Project-Based Vs. Retainer: How To Choose The Right Digital Agency Model

Project-Based Vs. Retainer: How To Choose The Right Digital Agency Model

Companies that are looking to improve the planning and execution of their marketing campaigns may decide to partner with digital marketing agencies.

An agency offers access to skill sets, resources, and tools that the average business may not have. Typically, an agency will offer their clients two different pricing models: retainers or projects. 

If you’re thinking about hiring digital agencies in Preston and wondering which pricing model is best for your business, this article outlines the differences, applications, advantages, and disadvantages of the two models.

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A per-project pricing model involves an agreement between the agency and the client on the number of hours or costs to complete one particular project instead of designing and deploying an entire marketing strategy.

If, for instance, you decide that you need the agency to work on other tasks outside the scope of the project, you’ll be charged separately for those tasks.

Pros of Projects

Here are some of the benefits of choosing a project-based pricing model:

  • One-Time Payment: You don’t need to keep up with ongoing payments to the agency.
  • Centralized Review: This model allows you to conduct centralized reviews since most contracts allocate enough time for project revisions and changes.

Cons of Projects

Below are some of the drawbacks of working on a per-project estimate:

  • Time-Consuming: Project estimates and contract negotiations can take anywhere between 1-3 days to set up, which means that if you have a time-sensitive project, this model may not be the best option.
  • Doesn’t Allow for Long-Term Solutions: This model focuses solely on the tasks you have now and doesn’t allow you to consider big-picture scenarios for your business.
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A retainer is a pricing model where the agency and the client agree on a specific rate within a set period of time.

The digital marketing agency agrees to complete the scope of work within the specified allotment of hours indicated on the contract. Essentially, you’re paying the agency a set of monthly or quarterly rates to reserve their time.

Pros Of Retainers

Here are some of the top reasons to choose the retainer model:

  • Consistent Billing: You don’t have to worry about expensive surprises each month. Furthermore, because you’ll need to pay upfront before the work starts, you can accurately predict and allocate your annual marketing budget.
  • Saves Time: The agency doesn’t have to wait for additional estimates or paperwork before starting new tasks or projects.

Cons Of Retainers

Below are some of the disadvantages of using retainers:

  • Hours Are Not Unlimited: This means that you’ll need to prioritize the tasks that are most urgent or important. If some tasks go over the budgeted hours, you may have to leave some projects behind or account for additional payments.
  • Not Enough Work: If you don’t need to do marketing year-round, you may experience quiet spells where you won’t have enough work for the agency. When retainer time isn’t being used up properly, you’re wasting money.
  • Tracking Can Be Difficult: One of the biggest concerns about outsourcing a campaign or even your entire marketing team is that it’s difficult to manage and track hours for the people you’re paying. However, good agencies are transparent about their hours and can provide you with a detailed breakdown of their work each retainer period.
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Projects Vs. Retainers

The table below lists criteria and situations where each pricing model is most applicable:

Your in-house team can handle most of your marketing tasks, and you only require additional support during certain seasons or when you’re launching a new product.You can afford the retainer and have enough budget set aside every month or quarter for it.
You’re in the trial-and-error phase and are still figuring out which channels, platforms, or strategies work best for your target audience.You clearly understand your company’s long-term goals and are sticking to a consistent marketing plan.
You want to test-drive the agency.You need a long-term marketing partner to help grow your business.
You need the help of an agency for specific, defined tasks.You need the help of an agency for a wide range of deliverables and services


Marketing campaigns don’t fit in predetermined boxes. Sometimes, you may need to hire an agency on a project-based model for reactionary solutions to marketing pain points, problems, and challenges.

In other cases, you may need a long-term partner for an ongoing strategy or campaign.

No matter which pricing model you choose, make sure to take the time to assess your company’s needs and find the right agency to work within that model.

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