PPC in Centralized vs Decentralized Organizations

This is a guest post by Paid Media Manager Jessica Cates.


PPC Agency Challenges in Hyperlocal Marketing

So far in my PPC career, I’ve had the opportunity to work with many multi-location businesses with dozens to thousands of locations all living under one corporation. These multi-location businesses, franchises and dealers face unique challenges in digital. For one, each marketing channel is multiplied which creates efficiency challenges across management, budgeting, and reporting while simultaneously making it more difficult to understand how each channel is performing for each location.

While there are many tools available to ease this burden on marketers and allow them to track all of their properties the correct way, understanding how a client’s internal business works is the first step to knowing how to implement them correctly. Multi-location businesses can take on a centralized or decentralized organization structure which impacts the way PPC accounts are set up, how they’re billed, how account budgets are set, and how agency partners need to report on performance.

Organization Structures in Marketing

Centralized Multi-Location Structure
In a centralized structure, a multi-business organization will have one department that controls the marketing for all of their locations. This may be in the form of a corporate office that divvies out marketing budgets to promote each location. This leaves channel review and allocation of dollars in control of the main decision-maker. Typically, an agency will have one to a few contacts depending on the size of the company.

Decentralized Multi-Location Structure
In a decentralized structure, a multi-business organization may have many locations that share the same name or sell the same products, but the marketing are often left up to the location. Marketing dollars can be allocated by the store’s team with little input from a corporate lead. In this scenario, the decision power is disseminated to a group.

A decentralized structure might also use one main decision maker to manage the marketing on each location’s behalf, but with more control over whether that location participates and what services they opt in to use.  These locations often pay into a marketing pool, which allows the corporate office to pull the levers while the locations fund it. In this scenario, the locations may have more control in how their dollars are used but trust the main office to do much of the implementation.

Depending on the structure of the organization, the ways we set up and manage the organization’s PPC accounts will vary. From an agency perspective, centralized is often the most ideal and desired because there are less moving parts. For the most part, you work with only one to a few decision makers.

Decentralized structures are usually more challenging to manage. They come with many hurdles when dealing with budget allocation, billing, reporting, and client education. In addition, in decentralized structures, agencies often have many clients to communicate with because each location owner/manager is more invested in their specific marketing dollars. While decentralized organizations pose additional challenges to agencies, finding ways to help these organizations improve their individual local marketing versus rolling everyone up to follow one plan is usually well worth the effort.

Below are some suggestions for how to set up and manage these areas for decentralized clients:

One of the first things to consider when you’re setting up a new client PPC account is billing. For AdWords, advertisers have the ability to pay with a debit, credit or bank account after click costs are accumulated. You can also apply for monthly invoicing with a line of credit from Google. You can also receive consolidated invoices across accounts in one invoice if need be.

The way you set this up is important, especially if you have a decentralized marketing setup on the client end. For instance, if you have an organization made up of 50+ different locations that are billed back by a corporate office for their PPC spend, corporate may require a separate invoice or credit card for each location. If each of these locations have their own website property, it becomes more challenging and also ill advised to put all of the properties in the same account divided up by campaign.

In a centralized program, billing is much easier. All of the PPC spend rolls up to one invoice and performance across markets, like cost metrics, can generally be left to reporting.

PPC Budgets in decentralized organizations can also be challenging. If you have several locations to keep tabs on, and dollars can’t be moved out of poor performing markets or brands into top performing areas that could produce more leads or sales but lack a budget to do so, the agency is at the mercy of getting budget approval quickly from the store owner.

In decentralized setups, this often requires approval from a corporate or central decision maker as well as the location’s decision maker. It’s important to understand who the agency will contact directly when it comes to the monthly budget and how these two parties will communicate.

What we’ve found works best in these situations, is to maintain a document that outlines all of the budgets by location. The document should be available to all parties involved with the agency, corporate client and location client levels. When locations opt to increase or decrease their budgets, the document can be updated to reflect that change and the date it took place.

