Why you should keep a branding agency on retainer

Why hire a branding agency on retainer

Whom are we kidding? “Retainer” is a dirty word–I get it. Who wants to pay for something they might not use? Of course, agencies (ours included) love them, sure, but on your side of the table? It sounds like a bad deal (and many times, it absolutely is).

But I have to be honest. My opinion about retainers is an outcome of my experience with retainers, and it’s a total flip from what most people would expect.

Retainers aren’t the one-size-fits-all answer, but they have their place. Like it is with nurturing a newborn, some brands (most brands, in fact) need constant, devoted attention – the kind that’s ready before you even realize you need it. For work of this nature, retainers are the perfect solution. 

It’s not like we suggest retainers to our clients for one-off jobs; never. But when the work calls for it, this model can be a lifesaver – saving time, easing headaches, and yes, even cutting costs for our clients.

So, with unconditional acknowledgement for the frowns that the word ‘retainer’ brings to one’s face, here’s my honest take on the model, and when it can be in your interest to insist on a retainer when you hire a branding agency. 

Let’s start with the most fundamental question. 


What exactly is a retainer model? 

In its simplest form, it’s a business agreement where a client pays in advance for professional services on a regular basis. 

Now, in the branding world, this often means a company pays a monthly fee to ensure they have ongoing access to dedicated creative work.

Our first retainer did not start-off as one. It was a website redesign project for an online travel bookings company. They were struggling with an outdated website that couldn’t hold a candle to giants like Booking.com.

Picture a website that looked like it was last updated when flip phones were in vogue, and you’d get the idea. Even after their website got its long-overdue makeover, they knew this couldn’t be the endgame. Their brand was in need of a complete transformation into something that could go toe-to-toe with the industry leaders.

Our work was cut out for us: each week, we crafted holiday-themed marketing materials that kept their deals fresh and exciting. We also tackled regular updates to their website’s look and feel to stay on-trend, ensuring that it remained user-friendly and attractive to visitors. Plus, we rolled out a consistent social media branding strategy whose goal was to make their customers/followers forget the ‘old vibe’ and seamlessly hook them to the ‘new vibe’. 

A retainer made sense here. In fact, no other engagement model could have worked as well as a retainer. 

The project was a hit because both sides enjoyed all the benefits of the retainer model. 

What are these benefits? Let’s find out. 


The benefits of having a branding agency on a retainer

Hiring a new branding expert is a backbreaking and long process – interviews, pitches, awkward trial periods. With a retainer, you don’t waste a minute dealing with all these energy-frains. You’re working with an agency that already understands your brand’s personality, your mission, and even your weird obsession with a certain shade of blue!

This isn’t all. Here are all the other benefits. 


1. You get a support system for all your branding needs

Need regular social media content that reflects your new brand voice? 

Consistent updates to your website? 

A new packaging for a product that’s fizzled off lately?

A retainer can handle it. Business cards, email templates, even polishing your presentation decks–if it’s in the domain of branding, you will have it done for you. 


2. You get a cohesive brand

Imagine your logo designed by one agency, your website by another, and your brochures by a freelancer with a fondness for neon colors. There can hardly be a better way to kill a brand. A retainer means you work with one team that truly gets the core of your brand. 


3. You will never pay for a rush job again

Great branding agencies are always in demand. But with a retainer, you’ve secured a spot in their schedule. Need something last minute? You at least won’t be starting from zero – they’ll know your brand and be able to act swiftly.


4. You’ll love the simplicity of the model (and it makes budgeting equally simple)

One consistent monthly fee. No unexpected price tags, no scrambling to find a branding expert with immediate availability. Retainers make it simpler to know your branding costs upfront.


5. Your branding agency will love you even more

Agencies appreciate predictable business. Think of a retainer as a branding VIP pass. You’ll often get discounted rates compared to project-by-project work. If you know how to make the most of a retainer agreement, you will save a lot of money, guaranteed. 

Now that I’ve whipped up your enthusiasm, let me curtail it a bit. 

I said it before, I’ll say it again. A branding agency on a retainer model isn’t for everyone. But is it right for you? How do you find out?


How to find out whether a branding agency on a retainer model is right for you?

Simple, interview yourself. Ask yourself these questions. As you answer them, your decision will be made for you. 

  • Do we have a steady stream of branding needs, or are our projects more one-off?
  • Is building a consistent brand image important for our long-term success?
  • Would it save us time and hassle to have a branding agency “on call”?
  • Would a predictable monthly cost for branding services be helpful for budgeting?
  • Do we feel comfortable having the same agency work on our brand over time?
  • Do we struggle to maintain brand consistency across different marketing materials?
  • Do we value the benefit of prioritized service and quicker turnaround times?
  • Are we hesitant to constantly explain our brand identity to new agencies?
  • Would a dedicated branding partner help us achieve a more cohesive brand strategy?
  • Is knowing our branding needs will be met consistently more valuable than the flexibility of hiring project-by-project?
  • Do we want to avoid the hassle of negotiating new contracts all the time?
  • Could our in-house team use the backup a branding agency provides?

I hope this helped.

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