Businesses and nonprofits alike will often ask us if their marketing needs are better suited to short-term, projects or ongoing monthly retainers. So this week we’re answering the all-important question, ‘Is a PR retainer right for my organization?’
Let’s start with the basics…
PR Retainers…provide a monthly allotment of agency resources on an ongoing basis. Oftentimes, the scope of work executed touches multiple facets of the organization and includes a diverse mix of tactics that support an overall strategy.
PR Projects…are short-term engagements that provide clients with agency support over a finite period of time. Projects often encompass publicizing a new business launch, developing a multi-channel campaign to launch a nonprofit’s newest program, developing a new website and the list goes on.
So how do you know which is right for your business or nonprofit? Start by asking yourself and your leadership team these five key questions:
1. Why are you interested in hiring a PR/marketing agency? Are there any pain points you are looking to address?
Are you tired of picking up the newspaper and turning on the news only to hear about your biggest competitor? Is your brand recognition too narrow? Are your marketing initiatives inconsistent? Do you make the best widget in the world and nobody knows about it? This list could be miles long and we wouldn’t have even scratched the surface as to the many reasons organizations decide to hire a PR/marketing agency.
To that end, know what pain points working with an agency may help address – Is your development officer taking time away from fundraising to draft marketing materials, which has resulted in fewer donations? Is your client relations manager taking time away from clients to try and figure out how to be a marketer? These challenges are common…and continuous…which may necessitate a retainer relationship.
2. What goals are you looking to achieve by contracting with a PR/Marketing agency?
The starting point for an effective client-agency relationship is for everyone to be working towards the same goals and understanding how long it will take to achieve these objectives. If you want to make a splash when you open your new office, a project relationship may be a good option for you. If you strive to be the media’s ‘go-to’ for all interviews about the Affordable Care Act, a long-term program that works to build expertise, increase awareness and establish strong media relationships (a retainer) is a better fit.
Strategic public relations and marketing campaigns can play an integral role in helping businesses and nonprofits to achieve their organizational objectives. Establishing an ongoing media relations program may help to attract new clients. Developing and maintaining a thought-leadership blog may help to get your brand in the public eye by garnering media and speaking opportunities, and generating inbound business leads.
Knowing what you will be collaborating with an agency to achieve and the role you want them to play in this effort will help to identify if you need agency support for 3-months or 3-years.
3. What type of work do you want the agency to execute? Is there a seasonality to this work?
PR/Marketing agencies can help with everything from developing a media relations program to syncing up your online and offline marketing efforts. The question, what roles best suits your organization’s needs?
Are you looking for a PR agency to build buzz during your slow season? Do you want the PR/marketing team to support your staff and board leading up to your annual gala? These are common examples of seasonal marketing efforts that are well-suited to project-based relationships. Projects allow clients the flexibility to have marketing when the lead it and shut down the program when they don’t. It is important to note that while the flexibility is appealing, it can also result in increased time to gain sustained traction and momentum. It’s difficult for media to think of you as the ‘go-to’ for expert commentary when you’re only on their radar three months out of the year.
4. How much time are you willing to allocate to working with an agency?
We know that April is a demanding month for accountants and that year-end – be yours June 30th or December 31st – is a deadline rich time for businesses and nonprofits alike. These rushes may put a strain on internal resources and impact the time one can dedicate to working with a PR/marketing agency. While some clients will opt to stay on retainer but ‘go dark’ for two months out of the year, others prefer a project where they can plan to dedicate 3-months or 6-months to an agency when they know their team can dedicate time and resources to the marketing effort.
5. What resources are you willing to allocate to working with an agency?
While our agency’s goal is to make collaborating with your account team as painless as possible, we do require input and approval from clients. Some initiatives may require more time than others so it is important to make a conscious decision about how much time you can and are willing to allocate to working with an agency.
Part of this decision is identifying the person whose skills are best aligned to being the agency’s point person and the other component is deciding what amount of time is realistic for that person to spend supporting the agency’s efforts. While there are ways to make the engagement more manageable – short weekly check-in calls at a set time, end-of-week digest emails, monthly status reports, quarterly in-person meetings – each requires a different amount of time to be invested.
The good news is that as relationships grow and strengthen, the amount of time a client has to commit to the agency typically decreases. The ‘getting to know you’ period is sometimes time-intensive but as the account team becomes more familiar with the client and brand, the team can get a bit further along in the process before turning to the client for support. This is typically the outcome of a retainer relationship.
Collaborating with a PR/marketing agency can be a rewarding experience, regardless of whether the engagement of retainer- or project-based. Before signing on with an agency, take the time to assess whether a retainer or project will best suit your needs and what role you can and are willing to take in ensuring a successful collaboration.