Biddable media is not the same as traditional media. You do not do deals, buy it upfront and report on the results later.

In AdWords, for example, you bid on trillions of different data points in a live auction.

So why do I keep seeing PPC as a line on the media plan? It’s a nonsense that weeds out the amateurs.

PPC is being commoditized under the holding company model. This needs to change.

Running a successful PPC campaign requires a high level of specialism; it is completely discrete from other types of media, and needs to be respected as such rather than being bundled together with traditional advertising channels.

PPC is reactive 

I get it. If you’re an international brand with a huge media budget, it’s just a lot easier to incorporate PPC into one big package. The problem is, PPC is not something you buy up-front. If you fix your PPC spend before measuring its performance, you’re not going to get the results you want. Either you’ll spend too little or too much. 

Because AdWords is so measurable, it’s possible to adopt an outcome-driven approach through this channel. Once you start running a campaign, it may be that you need far less money than anticipated to achieve your objective; or it may be that you need far more. Setting a limit on this before you’ve had a chance to assess the market is madness. 

There are no rebates in PPC

Unlike virtually every other advertising channel, a platform such as AdWords provides no opportunities for rebates, nor any of the non-transparent practices that are commonplace elsewhere in media buying. The only way to make profit on it, is to do it better than the rest - which is hard when it’s not your specialism.

I don’t want to drag on the transparency debate. It really comes down to different business models in the end. If you’re looking to get a good deal on a large quantity of premium media inventory, then you need buying power. If you’re looking to drive business growth through PPC, there are definitely better options. 

If, as Gideon Spanier recently wrote, ‘things have got to change’, maybe this is a good starting point. Let’s cut PPC from the media plan, and put it in the hands of independent agencies that know how to do it best. Then we can start talking about programmatic display, TV and radio...

PPC is for specialists 

Perhaps people underestimate the complexity of successful PPC. Take AdWords as an example. It’s a platform that changes every month: new ways of reporting, changes to its metrics, adaptations of its ad unit, new targeting options, new bidding options, gradual tweaks to its primary algorithms, and the ongoing shift in the way people search.

Just to cope with these changes requires considerable adaptability. But to outperform the millions of advertisers you are in competition with, that requires the concerted effort of an entire business. Building software to enhance capability, using automation to optimise every process within account management, processing the enormous supply of data any campaign acquires - these are challenges that require teams of experts. 

Agencies can give advertisers the competitive edge, by supplying them with the additional expertise and technology needed to stand out from the crowd. Ultimately, this comes down to data and automation—being able to extract value from the enormous supply of data that digital advertising involves, and using automation to enhance capability. 

This is why PPC should have long ago been cut from the media plan of advertisers. It never belonged there. It is not something you buy up-front, and it’s certainly not something you let run.

It requires a completely different skillset. Data analysis, the ability to operate and develop automation technology, coding, maths, science. It is just not suitable for traditional media companies. 

So if PPC is on your media plan, I’m sorry to say that you must not be very good at it.

Daniel Gilbert

Published 2 January, 2018 by Daniel Gilbert

Daniel Gilbert is CEO at Brainlabs Digital and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can connect with Daniel on LinkedIn

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Comments (7)

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Nichola Finan

Nichola Finan, digital marketing at Media-input

Great post, refreshing & thought provoking - perfect for January mindsets!

7 months ago


Gavin Smith, Traffic Manager at Buy It Direct

The sentiment of the article is very true, if you're focusing on the budget its difficult to focus on the KPI. If you focus on the KPI the budget shouldn't matter.

I'd suggest what drives the focus on budget element is going to be corporate culture that has a tendency to distrust % of spend tariffs that most agencies & technology solutions utilise.

7 months ago


Tim Luckhurst,

The point about not being good at PPC if it is on a media plan is bizarre. Whether or how your planned budgets for different channels are shown on a plan is no reflection of how well it will be managed.

7 months ago

Mike Friend

Mike Friend, Head of Business Development & Operations at iThinkMedia

Good post Daniel. Its the buyers' psychology that has to change. Once Marketing Managers no longer accept a one liner "PPC" with a fixed cost as an acceptable proposal and plan from their 'full service" agency then specialist agencies like us can give it a shot. But often the buyer is either only focused on the big ticket Media or their agency is only focused on the big-ticket items and therefore doesn't WANT to educate further.

7 months ago


Matt Lovell, Head of Customer Data, Insight & Analytics at Eurostar International Ltd.

Interesting article Daniel but as with some of the other responses above, I'm not sure you're logic entirely makes sense.

I completely agree that if you want to maximise your Paid Search activities to the nth degree then it's essential that time and effort is applied to making this a success but that's the same with a lot of marketing channels and simply saying it shouldn't be on the marketing plan as single (or multiple as it has always been for any companies I've worked with to differentiate the different types of activity running) line makes no sense.

I also concur with Gavin that one of the biggest problems that companies have is while there is the potential for specialist agencies to help them to better optimise their Paid Search activities, most aren't and are simply taking huge fees for something that the client could easily have done themselves. As a result, the main issue here as with so many channels is one around transparency and what can be done to tackle a lack of honesty in the market so that companies can have the confidence that if they invest in support from an agency, said company will actually put the relevant manpower and expertise in to justify this spend rather than simply doing the absolute minimum to get by!

7 months ago


Kevin O'Sullivan, SEO / CRO / PPC at AdClix

I think you're absolutely right. I've come into contact with so many marketing managers who are responsible for the adwords budget and direction and yet they have absolutely no idea of what they're talking about - using metrics and KPIs inherited from print, radio or tv media that can sometimes bear no relation to the world of digital media.

7 months ago

Angus Norriss

Angus Norriss, Managing Director - Digital Transformation / Media / VR at

All good points and I see both sides having bought Media for many FTSE 500. It is not a line item. It is part of a performance data marketing spend which needs constant analysis.

The wider issue in Media is that many agencies launch campaigns with a ‘fire and forget’ attitude, patting themselves on the back about creative execution and then writing up award submissions. In-campaign monitoring and reporting with deep tech analysis is often relegated to juniors with long reporting lag times upwards.

Data Scientists replace media planners in this PPC world in order to run the most optimised campaign. And it is a real-time campaign, not a fire and forget piece of outbound push marketing. I now run Imagineer ( and formerly Digital Transformation Director for econsultancy). Imagineer helps automate over 100 PPC performance checks thru the night, delivering an actionable report to which is trafficked into PPC campaign specialists to optimise the course of the spend. The tool is implemented for agencies and clients enable a transparent proof of work process and optimised spend run. Furthermore we augment our supply chain with a Blockchain accreditation defined as a Smart Contract. Transparency is vital in this fog of media capability, performance analysis and reporting.

A good PPC campaign is like watching the Grand Prix; run your optimal line to stay ahead. Holistic; Analytical; Learning; Operational; we call it our HALO approach.

Speed of reporting and holistic embedded training of how to mange a live PPC spend is imperative and the only way to get the best results. Your best people will leave eventually but the race will go on.

7 months ago

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