What is a marketing retainer?

Have you ever wanted a full marketing department for your business? A marketing retainer might be the key.

A marketing retainer is essentially an agreement between a company and a full-service marketing agency that includes a monthly or quarterly budget in exchange for a wide variety of services. Retainers tend to be over longer time periods and are not project-specific. This long-term relationship allows an agency to become very familiar with a brand and help execute long-term business goals.

Sometimes you will hear a retainer agency referred to as an “Agency of Record” (AOR). This means that a marketing agency is the “official” or “main” agency for a company or brand.

This AOR, or retainer, relationship allows a company to instantly tap into the resources of an experienced and skilled marketing department without having to build one themselves.

How does a Marketing Retainer work?

Probably simpler than you would think.

A business will enter a contractual relationship with an agency and, most often, agree to a set budget for monthly services. If one of the services that the agency is being retained for includes pay-for-click (PPC), traditional, radio or any other form of paid advertising, there will also likely be a discretionary “advertising spend” budget or component within the agreement.

Early in the relationship, an agency will work with the company to determine the strategic goals it has been retained to execute.

Common goals could include:

  • Build brand awareness

  • Increase website traffic and inbound-leads

  • Increase sales

Based on the goals set out by the company, an agency will then jump into action and start planning a strategy and tactics to accomplish those goals within the budget of the retainer.

The agency is also “on call” for any immediate needs or short-term goals of the company. Being treated as a retainer client allows a company to expect quicker turnaround times and enjoy some “line-skipping” in terms of when requests can be fulfilled.

What are the benefits of a marketing retainer?

There are some projects when a marketing retainer is not a good fit. But in most cases when a company is needing general marketing support, a retainer relationship is a win-win for both parties.

Predictable Costs

Benefit for Businesses

Businesses know what to expect for an invoice every month for services. This allows for better budgeting and forecasting. It also grants the flexibility to amortize short-term marketing campaigns over longer periods of time.

Priority Service

Front of Mind

Better Value

Bus Proof

Benefits for Agencies

Better Service

Increased Focus

Traffic control

When to use a retainer:

There are a number of different reasons for getting an Agency of Record. Any of the below would be a good indicator that you may benefit by putting an agency on retainer.

  • Need to immediately increase marketing capabilities

  • Spend more than $12,000 annually on advertising and other marketing initiatives

  • Need quick turn around times from your marketing partner

  • Have many ongoing needs for creative assets and deliverables

  • Need help managing the different media platforms you advertise on

  • Have a project in mind that has a long (6+ months) timeline and covers a broad set of services

  • Are currently involved in, or would like to start, an ongoing content marketing campaign

When not to use a marketing retainer:

Just as there are scenarios when it is a good idea to enter into marketing retainer relationship, there are plenty of reasons not to. Some of the reasons below outline times where you may want to pursue a traditional project-based agreement.

  • Have a limited budget for marketing activities

  • Have a very specific project or service requirement

  • Don’t have very many ongoing marketing needs and requests

  • Don’t spend much on advertising in different mediums

As a retainer client, a company can expect a bit of “line jumping” when requests are made. An agency will usually try to shuffle requests around if possible to accommodate its long-term retainer clients. It also knows that it needs to set aside an allotted amount of resources every month to dedicate to a specific client.

More important than being front of the line is being front of mind!
In a retainer relationship, a marketing agency moves from simply taking orders to coming up with new ideas and ways to help move their client’s business forward.

Businesses that form a retainer relationship with an agency will often incur a lower hourly rate for services. More valuable than that - the agency will start to have a deep understanding of the business and be able to provide stronger and quicker service as a result. Even further - as the relationship continues to grow, so does the efficiency.

Without retainer, marketing decisions usually fall on one person in a SMB. If they leave, get sick,  go on vacation, or get hit by a bus - everything stops. With a marketing retainer, the agency knows enough to keep things running without that person.

Nothing makes a team at an agency happier than delivering great work and great results. A retainer relationship allows a team the time required to sink their teeth into the work and deliver their best work. A retainer also allocates a budget to spend more time doing research and applying an analytical approach to projects, driving a better end product.

An agency can focus more on serving clients instead of always seeking new business. When an agency can spend less resources on seeking out new business, it can invest them in delivering better results for its clients. Plain and simple.

Having retainers in place allows an agency to better plan its allocation of resources for different campaigns and initiatives because it will know what work is approaching in coming months. This allows for a smoother workflow and quicker turnaround times for incoming requests.

She earned her Bachelor's Degree in Communications with a minor in Marketing in 2007 from the University of TN at Martin, where she was also a member of Alpha Kappa Psi Professional Business Fraternity. She also possesses a Master's Degree from the University of Phoenix and a certificate of completion of  hours for her PMP certification. She is currently completing her certification in Women's Entrepreneurship from Cornell University.

She has a history of seamlessly orchestrating complex projects with million dollar budgets and leading major business initiatives in cross-functional and multi-cultural team environments; Project management experience in multi-channel marketing, non-profit, healthcare, retail, and POS/IT implementation; Strategic approach in branding and integrated marketing for print and digital; Proficiency in building and managing vendor relationships, including negotiating and administering contracts, deliverables and work statements; and Established history of driving sales and productivity.

With over 13 years of combined experience in communications, marketing and project management, Danika has leveraged organizational vision, branding, and marketing and project management specialization to deliver lucrative results. Her ability to identify long-term opportunities to produce high-impact ROI and increase customer outreach with cost-centric solutions is immeasurable. 

Danika began her career in 2008 in Business Development for the United Parcel Service where she held tenure until 2013. She then went on to hold extraordinary positions within other companies and agencies serving as a Program/CRM Manager, Marketing Manager, Senior Project Manager, and Marketing and Project Consultant across both B2B and B2C organizations, including AutoZone Corporate and ALSAC, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

Danika Parris,


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