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Posted by James Barnes ● Oct 23, 2019, 3:57:07 PM

Retainer or project-based PR: what’s right for me?

No matter the size of your company, seeking help from a PR agency to help you reach your goals is a big deal.

But before you get into the nuts and bolts of identifying your PR partner, setting targets and raising awareness, you need to define the type of relationship you want to have.

It’s a heavy conversation for a first date. But it’s a necessary one, and that’s why one of the most frequent questions we’re asked by new clients is “what’s right for me and my company, retainer or project-based PR?”

It’s a tough one to answer off the cuff, so let’s look at some of the basics for each approach to weigh up the options.

In simple terms, retainers are great for:

  • Having access to a broad range of services delivered by the agency
  • Building a relationship with a dedicated team
  • Achieving long-term goals
  • Working with a flat monthly fee.

On the other hand, project-based PR is good for:

  • Well-defined projects and campaigns
  • Hitting short-term targets
  • Using specialist talent within the agency
  • Paying a per-project fee.

Best fit

Let’s dive into those difference a little deeper.

If you’re looking to raise your profile in your target media, retainers are often the best way to achieve your goals. An agency will consistently monitor the media outlets you want to be in and identify opportunities for you to get involved through company news, expert comment, story hijacking and opinion articles.

A retainer-based approach also provides you with a press office-style situation, where all your announcements, press releases, media enquiries and more are handled by experts who know how to respond and manage relationships with the media.

As your relationship with the agency grows, not only will you become more familiar with the team, but they will understand your goals better and how to achieve them. In other words, as well as hitting short-term targets your PR agency will actively be investing in future opportunities to keep you in the media spotlight.

A retainer is also a safety net as you can rest assured that your agency will be available at short notice, ready to help out with any urgent matters. You won’t need to worry about additional charges, extra briefings or agreements – they’ll be able to assist with any tricky situations you can throw at them.

So what about projects? Well, focussing a PR agency on a specific campaign where they can add value will get results – and fast.

Aligning PR experts with internal support and spokespeople can deliver a powerful message and achieve short-term results. If you have a great idea but are unsure of how to maximise its value, a managed project can unlock its potential.

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If budgets are tight, you can also rest assured that you are paying an exact amount for a well-defined piece of work. It’s usually for a chunky project too, so it will often provide valuable and reusable content for internal use even after the initial buzz.

We should also take a moment to stress that the two approaches are not exclusive to each other. It’s often the case that clients on retainers will require additional assistance outside of normal PR activities. The benefit here is that having a regular and close relationship with an agency will arm them with the knowledge to better implement additional campaigns, ensuring maximum impact.

Consider this

Whichever approach you decide is best for you, it’s worth taking some time to consider any issues that you may encounter based on the work you expect your PR partner to help with.

Common problems from a retainer approach range from the amount of work you give the PR agency being radically different to that covered by the retainer, to agreed targets (eg coverage hits) being missed.

With a project-based approach issues can arise from the lack of a close working relationship that would be present with a retainer in place. The project or campaign also needs to be suitably weighty, eg if you need quotes for many small pieces of work you may find the costs escalate quickly and the process becomes cumbersome.

The key point to consider is that, in our experience, the best PR opportunities rarely fit into perfect campaigns. Today’s media works on a very ad-hoc basis, driven by daily changes in the news agenda. Best laid plans can be derailed if you don’t have the capacity to react quickly. And when a project ends, so does media outreach and any potential leads.

You may also find that a key reporter or outlet is keen to cover your project, but the timing isn’t right for them. A retainer approach will ensure that an ongoing relationship is forged and opportunities, from breaking news to prospects with longer lead times, are well-covered.

Retainers don’t have to be inflexible either.

If you find that the amount of work you give your PR agency responsibility for changes each month, a mutual agreement to temporarily reduce or increase hours can be arranged. Or, unused hours can be ‘banked’ to use in later months. Equally, if you use up all of your agreed time but still require support, time can be brought forward from the next month to top up your time.

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Topics: PR

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