October 4, 2017
It is Friday morning. Secret Jake and I walk to a little coffee shop just a block away from our office. We order Guatemalan pour-overs (we are fancy like that). We find a table and sit down only to discover it is wobbly. But we don’t move. For some reason, I feel like sitting and drinking coffee at a wobbly table is just what we need to properly talk PPC. A woman makes her way to the counter, Chihuahua in tow. The shelves of the shop are lined with vintage sci-fi novels and succulents. The shop is abuzz with chatter and the sound of steam being released from the espresso machine.
SJ and I have been working together for 4 years but I’ve never just sat down to chat about our industry. I want to pick his brain for a while. And he is kind enough to indulge me. I told my coworkers I thought about calling these little chats “Expert-teas”. But then realized that it only works if we have tea. And while I love a good cup of Earl Gray, PPC and coffee go together like chocolate and peanut butter, so I abandoned my pun.
Jacob Fairclough. Secret Jake. SJ. He is a data analyst force to be reckoned with. As one of Hanapin’s Sr. Account Analysts, he is charged with tackling some pretty hefty problems in accounts. While he is a red account problem solver extraordinaire, today I am more interested in exploring the nifty tools he’s developed to push us to the forefront of innovation and creativity as an agency. So we start talking about our personal journeys from undergrad to PPC, starting with no knowledge of this industry.
Since you have started, what is the biggest change you have seen at Hanapin that has had the most impact?
Internally probably more structure on the roles and the work expected. I started fresh as an Account Manager with no experience and back then it was kind of “here’s an account, figure it out”. We know a lot more internally, from the PA training program and things like that, our [Associate Directors] are involved, or a Sr. AM sits on the calls and coaches you through things.
Do you see colleges starting to offer digital marketing degrees specifically?
Maybe. It almost has to go that way. But who would want a textbook on AdWords? It is a hurdle for some people, even in digital it’s like, so I kinda get the technical part. How does a website work? How does this tracking work? But even if you don’t do [technical website work] specifically, you need to be able to discuss it with the people who do. Or at least know, “this is where I should be looking if things aren’t working”.
So what is your favorite part of your role?
Finding a way to use my skills to make our work more effective. [One of our accounts is] basically paying two agencies and we are slowly transferring accounts from one to another. They spend $300,000 a month right now, whereas of a few weeks ago when I started the project we had $3,000 of that spend […]. So we built some scripts and stuff to take the information from their old ad groups and things, like all the location names, […], URLs, and everything like that and built an [AdWords] Editor-ready file from it to just drop it in the account.
What they had been doing before, was they had a basic campaign and [they were] copying and pasting it and finding and replacing in the Editor for every single thing. What we did was, with the one [campaign] I’m thinking had like 300 locations, was take a single input file with all the location information and pump it through a script that would then put it in an editor-ready file, and then you upload that, make the changes you need to ad copy or whatever and move on with your life.
So I like finding those. That is one of the more interesting side, how do we take some skills or take something more automated and make our work more effective.
Was this script built from the ground up?
So we built this one from the ground up. The biggest challenge was [as] with a lot of things, how do I take the information that is here and make it into something useable.
How did you learn scripts?
I did some seminars in school for it when I was doing my undergrad. I did an intro to computer science.
Do you think this is a skill account managers should teach themselves? If they are either at an agency where they don’t have someone to do that or if they are working solo?
Oh I waffle on this because there is the division between the more technical side and the people who say “oh well maybe we should focus on being better marketers” and the tech stuff is, whatever you want to call, it icing on the cake.
There is a weird upfront challenge of thinking in that way.
What do you mean?
It’s understanding the small details when moving to a coding language or something like that, it can be kind of weird in trying to understand what data types to use. Writing code isn’t super hard, it is how to map the technical side of what I need to do. How do I choose the right data types? It is a really valuable skill. It can make automating things much easier. It opens up a lot of new opportunities but it is a skill. My hesitation [is], if you aren’t interested in it, or you aren’t working on some of those problems, then learning the code isn’t going to make you a better account manager. So you could have some of the technical abilities but if you don’t understand the system or the client communication or the business side of the problem then you aren’t going to get anywhere. You are just going to do crappy things differently.
Best script you’ve created?
I think the one that I’m probably most proud of and I learned the most because I hadn’t done anything like that, was [one for our client that uses] AppsFlyer. So [AppsFlyer] records all of [the users] in-app activity, then we have the AdWords data, and we had the AdStage reporting platform. The issue is that AppsFlyer is measuring in-app activity, like open rates, that isn’t available on the AdWords side, but we want to tie it back to our campaigns and things like that so we created a script that downloads all of the information from AppsFlyer, formats it, then pushes it into AdStage so you can link those datasets together. Some of them you don’t have conversion tracking at the campaign level on maybe AdWords, or Bing, or on the Apple side. And the other side would be okay we don’t actually care about people just downloading the app we actually want to start counting when people open the app or use the app over 7 days or whatever. So by importing those custom conversions, we can start figuring that into automated rules or even just reporting.
Forecasting. That seems to be something a lot of people especially as they start to plan their budgets toward the end of the year struggle with, dealing with attribution and seasonality. What is your recommendation?
Holt-winters forecasting model. But I went to a workshop on statistics and programming a few months ago and someone had asked the question and the response was “there is a lot of stuff that goes into forecasting and maybe that is your solution at this point that it is good enough for what you do.” There are some cool methods out there like Facebook’s Profit and things like that which take a little programming experience, but it has a kind of built-in tool to build its own model around like time series and things like that. I think the biggest change, and I think it is hard in a PPC realm because we are so focused on having very specific data points, is just loosening up on the forecasting because sometimes it is driven by our own need for perfection and sometimes it is driven by the client who thinks “Oh, I need to know down to the dollar how much we need to spend”. But when I start looking into more forecasting there is always a probability associated with it and it is going to fall within a certain range. And we can’t tell the future. Oh, well maybe your sales side picks up. Maybe you start doing TV buys. And you start looking at forecasting in other areas like forecasting for TV or radio. There is a lot of guesswork involved and [saying] “I think this is going to happen”. So on the PPC side we need to be okay with that. I think people are starting to come around to that.
But I think it is because PPC by nature is transparent, so…
Well it is the same thing when we have CPA goals. There is a lot that goes into [maintaining those goals].
One, you need to be able to think more probabilistically. [To look at data and say “these are the probable outcomes of something”. And the other side is one that, the data isn’t sacred. It isn’t a perfect entity. It is a resource you can use. So it is how do I use it as a resource to make better decisions?
What is your PPCHero Superpower?
It depends on who you ask. According to some feedback, I am good at being an office weirdo. The other side would be finding ways to manipulate the data or find a way to put it together. Sometimes it is really mundane and sometimes it is really interesting. So it goes back to that scripting API example. How do I take one data source and format it and take all the required information we need and send it to another service. I like to dabble in a lot of things. So figuring out how to connect those different pieces. I am a serial dabbler.
So [my advice is], If you aren’t interested in the technical side, who can handle that side? Who is your resource? You don’t have to do everything but you should be able to be aware of all the areas you need to focus on and then if you can’t do something, have a resource. And that is the great thing about Hanapin.
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