Reporting – Client Conversations and Physical Reports
It’s important in decentralized organizations to make sure that each location’s owner within the organization is happy with the performance. When you have many owners pooling money into a marketing program, naturally, those owners are going to want to know how their dollars are performing. This presents a challenge to the agency because speaking to each location owner weekly would be a nearly impossible task to accomplish.

For example, say you have an organization that has store owners that pay a franchise fee to brand them as one corporation brand name, and in the same organization, there are independent dealers that sell the same products as the franchises but don’t pay to use the brand name. All of these owners and dealers pay corporate back for marketing dollars accrued each month and each receives a detailed report with PPC and SEO details. Now let’s assume that there are around 100+ of these locations in the entire network. In order to make both corporate and franchisees/dealers happy, the agency will need to find ways to report on performance at a rollup level (for corporate interests) and location level (for franchisee/dealer interests).

To make this process easier, we’ve found a couple of reporting tools that help us build location specific reporting templates that can be refreshed and sent out on a regular basis. Specifically, we’ve utilized Supermetrics for in-depth reports for all traffic sources and Acquisio’s reporting platform for more formal monthly reporting.

Client Education
What tends to happen in decentralized organizations is a regular weekly or monthly meeting with one marketing team member who disseminates results and next steps to the rest of the team. Then, sort of like a game of telephone, those other team members may hear a different story than what the agency intended or vice versa. This line of communication tends to make relationship building with local store owners more difficult and successes less noteworthy.

To prevent this scenario in decentralized PPC programs, we’ve utilized a bank of frequently asked questions and created video and written assets to help clients find answers even if they aren’t included in a weekly meeting. This method isn’t 100% effective as sometimes questions are much more in depth than we can possibly answer in a quick fact sheet. In those cases, we’re always happy to set up one-on-ones and additional reports with location managers.


As multi-location businesses with decentralized organizations continue to evolve their local marketing and engage agencies to assist them with that feat, it’s critical for agencies to find a style of communication that works for the organizations they’re trying to help. In addition, agencies must find ways to efficiently work through the management challenges that come with having a client made up of so many “mini clients”. Below are the items I find help the most in managing decentralized, multi-location accounts:

  • Look into partnering with software companies that specialize in multi-location digital marketing. There are numerous providers that have carved out niches for building things like PPC accounts, websites, and email programs tailored to each location quickly and correctly.
  • Learn how to gain efficiencies in PPC management, like utilizing a 3rd party bid platform that allows you to make bulk changes to multiple accounts at one time by uploading one spreadsheet.
  • Spend more time planning your PPC account structures to mirror each other so bulk changes can happen with simple find/replace and macros.
  • Utilize scripts to help you automate processes that would otherwise take hours to implement manually for multiple locations.
  • Learn how to implement Google Tag Manager for multiple sites using only one container and a Lookup table.
  • Take advantage of automated reporting tools like Supermetrics or Acquisio’s reporting platform to build report templates quickly across many accounts. This is especially helpful if you also utilize mirrored structures across many accounts.
  • Build out spreadsheets with localized variables categorized by campaign to make ad copy builds a breeze while tailoring that copy to each specific location.

While much of this post may sound like I’m implying decentralized marketing programs are too much of a headache to even consider working with, it’s actually quite the opposite! We see amazing success by taking programs with intricate multi-location networks and splitting them out into their own marketing program. Hyperlocal is expected to continue evolving so it makes sense to develop ways to take on the challenges that come with it.

About the Author:

Jessica CatesJessica started her PPC career in 2010 and has since worked with clients in various industries, including higher education, auto maintenance, home services, SaaS, and healthcare. She is currently the Paid Media Manager for Flint Analytics, and has previously held roles at both Hanapin Marketing and DAC Group. When Jessica isn’t working on PPC accounts, she enjoys hiking, decorating her home, going to concerts, and spending time with her husband and dog.