The crucial role of retainers in your agency relationship

The crucial role of retainers in your agency relationship

Retainers 01

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of an agency retainer? How much does it cost a month? 

The concept of a marketing retainer is often oversimplified, and understood as nothing more than a pricing agreement between you and your agency – a set rate for a set time. 

But for us, they are so much more than that. 

In this blog we look at: 

  • The importance of a retainer in the client-agency relationship (above and beyond effective communication and cost-efficiency)
  • The pros and cons to consider as a marketer
  • Whether you have the right structure in place to get the most out of your agency partnership. 
  • Why do agency retainers matter? 

Here for the long and short of it 

We often talk about ‘partnerships not projects’ being a Spark principle and one the biggest lessons we’ve learned from over 20 years in business. A retainer is just that – it’s a partnership between you and your agency, where all parties are equally invested in the long-term success of your business. And that can mean multiple projects – what matters is the foundation of trust that exists to ensure that whether it’s a small piece of design work or the execution of your biggest creative campaign yet – together, you’ll feel certain to reach your goals and reap the rewards in the most efficient, effective and creative way. 

Sasha, Account Director at Creative Spark captures this nicely: “What better way to embed yourself in a client’s business than being their plug-in marketing team? Retainers are an area in which I feel I can help clients to thrive – working with them on a long-term basis to get a deep understanding of their business, focusing on both their long-term objectives as well as tackling any immediate needs or challenges”. 

Coherence and consistency, without the headache


Speed matters. So does quality. Cost effectiveness too. So how do you guarantee all three? 

Everything starts with strategy. When your strategic and creative vision is set and understood within your teams, ideas and assets should be swiftly delivered under the careful guardianship of your Client Services team. Consistency is the key to both process and output and not having to worry about the strategic or creative execution from your agency partner can free up vital headspace as a busy marketer.  

TIP: Your agency retainer should include regular strategic reviews so that long-term strategic planning and short to medium-term adjustments in your approach are embedded in what needs to be a sustainable, successful partnership. 

Being proactive when you’re default state is reactive 


We talk about being unstoppable, but have you taken a moment recently to think about what’s actually stopping your progress right now?

We’re all facing challenges. Whether it’s adapting according to the pace of change in our market, keeping up to date with changing consumer preferences or proactively addressing internal challenges to ensure our teams are fully  engaging and optimised. Your agency relationship should be a vital support for you here. 

Proactive problem solving, keeping a keen eye on market trends,  providing overflow support to your team when resources are stretched and being able to look beyond the brief to support your wider business strategy. This knowledge and skills are invaluable to teams who are stuck in their everyday routine and struggling to find the time to think proactively. 

Sasha explains: “As an Account Director, I act very much as a sounding board for clients – taking the time to understand their challenges, help them to find solutions, generate ideas, talk through plans for the future, and ultimately make sure our clients feel loved! Naturally working long-term with a client you care about their success – personally, and in a business sense – so retainers ensure that we are doing everything we can to fulfil their business needs and propel them forward”.

In December 2023 we spent three days with Catapult Print in Orlando, Florida, to help them define their roadmap for the next three years. To make the most of the time we had together, we curated a three day workshop, and the results were tremendous. 

Carl Brock, Technical Director, said: “I’ve sat in many workshops over the years and my experience has been that they can stagnate very quickly, and lose the audience. However I can honestly say the approach and content was far away the best. You managed to get, and more importantly hold my attention for 3 days, which as people will tell you who know me isn’t easy. In seriousness, I think some of the tools / methods you demonstrated will greatly benefit us as a team going forward”. 

Demonstrable impact


There’s no arguing that retainers are results oriented. When you make the decision to invest in your brand, you need to demonstrate financial efficiency and a positive impact on ROI. 

At the outset of a retainer, measurable outcomes are defined to ensure that you stay on the path to long-term success. Results driven strategies lie at the heart of retained work, and are regularly reviewed and reforecasted according to changes within your business. 

Your Client Services team are your allies here. Keeping a keen eye on your monthly results, quarterly impact and tracking against your long term goals. Sasha addresses the main challenges in getting retainers off the ground, which is usually based on value: 

“The main hurdle is always demonstrating the benefit before you’ve actually started. However sometimes it’s only when you get the ball rolling that you can truly understand the benefit. The value that retainers can add to a business is enormous. Imagine having an entire agency without the cost and responsibility of hiring all those people yourself… We really do act as an extension of the client’s team and feel very much ingrained and engaged in our client’s business.”. 

Pros and Cons of an agency retainer


Let’s keep this simple – the good bits: 

  • A stable and consistent workflow and dedicated resource, allowing you to plan and execute strategies over a longer period
  • Trust in a shared understanding of your business, industry, and objectives so that strategies can be tailored effectively
  • A proactive approach to problem-solving, addressing issues as they arise and continuously optimising campaigns for better performance
  • Open and continuous communication, leading to better collaboration and a stronger partnership
  • A focus on delivering measurable results over time rather than short term wins that aren’t sustainable 

And the things you might want to consider: 

  • Long-term retainers involve a financial commitment that you are tied into for a set period of time.
  • A risk of inertia if the relationship is not nurtured – you need fresh perspectives and innovative ideas, always.


Are you getting the most value from your agency partnership?


If you answer ‘no’ or ‘not sure’ to any of these statements, you might want to rethink your current relationship. 

  • Are you being challenged on your brief, every time?
  • Do you feel like you are in a true partnership, not just delivering project after project? 
  • Is your agency fair and honest, no matter what?
  • Do you feel like your agency curate the right team and level of experience to match your work, not the same team every time? 
  • Do you feel like your agency sees you as people first? 


Interested in a brand and marketing retainer with us? Talk to Neil on 0161 410 9955 or