The Case for the Retainer Model

Mar 17, 2017

In the marketing and advertising industry, the retainer model has been under scrutiny for some time now. Heated debates between agencies and clients have been rampant and the media has been weighing the pros and the cons for years. Some even claimed that the retainer model is dead (or at least on its way to extinction).

Truth be told, the retainer model (if not super solid in the way it is devised) does have some loopholes which can allow both the client and the agency to abuse it. We’ve seen it and heard it quite a bit: When using a retainer model, the client may feel a certain “ownership” vis-à-vis the agency; and if we flip the medal, when applying the retainer model, the agency may become complacent vis-à-vis the client. It sounds like it’s detrimental to use the retainer model, doesn’t it? It’s actually not, provided it’s applied properly.

Before delving into the pros of a retainer agreement, let us first review the differences between one-time projects and retainers.

One-time Projects Retainer Agreement
Limited & very defined scope Broad scope
Clear one-time deliverable Ongoing needs
Short timeline Longer timeline (6 months + usually)

One-time projects definitely make sense when looking for one-time improvements to your business. One-time improvements can be defined as a branding (or re-branding project), creation of a website, the development of a mobile app or the elaboration and deployment of a campaign.

On the other hand, if you are looking for ongoing support and to bring ongoing improvement to your business, then the retainer model makes more sense for you. The reasons for this are quite simple; a retainer agreement enables your agency to:

  • Ensure a deep understanding of your business
  • Build a strong know-how of your industry and competitors
  • Dedicate more talent & resources to your business
  • Work on long-term strategies

If you are weighing whether you should work with an agency on a retainer model, here are some tips to help you avoid the retainer pitfalls:

  • Set a trial period (3 to 6 months) and review the deliverables in an open conversation with your agency
  • Be clear about what is and what is not included in the retainer agreement
  • Have periodic meetings with your agency to ensure that milestones are being met
  • Provide your agency with the necessary details to enable them to do their job: Objectives, available data, budget, etc.
  • Work on long-term strategies

At the end of the day, the decision should be based on clear objectives; it’s not about client vs. agency because ultimately we both want the same thing: to deliver superior quality work that will make a significantly positive difference for the business. The client will reap the results and the agency will get credit (and yes, referrals!).

The narrative surrounding the retainer model therefore needs to shift and become about long term value. After all, transforming a brand, engaging its audience and simply innovating doesn’t happen overnight or by dividing work in small increments (i.e. one-time projects).

Simply put, amazing ideas might come out of project-based work but ideas that stem from the needs of a business might not and that’s where the value of the retainer comes in.

For a free consultation about marketing your business, connect with us.