Part of our series on control, transparency and accountability when working with outside experts
It’s rare for a nonprofit organization to (internally) have every skill they need to successfully run all marketing, advertising, and communication.
It makes sense to not cover every need with a full internal team; some skills are niche and it’s more cost effective for a nonprofit to hire an agency or consultant to take on some of these tasks.
At the same time, bringing in someone from the outside requires being intentional about control and accountability. Otherwise, how can you make sure your investment in the agency or consultant is a wise one?
In this article and in the next one, I’ll share three strategies to help you be intentional about control, transparency, and accountability when working with outside agencies or consultants for marketing.
The first topic I want to address is about control: the ownership of your website, social media, ad account, and other assets.
Owning your marketing assets
Hopefully this is a story you’ve only heard about, and not something you’ve had to personally experience:
A single person—say, a leader at your organization—is the only admin with access to your website, social media pages, important software, and/or ad account. Or, even worse, the only admin is an outside consultant or agency.
Then something happens with the admin—he or she leaves your organization or the agency, the agency goes out of business, or the person passes away or simply disappears. Access to your vital digital assets is lost and getting it back is impossible, time consuming, or costly.
End of story.
The lesson to be learned in this tragic tale is how extremely important it is to give multiple internal people admin access to your organization’s digital assets. It’s part of being a good steward of your organization.
Before you can even begin to keep a third party accountable, you and other leaders (or a general, shared email) need to be the final owner of the assets that you use for marketing. This includes your website, your website’s Content Management System (CMS), your social media accounts, any software you use, and your ad accounts.
While the need for your organization to have control of your website doesn’t need a lot of explanation, as your site ultimately belongs to you, why should you need to be an admin on third-party tools or platforms, like Facebook, Google, or your email software, if you know nothing about how to use them and your expert consultant or agency takes care of everything?
3 Reasons Why Admin Access Matters
1: Ownership and responsibility
Third-party account access is all about good stewardship.
Imagine a strange scenario in which you hire a new CTO, but as she comes into the role, she provides your organization with her own computers, printers, and hardware—all the devices your organization needs—and lets you lease them for free. Now, what happens if she suddenly quits or you need to replace her? Your organization could be in trouble because you don’t have ownership of key physical assets.
Now, translate this same scenario to your digital assets. If you don’t maintain control of all third-party accounts, it can cause a predicament when you cut ties with their admin.
For some accounts, it just means a bit of a hassle when the admin leaves. For example, if you lose access to your organization’s social media page, the company’s support team can likely get you back in. Sometimes restoring this access will be easy, and other times, it will be quite difficult. Regardless, the most common consequence will be time spent restoring access.
For other accounts, like an ad campaign, if only your agency or consultant has admin access and they move on (or you move them on), you might lose everything—including all the campaigns you have invested so much into. On the other hand, if you are an admin, and you replace an outside expert, you won’t have to start your campaigns from scratch with your new hire.
As a steward of your organization, it’s your duty to take ownership and responsibility for all initiatives that your organization invests in. Don’t believe or let anyone tell you that you don’t need to be an owner on any digital account or asset.
2: Security or secrets
The most common excuse I hear for why a marketing agency cannot give admin access to a client is that their work or platform is proprietary, and that they simply cannot share access due to security or trade secrets.
In the case of a “security” claim, it’s usually the case that the agency has created the client’s website on their own CMS. I typically recommend that organizations to stay away from this kind of arrangement. If you have a site built on a proprietary CMS, then the owner of that CMS ultimately owns your website! If you eventually decide to move away from the agency, you will have to build a new site. (However, you still should own the content and domain name. Hopefully your contract kept those in your control.)
Regarding the latter claim—trade secrets—I wouldn’t consider a valid reason for an agency to keep a client from being admin on an account, and would recommend steering clear of an agency or consultant that makes this claim.
The fact of the matter is, marketing is far less about a “secret” strategy an agency or consultant has discovered, and far more about hard work. An effective campaign could have just the right settings, targeting, ad copy, and more, but those things are learned through hard work, time, and money—often your money.
Furthermore, if an ad campaign is effective, you will have no reason to fire that agency or consultant, and they will have nothing to hide by giving you access.
On the other hand, if ad campaigns aren’t performing well, there are reasons why an agency might want to hide what they are doing, and keeping you from being an admin is one way to accomplish this. (Fair caveat: most agencies will not be like this, but it’s good to be aware.)
The point here is to avoid working with a company that sets you up from the beginning to not be able to have access because they use their own system (and access cannot be shared) or because they have secrets to protect.
This leads us to the third reason why being an owner of your digital assets matters:
I can’t tell you how many times I talk to organizations who used a marketing company in the past and just started working with us, and don’t have access to their previous ad account and campaigns.
The nonprofit has access to monthly reports and may even have a unique dashboard that they can log into at any time to check campaign data, but if they go to ads.google.com or business.facebook.com/adsmanager, they aren’t going to find their ad account, because they never got access.
This set-up does not allow the organization to keep their agency or consultant accountable. They can ask questions about the results they are seeing and find out what work is being done, but they can’t actually see any of the things happening. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!
Don’t be stuck like this. From the start, politely and firmly request access to all accounts. If they tell you they cannot give you access, don’t work with them. If you’re already working with them, it’s time to move on.
You may need legal counsel to try to get access if they are unwilling to give it. However, most companies are reasonable and will grant you access immediately. At a minimum, you should be able to get old campaigns downloaded into a spreadsheet, which a new firm can upload for you into an account that you own.
In the next article in this series, I will share steps you can take to review what an outside agency or consultant is doing inside your ad campaigns (Google and Facebook), and how to get more helpful and transparent monthly reports from them, too.