Let’s consider this question for Google Ads & Facebook ad accounts, as these platforms have different approaches. Facebook is explicit that the agency should own the ad account. Google Ads is not explicit, and supports scenarios where either entity can own the ad account, with specific account management tools to change that state.

Usually when an agency advertises on behalf a client, the agency creates the ad account and pays the platform directly for the related ad spend. The agency then invoices the client for the ad spend, often marking up ad spend cost to get paid a commission for their ad management services. In this scenario, why should the client care about whether or not they own the ad account?

The data in ad accounts is valuable

Because the data is valuable, and agencies come & go. When there is a change in client CMO, or VP of Marketing, or Director of Marketing, there is a usually also a change in agency or agencies. In larger enterprises there can be a different agency for each business unit, with those agencies coming & going as decision makers change roles. If each time an agency stops advertising for a client the ad account goes with them, the details of what worked & did not work relative to that ad spend depart with them. Maybe even more importantly, ad targeting audiences can become unavailable to the client for on-going advertising. And, there usually is a trail of tags left on the client’s digital properties that are specifically associated with the ad agency’s ad account(s), requiring removal and redeployment of tags for the next agency’s ad account(s).

Ad account owners get perks from ad platforms

The business entity that gets credit with the ad platform for the ad spend gets perks from the ad platform. These perks can come in the form of dedicated account managers, that often have more experience than ad platform front-line support personnel, and often have access to new or advanced product offerings that are only available to advertisers with such dedicated account managers. Sometimes ad platforms invite account owners to premium conferences in desirable destination locations (pre-COVID), and maybe even pay travel, room & board for those attending.

The perks can also come in the form of subsidized creative & technical services, where the ad platform pays third party partners directly to put the client in a position to see a better return on ad spend, and hence be more comfortable increasing ad spend budgets. For example, Facebook specifically offers subsidized technical services opportunities to advertisers, where certified technical partners work to help the client send the richest set of digital property signals possible to Facebook so their system can maximize the results of client advertising.

The “owner” of the ad account usually gets these perks (really, whomever is paying the ad platform directly). If the agency is the owner of a client’s ad account, perks allowed through their ad spend could be benefitting other agency clients at some level.

Facebook’s ad account ownership best practices

Facebook has issued explicit direction about which entity should own Facebook advertising assets. The agency’s Business Manager should own the ad accounts. More specifically, ad accounts should be owned by the Business Manager that pays the Facebook invoice (which is most often the agency’s Business Manager). However, clients should own any asset through which data is captured, such as Pages, Facebook pixels, catalogs, apps & and related API configurations. In other words, the client should create those assets in their Business Manager account. This distinction allows Facebook to still associate the client with the ad spend, even if the agency owns & pays for the ad account. It is important to note that the Business Manager that is used to create the ad account (or pixel, Page, catalog or app) is the indelible owner of the asset (no option to transfer ownership).

The following diagram visualizes Facebook’s guidance:

Google Ads ad account ownership best practices

A “Client” Google Ads account is different from a “Manager” Google Ads account. “Manager” accounts were previously known as “My Client Center (MCC)” accounts, and are used to manage multiple “Client” accounts. “Client” accounts are used to manage advertising. A “Client” account can only have one owner, which can be a “Manager” account that has access to the “Client” account. But, even if one or more “Manager” accounts have access to a “Client” account, the “Client” account does not have to be owned by any of the “Manager” accounts. An agency or their client can own a “Client” Google Ads account.

A “Manager” account can itself be nested under a higher level “Manager” account. As such, it is important to note that “Client” account ownership is transitive. That means if a “Manager” account is an owner of a “Client” account, then all the “Manager” accounts above that “Manager” account will also have ownership.

“Manager” accounts allow for monthly invoicing to pay for advertising in “Client” accounts, which is often a necessity for large advertisers and agencies paying for multiple client ad spends. But, it is important to note that Google, unlike Facebook, has issued no clear direction about whether the client or agency should own the “Client” ad account, nor whether or not who pays Google for the related advertising should govern that decision.

Our recommendation for Google Ads “Client” ad account ownership

The advertising client should own the “Client” account so the configuration & related data remain under their control should the agency relationship end. Give consideration to conversion actions, audiences and pixels which can be based in a Manager account for use by child “Client” accounts. As such, it makes sense to insist the agency configure conversion actions & audiences used by the “Client” account in the “Client” account itself so they survive the agency relationship ending (i.e., the “Client” account being unlinked from the “Manager” account).

Don’t forget to give consideration to regulations like GDPR & CCPA. It is possible there is personal data in a “Client” account (e.g., individual user personal data uploaded to populate audiences) and you may receive a consumer request that legally requires you to delete a person’s data related to these regulations. Such responsibilities, in addition to account ownership and/or at least required account access that survives the agency relationship ending, should be addressed in your agency statements of work (SOW) and/or business agreements. Such agreements should also address analytics & tag management accounts ownership & access.

Note that a client can still allow their agency to pay Google through monthly invoicing directly via their “Manager” account while retaining “Client” account ownership.

Our recommendation for Facebook ad account ownership

Per Facebook’s Business Manager & Agency Best Practices, the agency should create the ad account in their Business Manager account, and provide partner access to the client’s Business Manager account. The client should create Pages, pixels, catalogs & apps in their Business Manager account, and grant partner access to those assets for the agency’s Business Manager account (but only share the assets they need to access to do their job).

Should client or agency own an ad account?