The PR industry is seeing a rise in competition, leading to clients hesitating to commit longer-term. Ashley Carr, founder and Managing Director of Neo PR which looks at why retainer PR is on the rise.
Research from PR Week showed that a rise in competition and a hesitation to commit longer-term has led to an increased number of organisations seeking PR projects rather than a retainer agreement. But, although the tradition of long PR lunches is long gone and the time when press releases were King in the PR world is a distant memory, retainers are not a thing of the past.
The shift towards PR projects might be more prevalent in some areas, for example in the B2C world where a project might be exactly what’s needed to get a product launch off the ground; but in others, like B2B PR, retainers are certainly on the rise.
Here are three key reasons for organisations to make a commitment and see PR as part of their long-term strategy for growth.
1. Playing the long game
Any new relationship starts with the ‘getting to know you’ phase. Whilst a PR agency can quickly come up to speed on client messaging, goals, products and competitors, the relationship itself can take a bit of time to iron out. How does the client prefer to be contacted, and at what times of day? Is a quick phone call best, or is the client detail-orientated and a big fan of reports? Have they worked with an agency before, or are they new to the world of PR? All of these factors can have a big impact on the start of a new agency-client relationship, which must be built on trust and honesty in order to succeed. However, when a fixed-term project starts and time is of the essence, this phase can be rushed, leaving the foundations rocky and making either side feel unloved.
Additionally, with deliverables or outcomes agreed at the start of the project, it leaves little flexibility for change. Agencies working on a project will usually take a business view and work to rule, completing actions and ticking items off the list, but without consideration of the bigger picture. After all, the agreement was for a fixed set of deliverables, at a fixed price, for a fixed period of time, so the agency can’t be blamed for not future gazing with the client in mind.
That’s not to say that PR projects can’t bring value: they can and they do. If an organisation wants a flavour of what PR is really all about or wants to make sure it’s the right move for their business, it can be worth considering. A skilled PR agency will deliver results regardless of the agreement, but, with no guarantee for what the future holds, not all agencies will put the time and effort in to make the project a success.
2. Putting your best foot (people) forward
The long-term view that comes with a retainer guarantees the PR team will be made up of the best people for the job; the Account Execs, Managers and Directors with the specialisms and expertise to think outside the box and turn a simple concept into a successful, results-driven PR campaign.
Not only does a retainer enable the relationship to flourish, but it also enables the PR team to let their creativity flow. Whilst a project will focus on a single idea with a single goal, a rolling retainer will ensure the team is constantly thinking of the next idea, topic or theme to make the campaign a success. A PR team working on a long-term client will have gained an understanding of the client inside-out, learning exactly what makes the organisation tick and having historical knowledge of what has been the most successful, and potentially not the most successful, for the company in the past. Ideas that an agency has can not only shape the future of a PR campaign, but the future of the entire organisation; getting perspective of where a gap might be in the market or where additional expertise might be needed.
A retained agreement lets a PR team plan for the future, agreeing with confidence to the feature slot in three month’s time, because they know it will still be of interest to their client. When working on a project, however, longer-term opportunities can often be bypassed, without knowing if the client will actually still be a client by that point at all.
3. A two-sided investment
There is no doubt that a PR retainer is more of an investment than a project; not just from a financial perspective but from the commitment involved. In such turbulent economic times, it’s easy to see why there is currently a reluctance to take the plunge. But investing in a retained agreement means that, in turn, the organisation gets an investment from the PR agency: a long-term commitment to help the business grow and succeed. Simply commoditising the agency relationship reduces the impact; but having a long-term view turns it into a personal relationship that has the potential to last and last.
After all, who knows what the future holds. A retained agreement with a PR agency means that you know someone always has your back; whether it’s a rogue employee creating the need for a crisis PR strategy, or a member of the marketing team resigning, leaving a big gap that needs to be filled. Not only can the PR campaign itself support the recruitment efforts by showing what a great place the organisation is to work and how the culture has evolved over the years, but a PR team that is invested in your business won’t hesitate to step into the marketing team’s shoes for a little while to hold the fort.
The return of the retainer
PR projects certainly have their place in the world, but retainer agreements are making a comeback and are here to stay. Making the commitment can be daunting, but now is the time for organisations to take a step forward and make PR a permanent feature of their marketing strategy. Dipping a toe in the water is all well and good, but having a PR agency onside to help you ride out the incoming waves will quickly help the business to succeed.
By Ashley Carr
Founder and Managing Director