Why is the traditional retainer for PR services being replaced by a project fee?
A retainer is a fee paid in advance to secure the first option on a service. it is the traditional fee structure used to employ a public relations consultancy. The PR agency is effectively on stand-by to assist the client company with work as it arises. If the work relates to news events or possibly crisis management, the agency could be needed at any time. This is because their work is driven by external events. It means that the PR service can’t be planned into a calendar in the normal way. In these cases the most appropriate way to manage the business relationship is probably to charge a retainer for PR.
Retainer for PR plus?
A retainer was the traditional way to hire a PR consultancy. Today many companies are looking for a different kind of PR service which is more like a promotional communications service. It comes under the umbrella of Marketing and is closely allied with Content Marketing and Digital Marketing.
For this kind of work, the client company will have a marketing communications plan that has probably been constructed around planned announcements, product launches and trade shows. They may have a content plan as well. This can all be pre-arranged in detail. This means that the PR consultancy’s work is mostly planned, and the work can be costed fairly accurately.
This is the reason why my own consultancy works on project fees, with no retainers. I am able to estimate the cost of clients’ projects and I have always worked this way.
A freelance PR consultant is valued for the flexible service they offer, but it is usually better if there is some continuity to the work. Issuing a single press release, for example, is not always efficient. There are several reasons for this. A consultant can work more effectively when he or she has a warm relationship with the editors who matter. With regular clients, the consultant will gain a deep understanding of their company and market, so the work will go much better. He or she will also be well acquainted with the senior executives in the company.
Besides this, issuing one press release is a like running one advertisement. If a company wants to build brand awareness and recall, it is better to run an ad campaign that continues, to make more impact.
Also, the best PR consultancies usually have ongoing commitments to their regular clients, and may not be willing to take on occasional tasks.
There is another, more subtle reason for preferring an ongoing client/consultancy relationship to a retainer for a PR service. It becomes obvious when you begin working with journalists. The relationship with editors and publications is not just a one-way street. We can send them our news material, but they may also contact us with requests when they need information. They may have questions that your executives can answer, or they may be looking for photographs.
These requests will be outside your marketing plan, but if you have a regular arrangement with your PR consultancy, you are likely to benefit from extra opportunities to provide interviews, case studies and images.