Are Ad Agency Retainers Really Worth It?

Trish McCabe Rawls  |  November 10, 2014

Piggy bank seesaw

So if you're a marketing director, you've probably at some point asked yourself which is better: to have a dedicated agency/creative group helping with your marketing efforts, or to spread the wealth among several reliable agency/creative resources.

On one hand, if you use several different entities, then they will all continually strive to produce good work because they don't want to lose your business—working hard to hopefully get a bigger piece of the pie next time.

On the other hand, funneling work through one single agency sure would be a lot easier for you. But would they start to take you for granted?

Here's my 2 cents. While there are certainly times when contracting work out to a variety of resources can work in your favor, having a solid marketing partner is always a more sound and strategic avenue. Here's why.

1. You get a partner. Not a vendor. 
Once you become a "retained" client by an agency, there is definitely a sense of pride and ownership by the agency. I'm not sure many client-side marketing directors understand this. From the owners to the creatives, to the traffic managers we suddenly become uber-protective of our new client.  It's sort of like the difference between dating around and "going steady." Once you're in that relationship, things just naturally get a bit more serious. There is a mutual trust that you will take care of and respect each other.

2. We look at the big picture.
An agency partner helps to shape your future and doesn't just take orders. Because of #1, instead of just thinking about the project at hand, we start thinking about how everything we do impacts the future of our client. We are involved and help with high-level strategic planning, analyzing the best use of your marketing dollar and providing creativity in thinking about your overall strategy, not just for a single project.  There is a mentality that comes with knowing you have been handed the responsibility of marketing a product or service— something that just can't happen when you're not the dedicated creative/marketing resource.

3. Retained agencies help solidify your brand.
Because you only have one entity continually working on your marketing, your brand will be stronger. You have the same people using the same graphics, messaging, voice, etc. Every time you give a project to a different creative resource, they will interpret even strong brand guidelines just a tad differently. (And most brand guidelines, if they even exist, are very loose, leaving huge room for interpretation.) Plus, creatives naturally like to leave their "mark" on their work for clients so they can show off their creativity.

4. Everyone is in the know.
Assigning projects to multiple entities requires you to fill everyone in, repeatedly. It requires you to hand over files, repeatedly. When this happens, something inevitably gets left out and assumptions fill the gap. But when using one dedicated source for your marketing needs, there's no need to repeat. We're all on the same page—every day—whether it's having the current logos, or knowing that we can't use that certain image from the image library anymore, or that you changed how you refer to a product in copy. We're not just in the know about logistical things, but also we stay abreast of important goal planning.

5. Efficiencies of time & money.
Partnering with an agency is an investment in your future. You may be able to crunch numbers and come out ahead money-wise by farming projects out, but I would encourage you to look farther into the future. Imagine Company ABC farms out all its work to a number of different creative resources for four years. Company XYZ retains a great marketing partner for four years. Think of the mindset of all of those creative resources from Company A—they don't really have any skin in the game.  Then think of the agency working for Company XYZ. They have a much bigger responsibility.....but that's what agencies are here for.

Having said all this, we still have clients that don't have a retainer with us. BUT, we are the only agency they use. They just don't have the frequency of need that justifies a retainer. And there ARE companies that benefit from farming out work, but they tend to be very large and have a lead agency that is their "partner" for high-level marketing work and planning.

Where is your company at with this? Do you have an experienced marketing partner? Or are you putting your eggs in too many baskets? If the latter, I would encourage you to find a solid marketing resource you can trust (perhaps among your current pool) and  meet with them about becoming more of a partner in your success.

What's your experience?

Trish Rawls
Creative Director



linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram