When is a Marketing Retainer the Right Choice? [Infographic]

Posted by Sarah Campagna on Fri, May 15, 2015

Retainers vs. Project-Based Arrangements

Considering the next big step in your marketing plan? Marketing retainers offer 25-30% more bang for your buck compared to project work, but they are not for everyone. This mini-assessment can help you decide if a monthly marketing retainer makes sense for your company. (Try the following quick decision tree, or take the more detailed quiz below.)

MarketingRetainerDecisionTree

Is a Retainer Model Right for My Marketing Plan?

Question 1: Is your business truly seasonal in nature, resulting in highly irregular marketing patterns?

If You Answered No: Go to Question 2

If You Answered Yes: No. Retainers work well for regular, steady marketing efforts. While some ebb and flow in your calendar around trade shows or a product launch is to be expected, a seasonal marketing plan is best suited to a project-based fee structure.

Question 2: To your knowledge, are you one of your firm’s top clients?

If You Answered No: Probably not. If you don’t fit your firm’s model, a retainer relationship will only aggravate the problem. Ideally, you want to fall in your firm’s top 20% to ensure that you’ll be top of mind and get the regular attention needed as part of an ongoing integrated marketing plan. If nothing else, you certainly want to be assigned to your firm’s A Team.

If You Answered Yes. Go to Question 3

Question 3: Have you tested a variety of marketing media and/or channels?

If You Answered No: Not yet. Until you know what is going to work well for your company, you cannot estimate the amount of effort that needs to be put into your marking program.  Identifying your ideal marketing mix is one of the first steps to establishing a solid, regular marketing strategy that is a good fit for a retainer contract.

If you Answered Yes: Go to Question 4

Question 4: Can you identify quantifiable measurements of success or benchmarks for your program?

If You Answered No: Not yet. In order to invest in a retainer relationship with your marketing firm, you need to be able to identify the benchmarks against which your marketing efforts should be measured. At this point your best bet is to hire a marketing firm on a project basis and work toward hypothesized benchmarks before committing to a retainer. The exception to this is if your firm has extensive experience in your industry and can provide benchmark numbers in advance that can be used to measure success. 

If You Answered Yes: Go to Question 5

Question 5: Is your marketing activity relatively predictable?

If You Answered No: No. You’re probably still determining the level of effort needed to ensure a successful marketing program for your company. This would make agreeing on a retainer model difficult.  

If You Answered Yes: Yes. You are likely ready to embark on a retainer relationship with your marketing firm. This will result in 25-30% off of costs that you would have paid on a project fee basis. Retainers allow your marketing firm to invest more staff time into knowing and understanding your company and to better schedule their staff hours to meet your needs. In addition, as a retainer client, you are likely to receive greater attention and top of mind commitment from your firm. However, a retainer is a serious commitment, and it is important to establish metrics for success in advance and to know what your rights to terminate the contract are, given your individual agreement with that firm.


Download our Marketing Roadmap to lay out a regular, predictable marketing plan, estimate the effort necessary to execute it and test your estimates on a project basis with your firm.

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Launch Team works with clients both on monthly retainers and on a project basis. When clearly defined up front, each unique business arrangement is designed to offer flexibility, the right resources to support clients’ marketing goals, and a focus on results. Contact us to learn more.

Topics: Marketing Strategy