performance (the goal we’re all after here!). 

The solution

This may be one of the trickiest for the PPCer to navigate since this covers a whole lot more than simply planning better or getting more organized. It involves working with clients or managers who themselves may be viewing this the wrong way. 

Unfortunately, since they hold the power in this dynamic, it can feel impossible to actually stop the endless “emergencies” that arise every time the client has a good idea and wants you to “hop on a call” to discuss it. 

I think the solution here is at least two-fold.

First, it includes education and sometimes, healthy pushback. “I got your message, can we plan to connect on this during our regularly scheduled call next week?”

If they say no, it’s important (with your boss’s permission) to push back a little with something like, “I apologize but I don’t have the bandwidth today or tomorrow to discuss so may have to wait on that idea until next week.”

I will note that there are a million things that could come up here in the client’s mind as emergencies, and a million ways to reply, so growing in soft skills is the way to address this (not to only use what I say in this article). 

The bigger picture solution here is more complex but even more important. That is to be able to identify signs of this sort of client before you ever land them (while in the discovery process), so you can consider whether this is a client to avoid ever taking on. 

Or, you may determine you will take them on, but set extremely clear expectations as to communication cadence so you can stick to that in replies.

A great client, even an excited one who likes to hop on calls, will respect a tactful pushback because they properly understand the role you play in their growth. 

5. Bad timing pushes

This cause probably fits under “poor planning” but I like calling it out because it’s a really specific use case with a clearly achievable solution. This will be the shortest since it’s so simple, yet rarely followed. 

A significant number of emergencies arise from something big changing in an account. Therefore, never push anything big in late afternoons, or on a Friday. It’s just not more complex than that. 

The miracle campaign you have built that you really, really, really want to gather data over the weekend is just begging you to push live on Friday afternoon.

But, consider what would happen if something blows up with it and suddenly you’re at the swim park on your phone trying to frantically lower bids in the Google Ads app while your kids splash around. 

What if the campaign isn’t actually a miracle? What if you need to monitor it more closely? Doesn’t pushing it live on Monday morning make so much more sense? 

Did the client want you to push it live before the Sunday holiday? Then plan better, push it live on Thursday so you have a day to analyze it so it’s ready for Sunday. 

Sure, there will be exceptions to this, but the goal is to knock out as many non-emergencies as possible so you have the margin (see next point) to deal with the actual emergencies.

Not pushing major initiatives live in the late afternoon/evening or on Fridays will prevent a lot of last-minute work when you’re not technically at work. 

Note, international campaigns are a different beast when it comes to time and management so apply the above accordingly. 

The solution

Don’t push stuff live unless you have the scheduled bandwidth on your team to be on hand for the inevitable monitoring and adjustments needed for big changes. 

6. Lack of margin

This one is my absolute favorite because I think it’s the most underrated, yet most important.

The simple fact of life is, that poo happens. The coffee mug version is too sweary for this article, so I’ll keep it to “poo” here. 

One of the biggest things you can do to actually navigate true or false emergencies is to work time to deal with the inevitable in your agency structure, process and calendar. 

Margin looks like a team that has the time and bandwidth to deal with things, especially in key calendar times when the likelihood of something going haywire rises. 

It’s not complicated. We just need to do it. 

The solution

Here is what I have learned about margin over a decade of PPC agency management: 

  • Actual emergencies (once the previous causes I discuss here are eliminated) are incredibly rare. Like, really, incredibly rare. If you have hired the right clients, planned well, and built margin into your agency life, then an actual emergency may account for only 5% of what normal agencies consider “emergencies.” Recognizing this itself and acting on it is a cheat code to stability!
  • Building margin into your agency means you can actually deal with actual emergencies. For example, while our agency is naturally busier during Black Friday and Cyber Monday (BFCM) week, we purposefully build additional margin into the week to account for the unexpected by:
    • Canceling normal client calls scheduled for that week. 
    • Slowing down or even pausing our normal account optimization schedule.
    • Spend more time in analysis and monitoring accounts for changes so we can be proactive in dealing with the unexpected. (2 a.m. work during BFCM tends to occur for other PPC agency employees because they have to fit the unexpected into their normal expected schedule. This just doesn’t really happen for us, ever.) 

Literally, build margin into anticipated busy times for the unexpected, and any true emergencies will be able to be addressed in a way that doesn’t actually sacrifice well-being. 

Planned stability is a beautiful (achievable!) thing.

7. Actual, true emergencies (often platform-created) 

If all of the previous frenzied causes have been addressed and planned for and organized, it is possible for the frenzy to be caused by a true emergency! 

Yes, there are actual emergencies that come up in PPC, and it would be negligent of me to not admit that. 

I think one of the key ways we see true emergencies occur in PPC is when an ad platform makes an unexpected, sweeping change that causes disruption in our normal operations. 

Google may release a new policy overnight that causes your clients’ ads to get disapproved and you have to act urgently. 

Google Merchant Center might disapprove a product for something random, and your client’s top product disappears, so you need to clear your day to deal with this. 

BFCM week is busy for ecommerce. It just is. Even with all of our team’s planning, we still find that we work more on BFCM than a normal week with unexpected things that arise.

Another thing may be some sort of natural disaster or unrelated to PPC event.

A friend told me recently that he held a job a few years ago in which their CEO and COO went for a drive to check out his new sportscar, lost control of the vehicle, and heartbreakingly, both of the key execs died in the event.

Horrible and unexpected events such as that can will cause mental difficulties, margin stresses, and impact planning in ways that nobody could anticipate.

The solution

In many cases, simply admitting that emergencies can occur and building proper margin into key times can help assuage them.

Our BFCM margin planning schedule is a way we’ve identified a time of the year when an “emergency” is more likely to happen and built margin around it. 

That doesn’t negate the fact that sometimes true emergencies happen, but eliminating the previous six causes of PPC frenzy will at least help give your team additional energy and mental acuity to navigate the actual emergency when it finally comes along.

They’re not being thrown about from one emergency to another until they finally burn out and leave with a bad taste in their mouths for your agency, or PPC in general. It just doesn’t have to be this way!

Contributing authors are invited to create content for Search Engine Land and are chosen for their expertise and contribution to the search community. Our contributors work under the oversight of the editorial staff and contributions are checked for quality and relevance to our readers. The opinions they express are their own.

About the author

Kirk Williams
Kirk is the owner of ZATO, his micro-agency focused solely on Paid Search Advertising, and has been working in Digital Marketing since 2009. He has been named one of the Top 25 Most Influential PPCers in the world by PPC Hero the past 5 years in a row, and is known for his e-commerce PPC articles across various industry publications. Pre-COVID, he was an international conference speaker presenting on all things Paid Search (especially Shopping Ads) around the world but now sticks to podcasts and online conferences to share his latest tips on Google Shopping Ads. Kirk currently resides in Billings, MT with his wife, 5 children, Trek bikes, Taylor guitar, books, and little sleep.

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