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What's a marketing retainer model and do I need one?

Whether you’re looking to launch new campaigns or improve your current efforts, marketing retainer models can be massively beneficial to your business. 

Each agency offers something unique and holds different levels of expertise, so it’s vital you find the right one for your company’s needs and demands. 

This post will outline what marketing retainers are and whether your business may be suited towards the different available models. 

We’ll cover:


What is a marketing retainer?

Have you always dreamt of having a full marketing department, but never had the resources to make it happen? Well, a marketing retainer may be the perfect option for you. 

But what is one?

Basically, a retainer is a paid agreement between a business and a full-service marketing agency for a variety of marketing channels and services. This agreement is usually long-term and both parties will work on a variety of projects together. 

The long-term relationship between the two allows both parties to earn a great understanding of each other. That way, the trust is there between the two to drive forward towards future overall business goals. 




Retainers allow clients to instantly tap into the professional knowledge of an experienced marketing agency - that they otherwise wouldn’t have.

It saves business owners the time, expense and effort of recruiting a full marketing department themselves.  


The different types of retainer

Single Project Model Marketing Retainers

Although retainers are usually long-term, it’s possible to sign them on a single-project model. 

This is where you pay the agency per project, rather than a set monthly fee on a long-standing contract. 

For example, if your business just wants to run a paid Facebook Ad campaign and doesn’t require the whole agency experience, they’ll quote you a one-off price and give you a turnaround time for the single project.

If you’d then like a batch of content blogs to assist your campaign, you’ll be charged separately for them. 





This model is a fixed price per month and a fixed amount of hours agreed by the agency per month. If the agency works under or over the allotted amount of time, the price doesn’t change. 

The allotted time will be agreed by both parties before signing the agreement. Meaning that both parties are getting a fair deal out of the arrangement and are on the same page moving forward.



Rather than be formed around billable working time, value retainers are formed around end goals. 

Both the client and the agency will agree on a short-term and long-term goal and a price will be agreed on the achievement of these goals. For example, the quicker the goals are achieved, the higher the price will be. And maybe include a bonus too. 


How does a marketing retainer work?

Agency retainers are a lot simpler than the majority of people might think. 

Typically, businesses enter an agreement with an agency and agree on a budget per month. In return for a monthly fee, the agency will provide a full-service of marketing channels. For example, content marketing, pay-per-click marketing, web design and development too.




Early in the relationship, both parties will sit down to establish the outcomes and goals that they’d like to achieve from the partnership. 

Common goals are usually: 

  • Increase brand awareness and reach.
  • Increase web traffic and inbound leads.
  • Increase sales numbers.  

Based on the goals set, the agency will then take action and start planning various strategies that’ll help the business achieve its goals. Obviously, the strategies and tactics that the agency put in place will have to meet the budget that’s set out initially.

Agencies are there to provide all the agreed contractual work, but they’re also on-hand should you have any emergencies and urgent work that needs completing. Within reason, of course.


What are the benefits of a marketing retainer?

Some projects simply just don’t work for a marketing retainer. However, for a lot of campaigns and businesses, it’s a big win - and for both parties too. 

Some of the main benefits for businesses to agree to a marketing retainer with an agency are: 

Regular fixed-rate costs

Businesses will then know their forecasted outgoings each month and will be able to account for it in their budgeting plans. It also allows for the business to be more flexible in other areas of the business with payments spread over a few months, rather than a lump sum. 

Priority service 

Retainer clients tend to be agencies largest customers. So, should an urgent issue or task need completing, businesses can benefit from “line jumping” and being seen as a priority over their other, smaller customers. This is great for turnaround times. 



Agencies are also required to set aside resources each month to allocate to a business so they’re constantly being accounted for in their monthly plans.

Front of mind

Not only should you be a priority to agencies, but you should also be at the forefront of their mind at all times too. It’s the agency’s job to help drive your business forward, so they’ll constantly be trying their best to mould new ideas and strategies to move your business in the right direction.

