Retainer-Based Agreements: 7 Common Questions

Retainer based agreements with a marketing agency - some common questions answered.



A lot of business owners, marketing directors, and general marketing enthusiasts ask us the same questions: Why invest in a retainer-based relationship?

There are countless benefits to investing in a retainer-based relationship with a marketing agency. Let's break it down.

1. What is a retainer agreement?

A retainer agreement is an agreement where an agency is paid up front and agrees to be available for and provide services to a client at an agreed fee over a certain period of time.

2. What are the advantages of a retainer agreement?

A retainer agreement offers several advantages:

  • The agency guarantees they will be available to you for set hours each month for specific services.
  • You can budget your monthly expenses based on the agreement.
  • Strategies can be developed that span a longer time frame.  
  • Agencies often give priority service to clients who have retainer agreements.

3. What are some disadvantages to a retainer agreement?

Sometimes, retainer agreements are like that big empty closet you never thought you’d be able to fill.


While a retainer agreement may not outline a specific number of hours, the agency will assume a range of typical time spent each month on your account. Because you know you have the time set aside for you, you may be less cautious as to how those hours get used. Numerous rounds of requested revisions to creative, for example, can easily eat up hours. In a fixed-rate project the number of revisions is agreed upon ahead of time. In a retainer. there is no guarantee that you will not go over the assumed amount of time, and agencies will need to renegotiate the terms of your retainer when it's due for renewal.

✅ HUFU QUICK TIP: Agencies that are sensitive to these situations will alert you when they see you heading into additional resources.

4. What kinds of services should I include in a retainer agreement?

For the most part, services that are ongoing and don’t have a specific end-date are good for a retainer agreement.

For example, ongoing marketing support would be a good use of a retainer agreement. The agreement might include a certain number of hours for:

  • Campaign development
  • Creative
  • Copywriting
  • Publishing
  • Monitoring and analyzing data
  • Reporting tasks

5. What services are not good for a retainer agreement?

Large projects with a definite end point are typically not a good fit for a retainer agreement.

For example, if you are developing a brand new website, you are better served by determining a specific set of deliverables at a fixed cost. You may negotiate payment terms, but as this is not an ongoing service, a retainer agreement may not be the best option.

Once a large project like that is completed, it may benefit certain companies to enter a retainer agreement for ongoing website optimization, managing digital assets, or putting together a marketing strategy that gets the most out of the investment you made in a big project like a website.

6. How long should a retainer agreement span?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Some agencies will not offer a retainer agreement for a period of less than 6 or 12 months depending on the types of services they offer.

However, the term of the agreement is often negotiable. Whatever the period of the agreement, it is a good idea to agree on regular reviews of actual time spent to see if the time needed each month is still accurately represented by your retainer agreement.

7. What does a retainer usually cost?

Great question! This totally depends on the mix of services included in your retainer and the amount of time an agency determines they will spend on them every month. We talk more about that in our blog post, The Benefits of Retainer-Based Relationships.

If you'd like an idea of what a retainer would look like for your needs, let's talk! Our team is ready to help you figure it out.