3 Reasons We Don’t Work on Retainer

At the beginning of a new relationship with a client, the question of retainers inevitably comes up, and our answer is always the same: We don’t work on retainer at SideCar. We work on results. Here’s why:

1. When you work on retainer, someone is always getting short-changed.

We all come into a new relationship with a little bit of baggage, right? PR is no different. Sometimes a client comes to us and they’ve worked with a firm previously and found a retainer convenient. They liked the idea that the firm would never exceed the pre-determined budget, no matter what they threw at them. Meanwhile, their PR firm was regularly over-servicing to keep the account.

Other times, we see clients who have clearly been burned by retainers, shelling out $10k – $20k a month to get little in the way of consistent ROI. Over time, this led to distrust or resentment on both sides.

That’s the problem with retainers. Someone is always getting short-changed. And it doesn’t have to be this way. Working on results leads to a much healthier, more transparent client/agency relationship.

2. Historically, PR has been a little mysterious to clients. Retainers were part of the problem. And we have the solution.

When PR agencies work on retainer, it’s understandably hard to know exactly what your firm is doing or the value of certain services. They might get you on the Today Show one month and then you see nothing for three months, but your bill is the same. The value of relationship-building activities in particular is hard enough to tie directly to bottom-line goals without a retainer giving all activities the same value.

So, here’s what we do instead: At the beginning of each month, we outline a list of goals and deliverables, and we tell our clients what those deliverables will cost, based on a pre-determined monthly budget. If things come up along the way – say, a great media opportunity or some sort of crisis – we communicate with our clients and determine whether new activities will take priority over our agreed-upon work or if we’ll add those services to the budget for the month. Then, at the end of the month, we provide a list of what we accomplished. That way, there’s no confusion about what things cost or how much work was accomplished. Mystery solved.

3. Retainers make for lazy, uninvested account teams.

Our ‘Ride with Heart’ ethos comes out of a genuine desire to see our clients succeed. We really, REALLY like what we do. It’s fun to support talented folks who are shaping the built environment in our cities. And it’s one of the main reasons we don’t work on retainer. We’ve seen how that sort of approach can make agencies and account teams complacent, and we never want to waste your time or ours. What’s the incentive to come up with something new and game-changing if you’re going to get the same amount you got last month when you churned out a basic release? We’re not saying your agency is getting lazy if they’re on retainer… but we’re not NOT saying it either.

We want our clients’ businesses to grow and we want to grow with them. We want to show the value of what we do by working hard every single month. So that’s what we do here at SideCar. We work hard. We deliver results. We help get you to where you want to go.

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