Better value for money

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Yearly/Monthly Cost



Hire a full time employee Yearly: 20k-24k

Monthly: 1666k-2k + cost of equipment and tools required for the job (300-400 monthly) - £1900 - £2400 + employee benefits + overheads
  • Have them in the office so can coach them day to day.
  • Can be an ambassador for your company.
  • Are there to help with other parts of the business cover holidays and sickness
  • Overheads are bigger - need office space and employee benefits package.
  • If they are off sick you will have to pick up the slack.
  • Can often be specialised in one area - not have a broad knowledge of all topics or vice versa jack of all trades but no specialism.
  • Hiring can be costly - recruitment fees and also takes time
Hire a freelancer Yearly: Dependent on how much you need them but can be £30-£75 an hour - equate to an average of 20 hours a week £30k-£70k

Monthly: £2.4k-£6k
  • Don’t have to pay full time just as and when
  • Don’t have to pay benefits/pension etc just invoice them for the work they complete
  • Don’t take up space in the office/overheads
  • Can find experts in the field
  • Nature of work means its more expensive per hour
  • Have to remember to pay monthly invoices
  • No cover if they go on holiday/are sick
  • Can’t be in the office when you need them
  • Can’t track how much work they are doing
  • Harder to track your cashflow as the payment amount may change monthly
Use an agency Yearly: £12k-£36k+

Monthly: £1-£3k+
  • Cheaper than one hire and you get a full team
  • Don’t have to pay extra for individual tools
  • Don’t have to house them in your office
  • Don’t have to pay them pensions or company cars or benefits package
  • More range of experience and on demand all the time so even if one member of agency staff is sick or on holiday work is still done unlike one hire/freelancer
  • Can offer additional services like video, photography, website development as well as marketing etc
  • Contracted to a certain length of time
  • Might not always be top priority over higher paying bigger clients

Quite often, businesses that form a relationship with an agency tend to get their work completed to a very high standard at a cheaper hourly rate too. And who doesn’t like cutting costs? 

Not only this but the longer that the relationship continues to work together, the quicker it’ll get. The agency will know the ins and outs of your business, so will be able to produce work at a quicker rate. 

Saving costs and upping efficiency levels - double win.

Company issues? Not a problem!

When marketing within your own business, marketing decisions usually fall on the shoulders of one person or a small group. Which means that should they be out of the office, off sick or on holiday, it’s impossible to make a decision. 

Well, that’s not a problem when you’re on a retainer. Even if your account manager is off, the agency as a whole has enough experience to be able to make the correct decisions for your business. 

And they’re just the benefits for the business. The agency can also benefit in the following ways: 

Maintain top levels of service

There’s nothing that keeps standards and morale high at an agency like doing a good job and delivering great results. A retainer allows an agency to settle in and deliver amazing results over a period of time and showcase their best work. 

Retainers also allocate budgets to jobs. Therefore, spending is controlled and an adequate budget is always on offer. That way, a consistently high standard can be sustained throughout the relationship with a business. 

Increased focus 

Rather than trying to seek new business and flitting from client to client willy nilly, having a retainer account allows agencies to keep the focus on set accounts. This allows agencies to invest more time and hopefully produce better content to deliver results. 

Retainers give agencies much more time to focus on running their campaigns and projects. An agreed retainer model reduces the amount of admin time per request. Therefore, without the admin time, the campaign will run smoother and will more than likely be completed earlier. Not just that, the increased focus will make for a higher quality of work and hopefully quicker results.



Smoother process

Agencies can guarantee work from month to month when they have agreed retainers on their books. So, they can plan a smoother work process so that deadlines are always met and quicker turnarounds for incoming requests are possible. 


What Services are Included in a Marketing Retainer?

Content marketing

In modern times, content marketing has become possibly the most important pillar of a marketing strategy. Quite simply, if you have no content, you have no campaign. 

Content helps drive traffic to your website through a variety of channels. Whether it be blogs, eBooks, social media or email marketing, the main aim of your content marketing will be to convert visitors into leads and customers. 

Video marketing

81 percent of businesses use video marketing as a tool to help widen their approach. This means that if you're not using video marketing, you're unfortunately being left behind by your competition. The sheer amount of video content online is staggering - and there are no signs of the growth slowing down either. 

59 percent of executives say that they'd rather watch a video than reading text, showing that the way content is being consumed is shifting. So, if you want your business to be noticed, a bespoke video marketing campaign can be a powerful asset to have within a holistic marketing approach. 

