The debate around retainer vs delivery-based models has never really gone away or been resolved; with more topical things to discuss like crisis comms, the impact of remote working and pivoting (raises eyes to the heavens) but the debate is one that we shouldn’t let slide. The debate itself keep us all on our toes. And, while the pros and cons of each option are well documented, many Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) continue to fall into the trap of thinking that a deliverables-based model is only relevant to short-term project work or one-off arrangements.
Avoid the bear traps
The very nature of a PR Retainer-based model means that for a set number of hours every month, clients can call upon their PR team for support. However, this can often mean that the PR agency is immediately dragged into all sorts of reactive, tactical activities. Although this type of activity can address immediate and specific business needs, such an approach means that clients cannot then hold the PR agency responsible when the specific outcomes agreed at the start are not achieved. Of course, it is important to have a level of flexibility as your client’s needs can evolve and change over time but there is no reason why PR agencies cannot still map out costs against tangible outputs.
By doing this, you are creating a roadmap and can quickly establish if the outcomes or specific KPIs are realistic. An unwillingness to attach KPIs to deliverables can suggest an unrealistic, unthoughtful wish list rather than a strategic plan aligned to the business goals. The more specific and clear we are on the outputs, the more effective and efficient we can be. Having a clearly defined plan is critical and as professionals, we should know on average how much time we need to draft a press release, write a thought leadership article, or facilitate a media interview.
In my experience, with a deliverables-based model, it is far more straight forward to quantify what CMOs are getting for their money. This, in turn can instil trust much earlier on in the relationship which then builds exponentially over time. Perhaps this is the reason why retainer-based agencies are unlikely to reach their third birthday with a client and why many of our clients will typically stay with us for 5+ years.
Let us also consider the client’s wider leadership team. It can be argued that having a deliverables-based model can make it simpler to ‘sell’, particularly if there are cynics who lack an understanding of the value PR can deliver and therefore, need to be educated.
CMOs looking for a long-term relationship with a PR partner can and, will benefit considerably from a deliverables-based contract with transparent pricing rooted in specific campaign deliverables and KPIs. Only then can CMOs ensure they are getting the most out of their investment - particularly at a time when budgets and resources are under greater scrutiny.