5 Things All SMEs Should Know About Marketing Retainers

Marketing is a surprisingly broad field of study. From graphic design to copywriting; SEO to print; branding to web development; good marketing requires businesses to keep a lot of different plates in the air at any one time.

Whether you’re part of a marketing team, you’re your company’s only marketer, or indeed if you’re a sole-operator, chances are that you’re aware of this particular multi-directional balancing act.

Additionally, with such deep rabbit holes to fall down, marketing can take up a lot of mental and operational bandwidth – even with a team of skilled marketers at your disposal!

However, there is one way to lighten the load without bringing on additional staff: investing in a marketing retainer from a full-service marketing agency. In fact, an external agency can probably look at your marketing with a fresh pair of eyes and spot opportunities and weaknesses that perhaps you hadn’t.

Full-service marketing retainers also present considerable savings when compared to sourcing marketing services from different providers: why contract with different design, SEO, web development, and print agencies when you can keep it all under one roof for a single, ongoing monthly fee?

Yet retainer agreements like these don’t just present cost and time savings – there are softer, strategic benefits too.

But let’s start at square one…

What Are Retainers And How Do They Work?

In their simplest form, retainers are an ongoing agreement between a service-based supplier and a client wherein the client pays a set fee every month in exchange for a set amount support from the supplier during that month. Contrast this with a more ad hoc arrangement where the client only pays the supplier as and when they need support, with no expectations of an ongoing relationship once a project is complete.

For example, a company who needs regular graphic design support may keep a graphic designer on retainer to provide, say, 30 hours of design work every month. A company who needs regular blog posts writing may contract with a professional writer for a set amount of hours each month, or alternatively agree to a set amount of written deliverables per month. Consultants of all kinds often work on retainer too – charging a set fee for a set amount of hours, month-in, month-out.

However, why simply invest in a single-specialism retainer, covering design, SEO, or marketing strategy individually when you can invest in a full-service marketing retainer that covers multiple promotional activities all-in-one flexible package.

Why Invest in a Full-Service Marketing Retainer?

1. Familiarity Breeds Consistency

We’ve discussed before how having an ongoing relationship with a graphic designer maximises ongoing brand consistency, guarantees on-spec results, and reduces time spent on project managing your marketing over time. As the agency becomes intimately familiar with your brand’s style and visual language, they become a natural extension of your team.

This is also true of a full-service marketing retainer, though the benefit is multiplied. Design, web development, SEO, content marketing, and so on don’t happen in isolation from each other. For best results, your marketing deliverables should all be underpinned by the same unwavering, cohesive understanding of your marketing direction and your wider business goals.

This is where multi-service marketing retainers really shine. Because the agency’s whole team has wall-to-wall visibility across your marketing tasks and aims, they’re better able to provide deliverables that seamlessly integrate with each other and flow smoothly into the mould formed by your marketing strategy.

2. A Less Reactive, More Strategic Approach

Working with an agency on an ad-hoc basis can lead to a rather robotic, transactional relationship. There’s certainly a time and a place for that kind of support, but if you’re looking for a long-term strategic marketing partner then a full-service agency retainer is the way to go.

Ad-hoc, single service creatives will only ever get a small glimpse of everything your business is, does, and wants to achieve. Yet in working with a multi-service agency over time, their view of your business becomes much richer, deeper, and clearer. When a team of experienced marketers innately understand you, your company, your goals, and your marketing strategy, they become better able to make independent strategic suggestions and decisions that will fit your brand like a glove.

It’s also likely that fuller services agencies have more well-rounded marketing experience than single-service specialists. Firms who provide a wide range of promotional services will likely have broad, first-hand experience of different approaches, and may be better equipped to “sense check” how well different practices will suit a brand before committing time and money to a campaign.

3. A Win-Win for Both Businesses

But let’s put some of the abstract strategic benefits aside for a moment and talk about something that all professionals can appreciate. working with an agency on retainer can result in a better, richer marketing output with enviable turnaround times, and often at a competitive, easily budgetable cost.

Retainers really do present a win-win for both the agency and the client. The agency knows to reserve that time in their schedule every month exclusively for that client, and they know they can rely on those funds from a cash flow perspective. The client knows that they can depend on the agency to carry out all works needed, on-spec, for an easily budgetable, competitive fee.

Contrast this with a more ad-hoc arrangement. When you approach an agency for ad-hoc work, chances are they will have to fit you around other clients whose work has already been diarised (many of whom will likely be on retainer). You’ll probably have to wait in a queue and possibly change your plans to accommodate a longer turnaround time. Because you’re presenting your work as a “one off job”, the agency will be less able to provide you with much flexibility on price. If you need something done urgently outside of a retainer, you may have to pay rush fees too.

But when you commit to a retainer, you aren’t beholden to ad hoc pricing and wait times. You get to jump the “ad-hoc” queue – and pay the agency’s lowest available rates for the privilege.

4. Flexibility Across Services

Most full-service retainers allow you to flexibly chop and change the agreed retainer time across their different services each month. This may depend on your particular agency partner but it’s certainly the case for our full-service retainers here at OLCO Design.

For example, say you need more work doing on SEO in a particular month because your site has been negatively impacted by an algorithm change. With a flexible retainer, this shouldn’t be an issue. Or maybe you need a big design push to support a new campaign; again, most agencies will reduce your other work to accommodate more pressing concerns. The only set amount of anything you are tied to is the agency’s time – how you ask them to spend that time should be totally adaptable.

Though a 20, 30, or 50 hour-a-month retainer may sound like a large investment, but when that time is spread across graphic design, website maintenance, blogging, analytics reporting, SEO, print services and more, you stand to gain considerable promotional value in return. The things that can be achieved by a skilled, tuned-in team in a matter of hours might really surprise you!

5. Outsourcing > Insourcing

Once a company identifies a need for more marketing support, working with a marketing agency on retainer is often weighed against hiring new marketing talent (or cross-skilling staff that are already on the payroll). The pros and cons of each vary wildly from company to company but on the whole, we feel that retainers can be hugely beneficial.

Let’s start by stating a few (somewhat obvious) ways that retainers trump insourcing. Obviously, outsourced professionals don’t need to go through the same rigmarole of PAYE, sick leave, and holiday pay. You don’t have the same HR responsibilities with an outsourced team – if you don’t work well together, you can sever ties with (hopefully) no hard feelings.

But there’s one real benefit to SMEs working with creatives on a retainer basis: continuity. If you only have limited in-house marketing talent – say only 1 or 2 people – what happens if one of them has to go on sudden, long-term personal leave? Without external support, your whole marketing capacity could be wiped out overnight. Having an agency on retainer can give you a much needed contingency plan.

Besides, when all of your in-house marketing talent are in the office, an external marketing retainer may provide valuable overspill support that enhances your marketing output and eliminates some in-house strain.

So if you have an in-house marketer who is due to go on parental or long-term medical leave, or if your internal marketers just need to share the load, give us a call!

If any of these scenarios resonate with you, then you’ll probably benefit from a full-service marketing retainer. Our retainers can be flexibly spread across our entire service range which includes graphic design, branding, web development, SEO, PPC, analytics, print, and more. When you work with OLCO Design, you can be sure of a personal, professional service – just ask any of our satisfied clients. Interested? Book your free consultation call today!

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