Strategic campaign planning 

A constant flow of unique ideas and strategies that align with business goals. Expert knowledge in working out the best topic areas to angle to help businesses form their campaigns and meet their end marketing goals. 



Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

SEO helps businesses improve their ranking in search engines, like Google. Rewording content towards targeted keywords, ensuring there are strong links within the content and following best practices in regards to design are just some of the ways that rankings can be improved. 

Pay-Per-Click (PPC) marketing

PPC allows businesses to immediately position in searches on search engines and also runs targeted advertising across different social media platforms. Agencies will help draft the marketing message of these advertisements and will deeply research into which outlet will produce the best return on investment (ROI).

Web design and development

If a business could do with a website revamp and freshen up, then an agency can take full care of this. With a dedicated team of web design and development professionals, they’ll be able to create you a fully bespoke website that’ll suit your needs. 

marketing retainer website development and design

Plus, should anything go wrong with the website, the team will work hard to get you back up and running as quickly as possible to minimise any downtime. 

Graphic design

If you try and cut corners with graphic design, you're likely going to end up with cheap-looking designs - which is the last thing your business will want. You don't want to get off on the wrong foot and portray an unprofessional and unestablished image of your business, do you? 

Well, with the help of a quality graphic design team, you can ensure that you'll always walk the walk, as well as, talk the talk. Top-class designs will help your business stand out. Plus, they'll also help take your content approach to the next level. 

Our key capabilities

Of course, the above-mentioned areas aren't the only services that an agency will offer within a client retainer. At Red-Fern, we offer a wide range of key services that will propel your marketing efforts forwards indefinitely. These are: 

  • Research and Analysis
  • Buyer Persona Development
  • Keyword and Content Research
  • Content Strategy Development
  • Content Writing and Technical Content Management
  • Publishing and Monitoring
  • Social Strategy and Publishing
  • Paid Marketing Strategies
  • Re-Marketing
  • Graphic Design
  • Animation
  • Videography
  • Web Design
  • Web Development and System Development
  • App development
  • HubSpot Partnerships
  • Reporting

When should you use a marketing retainer?

There are several reasons why a business would turn to an agency to look after their marketing. These are: 

  • Need a quick turnaround on marketing capabilities. 
  • Have a lot of ongoing need for creative assets and deliverables from their team.
  • Need help creating content for and managing their various social media channels successfully. 
  • Have a project in the pipeline that has a lengthy timeline and covers a broad set of services.
  • Would like to start monthly content marketing campaigns 



Just as there are great reasons to enter a marketing retainer, there are also various reasons why you shouldn’t. Make sure you consider all the possibilities before entering one, it’s a big commitment after all.


Questions to ask before signing with an agency

As we’ve said, entering a marketing retainer with an agency is a big commitment. So, you have to make sure that it’s definitely the right thing for your business and that the agency is too. Before deciding on an agency, be sure to ask them the following questions:

  • Who’ll be managing the account and carrying out the work? It’s good to know who the point of contact will be - it makes it more personal if a business knows the full team who’ll be working on their marketing. 
  • How do you compare to their other clients? Businesses should want to get a good feel for whether or not the agency has experience of managing companies like theirs. Ideally, they don’t want to be the agency’s biggest client as they run the risk of them not being able to cope with demands.
  • What makes a good client? Clients should be able to gauge whether they’re going to fit culturally and gel well together. The last thing they want is to form an agreement with an agency that they’re not going to get on well with.
  • What will the first 90 days of your retainer entail? A good agency would have a clear plan of what they’re going to carry out in the first 90 days. How they’re going to work with their businesses, research and strategy exercises and many other plans just so that clients can see exactly where they’re going to stand. 


When asking these questions, if there are any red flags or something doesn’t feel right when conversing, don’t be afraid to pull them up on it. Agencies will appreciate honesty and it gives them a chance to clear the fog. 

If still none the wiser, look for another agency that’ll suit your needs down to a tee.


Find out how retainers can benefit your business today

At Red-Fern media, we are passionate about all things marketing. And design too. 

So, whether it’s a new campaign you need strategising, your website revamping and freshening up or your social media accounts managing efficiently - we can help you!

And our list of expertise doesn’t just end there either. 

To find out more, give us a call for a free inbound marketing review today and learn about the direction we can take your business in. 


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