Google’s relationship with agencies has always been a little bit tenuous. Sir Martin Sorrell, chief of WPP, once described Google as a “frenemy“. He’s not the only one who has clearly felt that Google was a necessary evil.

But perhaps the recession has made Google more humble, or the search giant is simply maturing. This week, it was announced that Google had launched a beta of AgencyLand, an online portal for select agencies.

AgencyLand is designed to be an educational tool and gives agency staff access to resources that will help in navigating Google’s offerings. There are case studies, videos, webinars, a variety of ad tools and training facilities. Agency management can monitor how their employees are using AgencyLand and in the future, Google plans to integrate its certification programs.

According to AdAge.com, agencies participating in AgencyLand include (or will shortly include) holdings of Ogilvy, Carat, DDB, Digitas and Razorfish amongst others. Each shop involved gets its own co-branded version of the service.

So is AgencyLand a sign that Google’s approach to working with agencies has changed? Sort of. Obviously, Google knows that agencies need to be using its offerings because their clients demand it and as AdAge.com points out, there’s a marketing component to AgencyLand. But by investing in providing tools that will help agencies with a difficult task (training), Google is acting like a partner.

Interestingly, Microsoft is working on a similar program called Digital Academy. Unlike AgencyLand, Digital Academy will make greater use of in-person meetings and “the three-screen approach (web, TV and mobile)“. Obviously, Microsoft’s position in the online advertising market is much different than Google’s but it will still be interesting to see which approach is better received by agency folk.

Photo credit: daveparker via Flickr.