display ad budgets

The Art of Display Budgeting

“What’s the right budget for our display campaign?”

We receive this question from clients all the time. In fact, I just received this question last week from a media director at an agency. Many organizations have sophisticated models that help them with attribution settings and CPA goals. The best practice, however, touches on both human and data-centric models, and ultimately boils down to experience as much as art and science.

Talk to the client or to the people at your organization that hold the budgets.

It sounds crazy, but this is the most overlooked step to display budgeting. Ask the client or your stakeholders if they have a baseline for their investment. You may get a vague response, but asking will net at least some basic information. In my experience, a client will actually be willing to invest about double what your gut initially tells you…as long as results follow. So, ask first.

Negotiate and set expectations.

Use your client’s goals to define the campaign and budget you’ll recommend. Clients will typically respond to the budget question with a specific goal they would like to attain. This is an important moment in the budgeting process, because it allows you to educate and set campaign objective expectations. “If we want to reach this many people and grow brand awareness, we’ll need at least this much budget.” “If we want to drive this many sales, our budget will need to be X.” Simple math is usually enough to paint the picture here, because the disparity in goal and budget are likely large. Don’t worry about going deep into expected results, just run the quick math to make sure the disparity isn’t too great.

I’ve kept track of how different agencies run their budgeting, and the standard process for the industry is this:

For an Awareness Campaign:

  • Budget x CPM Rate = Impressions You’ll Get for Budget
  • Impressions You’ll Get/Desired Frequency = People you Can Reach with Impressions

For a Performance Campaign:

  • Budget x CPM Rate = Impressions You’ll Get for Budget
  • Impressions You’ll Get x Conversion Rate of Impressions = Conversions You Will Drive

Leverage the human expertise on your team or within your agency.

Media traders and account managers across the industry run hundreds and hundreds of display campaigns for all verticals. Very few display campaigns are exactly alike, but that doesn’t mean you should underestimate that media experience. At Cybba, budgeting and media planning comes directly from the individuals that will run the campaign, not from a separate strategy team that is guessing, or running numerical models based on theoretical performance. Get your day to day buyers closer to the planning process, and listen to their projections.

Track your past performance, and build simple calculators to test your theories.

Media teams generally have access to at least three different, customized proprietary display planning calculators that are built based on historical performance of thousands of campaigns. They track performance based on audience sizes, conversion rates and by vertical. Cybba gives the responsibility of entering and adjusting inputs into the calculator to the media buyers that will work on the campaign. The calculators are there to doublecheck and project forward the performance at various budget levels.

Package your findings and pass along to the client.

The hardest part of the entire budgeting process is the packaging, the findings, and the pitch. Remember, the methodology and assumptions built into your budget proposal are just as important as the proposal itself. Keep track of your methodology along the way. Providing your assumptions will open the dialogue with your client so that you can come together with the proper budget for the campaign. Very few clients will buy into a pitch that hinges on, “this is the budget and what we expect to happen because our media trader says so.” Most clients will walk through the checks and balances built into your proposal planning process, so be prepared to explain how you reached the best possible deal.


Ryan Burch is the Director of Platform and Display Sales at Cybba’s office in Phoenix, Arizona. Ryan’s expertise lies in the design, implementation, and maintenance of media and marketing strategies. He specializes in digital strategy, online advertising, and brand management. 

Ryan Burch
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