The Benefits of Retainer-Based Relationships

For businesses looking to outsource their marketing and creative services to talented marketing and design professionals, retainer relationships with agencies have become more popular than ever.


Don't worry, though. At our agency we're nothing like Mean Girls. We're a team of experienced, dedicated marketing professionals, and we're here to help.

Even if you take our word for it, you probably have some questions before committing to a business partnership like a retainer. And rightly so! A retainer is an important contract that should be carefully considered.

From basic benefits to how we bill, keep reading to find out if a retainer is right for you.

What Is a Retainer?

A retainer-based arrangement involves the hiring of an outside source to perform certain responsibilities or activities for a specified fee. Activities and initiatives are pre-established between the client and the outsourced company, and are detailed in a proposal or “statement of work” document.

Generally, retainers exist for a specified length of time—6 months or 1 year—and have a pre-determined fee, which is divided into consistent monthly payments and billed at the start of each month.

When Is a Retainer Right for Me?

Retainers are most appropriate for companies that approach their marketing goals with a “multi-channel” or integrated approach. Savvy companies know that the chances of reaching their target audience and persuading them to buy increases dramatically when multiple channels like advertising, direct mail, television, radio, web and PR all work together with a unified message.

Retainer-based relationships allow agencies the freedom and flexibility to develop a strategic approach using all channels, and creatively design and execute that strategy to offer an integrated marketing campaign. And because retainer-based work is part of a cohesive plan, results are easier to track, enabling the company to determine program success or failure more efficiently.

Retainer-based arrangements work best for clients that have committed themselves to a budget (typically a percentage of gross sales) and are committed to the idea of working with an outside resource to clearly define and then implement their marketing plan. These agreements are also best suited for companies that recognize the value and importance of building a long-term relationship with a marketing and creative firm.

Your company should be willing to let your marketing and creative firm get totally immersed in your business so they can work more effectively to support your goals.

When Retainers Aren't Appropriate

Not all marketing initiatives are a good fit for a retainer. If a company only requires an individual print ad campaign or direct mail piece, a per-project fee would be more appropriate than a retainer.

A firm familiar with all fee structures can help you identify the best solution for your company’s needs.

Good to Know: Not all creative firms offer marketing services and not all marketing firms offer creative services. It is important to identify integrated firms that can provide both marketing strategy and creative execution, in order to maximize the value of your marketing dollars.

Share Your Goals with the Agency

When identifying the marketing and creative firm that you want to work with as an external resource, it is important to review your current marketing plan in its entirety with them.

This will help uncover areas that may have been overlooked and allow your firm to create a project plan for seamless execution.

If you don’t have a plan, don’t worry. Begin by setting goals, so that a plan can be established to reach those goals and measure the results.

Reveal Your Budget

People often ask us how we bill for our services. The answer depends on the client’s needs. We carefully discuss client goals before jumping into an agreement, and we're careful to make sure both parties are happy with the agreed-upon-terms. After all, a retainer agreement is a business partnership.

As with most marketing and creative service firms, we use three common billing methods:

  • An hourly rate, for quick fixes on existing projects
  • A per-project fee schedule for customers who require only a few projects every few months
  • A retainer-based plan for clients who outsource marketing and consider us their external marketing and communications department

It is very important to review any budget constraints you may have with your marketing and creative firm. This will influence the marketing channels selected to reach your goals. While some companies may be apprehensive about revealing their budget, it is difficult to plan a course of action without a budget. Knowing your budget enables your firm to set a course of action that is appropriate for your budget.

A marketing and creative firm well-versed in providing retainer solutions can offer the most extensive creative design and strategic marketing plan possible, and still have a positive impact on your bottom line.


Retainer Value vs. Internal Costs

To avoid “sticker shock,” it is important to be armed with all of your company’s internal costs before you review a retainer agreement from a marketing and creative services firm. This will enable you to analyze the numbers, compare costs and accurately determine the strategic value of using such an arrangement.

If you are making the transition from a project-based relationship to a retainer-based relationship with your marketing and creative firm, be sure to involve them in every marketing decision. Not only will you gain from their valuable insight, knowledge and experience, but you’ll also have a resource to keep you on-track, so you can reap a greater return on your retainer investment.

Not quite satisfied?


Get answers to your marketing and retainer questions based on your company's goals. Send a message or pick up the phone!

We're happy to speak with you personally to help you find the best solution to making business better with an awesome marketing partnership.

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