This one is likely not going to be a popular one among some audiences. However, I was just thinking about my experience working within organizations both as a director and as a consultant. One of the very common themes I’ve witnessed which makes organizations uncomfortable is that of an agency having all of the ownership and control of the assets of a business. Almost universally, business owners or executives cringe when they share with me how they have some of their very important assets entirely managed by and owned by the agency of record. They see it as a risk, but they also don’t see a way out.
Does this sound familiar?
Very frequently, subsequently, executives to whom I report task me with wrangling all properties while taking inventory of what a company has going “in the now.” Sometimes this I find the very easy to do, but, in other instances — particularly when a relationship has soured — this can test the boundaries of my patience and capabilities.
Let me be clear… I am not “anti-agency” in any way. I strongly believe that agencies contain some superhero talent who can provide short-term and long-term value to an organization. Heck, as a consultant I’ve served dozens of clients on an agency model with do-it-for-me marketing and organizational change management services managed by my company. An agency can take a company from “Point A” to “Point B” and maintain the momentum in many circumstances, particularly when hiring and maintaining internal teams is not financially nor logistically feasible.
Hiring an agency means that the company has to compromise one thing – control. The client organization loses any power and control over HOW things get done. Contractors and agencies alike, unless otherwise stated by an agreement, typically can perform the work in their own manner as long as the work meets requirements of quality, schedule, and budget. However, another piece of control which may be lost – but may not always NEED to be lost – is custodianship of certain assets and subscriptions of the company.
Some Considerations for a Company to “Own”
In the digital world, there are surprisingly few things which are actually “owned.” Domain names are essentially rented through a domain registrar, (unless the company owns its own servers in a data center) web hosting is a rented piece of virtual real estate on a monthly or annual basis, software licenses are subscriptions which must be renewed, and our external properties such as email marketing, social media, Google My Business, and other listings are essentially borrowed or leased and are under the control of the platform.
But, many agencies take ownership of these properties themselves and essentially rent these properties as part of their offering. This is only my opinion, but I feel that a business should have the first-hand rights to the following from a marketing perspective:
- Domain registration
- Web hosting
- Website Content Management (CMS)
- Intellectual property made by and for the company
- Storage / Asset management
- Social media
- Google properties
- Microsoft properties
- Apple properties
- Marketing automation
- Ad platforms.
Most of these items now have the ability for multiple admins to be added. If the company owner (or representative of the company, preferably from the top) secures the service, the administration, management, or editing of each service can be delegated. This provides the agency with the control and access it requires to do the work, and it gives the organization the utmost in flexibility and mitigates risk against agencies leaving or going out of business or properties being held “ransom” for any number of reasons. Even if an agency procures a property or subscription on behalf of the organization, ultimate custodianship/ownership can be given to the client organization; in fact, I argue that this is a best practice.
A relationship between a company or nonprofit and its agencies should include a strong bond of trust and respect. Maintaining continuity of service throughout the marketing ecosystem, I feel, helps to foster this trust as long as there are explicit terms of who owns and operates what components under what circumstances.
Please be kind if you are an agency who disagrees.