Project or Retainer: What’s the Right Relationship?

Now that summer’s finally here, the veggies are appearing on the vines, the grass is getting high and the weeds are going to town (ahem, but not in my yard, of course).

Figuring out how to tame your yard isn’t much different from wrangling a busy communications operation. Some you have to do yourself. Some calls for outside expertise to just get the job done. And some needs ongoing attention that takes more time than you have.

Often the biggest challenges in communication management is figuring out the most efficient, cost-effective way to outsource the stuff your own team doesn’t have the right skills—or time—to tackle.

Whether your hiring a landscaper or a creative firm, the secret to success is knowing what type of engagement will be the best fit: a project or a retainer relationship.


Working by the project is best when you have a single goal with a clearly defined beginning, middle and end.

Most organizations have engaged outside help on a project-by-project basis at some point, whether for an annual report, an invitation or a brochure.

Project relationships work great when your need for outside help is only occasional. However, because projects are budgeted in advance for a fixed scope of work, dealing with anything extra isn’t included.

And that can be a problem, because things always come up.


Retainer relationships offer an efficient way to get ongoing support. It’s about knowing you have someone who knows you and will take care of your work.

Working with a firm on retainer gives you a deep bench of experts to draw on when you need it. They are primed with knowledge of your style, quirks, and systems and ready to take action.

Retainer relationships are the best fit when:

  1. You’ve got volume.

If you have a large volume of communications projects each year, they can be outlined and planned together rather than go out for proposal after proposal. You may not think of five or six projects as a retainer, but they can be combined and the costs spread throughout the year.

  1. The work’s pretty regular.

You wouldn’t want to have to call and contract with your lawn mowing service every week. The same goes for regular, predictable communications work that calls for outside help. A retainer is your most efficient option for handling things like weekly emails or social media management that you plan to outsource.

  1. You have a mix of of small and larger projects.

Projects like flyers, simple postcards and one-off emails are much more expensive if you have to pay for them on an individual basis. Administrative time accounts for a disproportionate share of the cost on small projects. If your small projects are frequent enough, you can make your budget work harder by bundling them together under a retainer.

  1. Addressing the unpredictable.

Even with a plan, things change. New opportunities come up. Someone woke up with a great idea. It’s hard to take action quickly when you have to find help, price a project, get a signature and send in a deposit. Retainers include access to a team who can help you capitalize on the unexpected.

  1. Access to advice.

With a retainer relationship you have a partner and a sounding board. It’s not just about executing your tasks, but helping you think past today to make the most of your year.


Need help evaluating the type of engagement that best suits the work you’re interested in outsourcing? Give us a call at 267-468-7949 or drop us a line at!