The Ethics Behind Account Ownership
I have heard the conversation many times. An agency builds and optimizes an AdWords account. The client will inevitably begin asking for access to the account. Tension then begins to creep into the relationship. Both sides begin questioning each others’ motives, and the relationship frays.
The agency side of this is often, “Hey, that’s our intelligence, our knowledge. If we give that away, what will keep you from leaving us for someone cheaper?”
The client side of this is often, “Hey, we’re paying you to do that for us. You are targeting our website, and that account wouldn’t exist without our input.”
Both sides have very legitimate viewpoints. The simple fact is that account ownership is part of the negotiations, whether it is stated or not. The friction on both sides of the argument arose because ownership was not clearly defined.
How Can Agencies Protect Themselves?
Personally, I don’t see any ethical problem with an agency declaring that the account is theirs’ to keep. It’s common to add a setup fee up front and then have a recurring monthly charge. The largest amount of work is done during setup and the initial 30-45 days of optimization. During that time, there can be an excessive amount of time spent trying to get everything running smooth. While, account work is never completed, agencies build in their pricing and hours from the viewpoint that they should reap the rewards from their recurring revenue. If a client takes the account after 2-3 months, the agency is hurt the most. The easy solution would be to add an option for a client to “buy” the account outright.
To address the point about the account existing due to consultations from the client, the early consultations are part of the initial setup. In this instance the client should at least be offered privacy protection of their data from future competitors. Meaning, if the client leaves, their information should remain between the two parties. But again, all of this should be clearly stated.
On a final note about the agency protecting itself, I place a special caveat on the classic profit-sharing model. Some business have very little money to negotiate fees. Instead, many of them offer a share of the profits from the marketing efforts. This is intended to offer incentive to the agency to work harder. What begins as a good idea becomes an albatross to the client if the agency is successful. After a year or two, they realize the agency is reaping a much larger percentage of their profits than if they had simply paid an agency a flat fee. The only way an agency can protect its own interests is to own the AdWords or Bing Ads account. Relinquishing control over the account would guarantee a loss of hard-earned profits. Technically, any access level will allow the export of an account in AdWords Editor. But, very few clients are aware of this feature.
What If The Client Owns The Account To Begin With?
This is a common scenario. If a client asks the agency to use the account they already own, this is their way of negotiating ownership from the get-go. The agency needs to decide from the beginning whether they are willing to use the existing account or a new one.
What About The Analytics Account?
I firmly believe that a company’s data is sacrosanct. If an agency sets up a Google Analytics account for them, this should be left in the client hands if the two parties ever part ways. If the agency is afraid of the client knowing all of the keywords they’re using, they should avoid connecting AdWords and Analytics. Personally, the only time I would not connect AdWords and Google Analytics is in the instance of profit-sharing, but even I personally still attach them.
While I discussed the points of negotiation and rationale behind each, the primary emphasis should be that these must be clarified between the agency and the client. Otherwise, they will invariably become an issue.
Now, go make some money!