To Nerd, or Not To Nerd

My whole life, I have been a nerd. From elementary through high school, I took advanced classes. I had a free period in high school and chose to fill it with an independent study. I played violin in the orchestra. I read books for fun. I raised my hand in class, always. I never really had a problem with the label of “nerd”. So when I became a PPC Nerd courtesy of Hanapin, I was actually thrilled. I found my people!

But lately the term “nerd” is grating and I’m over it (sorry marketing team! Please don’t make me give my PPC Nerd shirt back!). While us nerds have embraced the term recently and even celebrate it, it still doesn’t feel right. Wanting to learn and be the best at your job doesn’t make you a nerd, it makes you an engaged human being.

As one of the lead trainers for Hanapin’s Services department, I take great pride in making sure our team is engaged. And let me tell you, it isn’t easy. While we all wear our PPC Nerd shirts proudly, taking the time out of being awesome account managers to dig in and learn how to be better at our jobs is not something we always do willingly. In this blog post, I will talk through 3 ways to train your PPC teams and make sure the “nerds” do more than just claim to be one, but truly walk the walk and talk the talk.

Build Solid Foundations

If you join our team with no prior PPC experience we don’t give you a client and push you in the deep end. How disastrous for all involved. Instead, we develop expertise and confidence with an intensive training program: 11-week classroom training plus 1 year of hands-on training through dedicated account support. Hanapin’s approach to our 11-week program is more acutely outlined in the blog Using A Reverse Classroom Approach to Training. That covers how we train. I want to talk about the what and the why.

What: Cover It All The Best You Can

Google, Bing, and Social Platforms all get fair coverage in New Hire training. And if you are thinking, “well, people can just teach themselves–all of those platforms have ‘how-to’ videos and articles”, my response is, “yep, absolutely and you should read and watch those”. But if you have taken any of the certification exams, you might have noticed the platforms tend to favor their own methods and products. If you only learn the awesome tools and options available for automation or use default campaign settings based on your goals, you are basically learning how to set it and forget it. Any account manager worth their salt knows you need more than that to be successful.

Learn how to change bids manually and project the results. Run analysis on placements and performance instead of setting all bids to “top of page”. Build a report from scratch in Excel. Do audience and keyword research outside of the platforms. Don’t accept the campaign defaults as law: understand what each setting actually means.

Why: You Have To Learn How To Walk Before You Can Crawl

As a Sophomore in high school, I was given a copy of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. I read it front to back, made notes in the margins with metallic gel pens, and dog-eared numerous pages. Mrs. Whitaker was highly critical of any prose that strayed from the bounds of proper grammar. When asked why, she would respond: “You have to learn and understand the rules before you can break them.”

Take the time to learn the impact of each moving lever. Automation and AI can only get you so far. You will have a much stronger team if you force them to learn the rules and show their work. And if you want to learn how to build your PPC team, reserve your HeroConf London ticket to catch Molly Nagy’s session on hiring the best PPC teams.

Set aside dedicated time

Keeping up with the industry is hard work. If your team is anything like ours, we like to have our noses to the grindstone and we love our work so much that we just forget to look up and around. We keep up with #ppcchat and industry blogs and newsletters on the regular. In my opinion, reading is different than studying. Which is why once a month our team steps back from the daily work and devotes an entire day to learning.

The point is to engage with what is new in the industry and what is ultimately going to enhance partnerships with clients. We bring in vendors to train on the latest betas, industry leaders to talk philosophy, etc. But mostly we do something totally radical: we teach ourselves.Teach One Another

I’m going to pull a bit of knowledge from an unlikely source: Cliff Calvin of Cheers. Cliff postulates, “ A herd of buffalo can only move as fast as the slowest buffalo. And when the herd is hunted, it is the slowest and the weakest ones at the back that are killed first. This natural selection is good for the herd as a whole, because the general speed and health of the whole group keeps improving by the regular killing of the weakest members.”

Okay, so Cliff is using this analogy to talk about the consumption of beer. I have no idea if it has any semblance of scientific fact, but I like it still. The whole “we are only as strong as our weakest link.” And while I am not going to go so far as to indicate any individual on our team is a weak link and therefore should be “killed off”, we all have weaknesses and blind spots. Every. Single. One. Of. Us. By working together and teaching each other, we are going to fill in those gaps and blind spots and get better and stronger as a team.

So we get together and we work in teams to better ourselves for the group. We create case studies, we put together presentations, we even have spirited debates. We do this for the love of learning and for the love of having fun as a team. Nerd or not, no one said learning had to be boring and one size fits all.

Training Is Never Complete

As PPC managers, we can’t always be looking for the next level of our careers without thinking about how we are going to get there. We have to build solid foundations, be brave enough to take a step back from our work every now and then, and be humble enough to admit we don’t know everything. Our industry is full of experts. It is both intimidating and inspiring. But it isn’t enough to read blogs, try new automation, and use the latest testing platforms. We have to be engaged with what we are doing.

So if you identify with the term “nerd”, embrace it. Or if you are like me, push it aside and dig in a bit deeper. Either way, keep the love of learning PPC alive with your teams.