Digital Intelligence
8 min

Put Paid Media Overspends In the Past: How to Permanently Prevent Budget Pacing Issues

Tom Hammel Tom Hammel SVP | Product & Data Strategy

Budget pacing might be one of the most consistent pain points for digital marketers, whether you’re blowing out your paid media budget with an accidental overspend or leaving sales on the table because you didn’t move budget fast enough to capitalize on an opportunity. 

Marketing leaders wake up in the middle of the night, asking themselves how on earth this core part of every paid media marketer’s job could go wrong. You’re left feeling like you should just toss the old laptop out the window and move somewhere far, far away where digital ads don’t exist. Maybe a beach.

But it’s long past the time to put QA anxiety and paid media spend-related insomnia firmly behind you so you can focus on growth. The solution to this all-too-common paid media conundrum is at hand.

Ensure budget pacing perfection: Why safety margins are essential to your paid media planning 

You might be familiar with the concept of safety margins; basically, it’s how engineers make sure bridges don’t collapse even when extreme conditions occur. 

Let’s think about your paid media plan as that hypothetical bridge. As you’re putting together the plan for a perfectly designed bridge, you likely start with the average amount of weight the bridge needs to support every day. 

But the average isn’t the only thing you need to take into consideration; after all, if a bridge is only designed to handle the average 3,000 tons of traffic crossing it on a given day, no more or less, you’re in trouble. Even factoring in a wider reasonable range so the bridge can definitely support 5,000 tons isn’t sufficient if the perfect storm of potential factors happens to occur.

And Murphy’s Law tells us that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. 

So you need to plan for what’s possible, even if it’s not probably, and that means applying safety margins. If an engineer wants to make sure that bridge never collapses, they need to consider what the bridge must be able to support through rain, sleet, extraordinarily heavy traffic, regular wear and tear, earthquakes, and more. They need to design a bridge that can survive anything.

The same principle applies to your paid media plan. If search volume surges, if CPMs spike, if as-yet-unknown factors impact your campaigns in unforeseen ways, you need to be prepared. You need your safety margins in place.

Create a culture of accountability: How to make sure your entire team is prioritizing budget pacing

Budget pacing blunders are usually caused by one of the following scenarios:

  • Your team was focused on something else that was timely and required all hands on deck, like a promo or product launch.
  • Your team was focused on business as usual and simply wasn’t paying attention or someone simply made a mistake.
  • A combination of factors produced an extraordinary scenario that may never happen again.

The right safety margins will protect your business from any possible version or combination of the above. The solution has two layers: process and tech.

On the process side, team culture is key. That starts with a high degree of accountability built into your processes and requires an environment that prioritizes identifying and scaling best practices across teams so you’re constantly learning and looking for ways to improve.

That might sound easy, but it’s often much harder to do at scale. Start by looking for teams in your org that are performing flawlessly to inform how to optimize teams that might be struggling. Figure out what your best teams are doing right, look for ways to standardize those best practices, then implement those processes across teams.

Years ago, when we looked to design the most secure possible pacing QA process at Wpromote, we realized our New York team was the gold standard: their track record was spotless. They had zero issues with budget pacing. Ever. 

We learned that a shared sense of accountability and the implementation of a standardized process with clear expectations are essential. Paid media managers started every day by manually checking platform spend against automated pacing rollup reports, then sending a summary of pacing by client to their director. 

We scaled their process to hundreds of employees, utilizing automation and task management tools like Asana to make the process easier and add layers of visibility.

Once you have the human part of the equation for flawless budget pacing in place, it’s time to assess those safety margins. Think of this process as accounting for that reasonable range of potential weight the bridge of budget pacing needs to be able to accommodate.

But will it be enough to keep the bridge standing if the earthquake hits?

Be prepared for the impossible: Why the right technology is essential to eliminating budget pacing risks

Even with layers of oversight and redundancy built into your process, there’s always room for error. What if a supervisor is out sick and their backup is stuck in meetings? What if someone accidentally added a zero to a budget on Friday and nobody realized until Monday morning?

The unexpected needs to be accounted for in your safety margins. That’s where tech comes in. We turned to automation and data science to tackle the challenge of building a better budget pacing bridge. 

Our teams check every client account each morning, but throwing bodies at the problem isn’t enough. 24/7 real-time monitoring of budget pacing is prohibitively expensive, impossible to scale, and not the best use of a marketer’s time and intellect.

That’s why Anomaly Detection was one of the first things we built into Polaris, our proprietary tech platform. Spend Monitoring is a Polaris app that utilizes the Anomaly Detection technology to build an adaptive 10-day predictive forecast based on the last 90 days of spend data from a client’s ad and analytics platforms.

10-day polaris graph

That forecast can take gradual increases or decreases in spend over time into account and adapt accordingly, but it’s built to alert our teams to radical changes or deviations from the forecast, so one of our experts can assess what’s causing the change and take action so you don’t end up massively over or under budget.

But our work didn’t stop there; we also built an app called Budget Monitoring, which sends out alerts to the relevant Wpromote team member for any 10X budget change to any of the ad platforms connected to Polaris. Mistakes happen, but now if someone puts in the wrong budget by accidentally adding (or dropping) a zero, we find out right away and correct it. 

Snapshot of budget monitoring app

These apps are turned on automatically for every Wpromote client, and alerts come through to our teams by both Slack and email. We also add extra layers of accountability to our technology-powered safety margins by automatically escalating any alerts that aren’t acknowledged within two hours to supervisors and Client Services. If another two hours go by, it escalates again to the next level of Wpromote management. 

People and processes aren’t enough to achieve the state of constant vigilance you need to make budget pacing problems a thing of the past. Neither is software. No single system should be solely responsible for surfacing and responding to potential problems.

To achieve the safety margins you need to remove budget pacing issues from future consideration, you need both.

Rest easy: Get rid of budget pacing issues for good

The combination of team accountability, clear process, and powerful technology that removes much of the manual effort associated with budget pacing vigilance mean our teams can focus on other initiatives that drive transformative growth because they can trust these systems to work.

They also mean our clients (and our own teams) don’t ever have to lose sleep again over budget pacing. 

To bring it all together, check out Wpromote’s budget pacing accountability checklist to get a sense of what your organization needs to do:

People Pacing Checklist:

  • Media managers manually check pacing in all ad platforms first thing, every day.
  • Media managers check platform spend against pacing reporting rollups.
  • Media managers share spend pacing with their direct manager daily.

Technology Pacing Checklist:

  • Anomaly Detection is automatically turned on as part of the Polaris onboarding process for new Wpromote clients.
  • Spend Monitoring creates a forecast based on historical data and sends automated alerts for any radical spend changes on any platform connected to Polaris.
  • Budget Monitoring sends automated alerts for 10x budget changes to ensure they’re always intentional.
  • Polaris automatically escalates alerts up the supervisor chain if they’re not acknowledged to remove single points of failure.

Learn how to resolve four critical marketing paradoxes that hurt marketing performance with new guidance from Google, Michigan Ross School of Business, and Wpromote.

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