'Makes race to the bottom worse' – PR pros oppose ending retainers

Comms professionals have given a cool response to a suggestion that retained PR contracts between agencies and clients should be scrapped.

(Image via Getty Images)
(Image via Getty Images)

Writing for PRWeek last week, Mary Glazkova, PR partner at The Untitled, called for a rethink of the retainer model where the agency "gets paid for time regardless of results". She suggested alternative ideas, such as linking payment to KPIs and mid-way reviews.

A snap Twitter poll by PRWeek found almost nine out of 10 respondents opposed ending retainers:

Stephen Kenwright, chief commercial officer and co-founder of the agency Rise at Seven, said retainers are "essential" for his business.

"Lots of our work is in fast fashion or financial services, where we need to be reactive. This means we need to monitor the news constantly and we need resource available to be able to capitalise on opportunities that we find. Agencies that do this kind of thing on a project basis are much less able to forecast results, because there's less certainty on what might be in a news cycle over three months than there will be over 12 months with a full 'season' (and a measurable benchmark year on year).

"We have clarity over what we usually do over the course of a retained relationship, which means that we have people available in our creative studio; copywriters; researchers and analysts; web developers etc available to put out something that looks extremely good, sometimes over the course of a single day. Project-based agencies are forced to rely on freelancers who might have other commitments, and they need a real commitment from a client before they start spending their own money pulling it together."

He added: "PR has a huge impact on other channels like search, where traffic is generated over a period of time rather than overnight. We can reliably forecast a sales increase over the course of 12 months by tying our PR activity to search, so we can say with relative certainty to a client that signs up for a year that they will pay £X and they will get £Y back."

Others expressed their views on social media:

According to research for PRWeek's UK Top 150 Consultancies project, most UK PR agencies increased the proportion of their revenue derived from retained accounts in 2020, with many saying project work was harder to come by amid the downturn.

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