Content marketing is where companies – B2B and B2C alike – are now stacking their efforts and budgets. Hey, why not? Content marketing simply works, when done right.1
And as a content resource and strategist, it’s where I’ve found the most challenging, interesting and, dare I say, authentic work of my career – and that’s from a guy who’s served on everything from Coca-Cola to Microsoft, from web to experiential to shopper marketing.
For marketers, does it really make sense to put a content resource on actual retainer, versus per-project work?
Sure it does. And that’s not me being entirely self-serving, either. Let’s count off the reasons:
Ensuring Content ROI:
There’s a lot of commitment, planning and elbow grease involved in an effective, lead-generating content marketing program, and it usually takes 3-6 months before ROI starts rolling in. So a marketer needs capable content resources to do the work, providers and authors who are savvy about their offerings, their category, and who can supply a thread of creative, branding or strategic continuity from Day One. Putting them on retainer helps them systematically fulfill a content publication schedule that’s optimized for best results.
Partnership and immersion:
When a content provider is on retainer, he or she is more invested in the details and goals of your business; that continuity and in-depth involvement makes them smarter about the work, and results in better content, versus having them (or multiple vendors) dropping in and out on a per-project basis. Hiring a good content provider isn’t about simply bringing on a writer capable of stringing sentences together: the best of us are seasoned pros with a huge reservoir of insight and marketing savvy to apply to the work, and a real desire to engage more deeply with your business and its needs.
When a consultant or vendor can take their eye off the clock and not fret about hours, they’ll usually overdeliver, in terms of actual hours, against a retainer. They’re happy to do it, because they’re appreciative of the trust and regular collaboration involved – and the predictable income. These are godsends for content pros that really care about the quality of their work and the results they’re delivering to a client. So you, as that client, get more content bang for your buck than you would by paying them on a per-project basis.
Beyond the greater value a consultant, vendor or agency can deliver, it's often cheaper to go retainer than make an in-house hire: Take a look at the table below: It doesn't make sense for small-to-medium marketers to hire an in-house staff. Beyond salary and benefits involved, there's the time and money spent in recruitment. A report from Bersin by Deloitte found it costs an average of $4,000 to fill one of these jobs. And that's before you have to install the barista and ergonomic foot massagers it takes to get the best work out of these people. Believe me, I've been there.2
It’s fair to ask a content provider under retainerto not work on competitor business. They may not mean to let any secrets slip to another client, but why take the chance? If they’re doing great work, lock them up!
From a budgeting standpoint, it’s always good to be able to clearly project how much you're spending, and where. Especially if you know the volume and quality of the content product you’re receiving.
A per-project contractor doesn’t have much impetus to participate in long-range planning or calendar-building, unless they’re getting paid a planning fee. Yet if they’re true pros, they should be able to add considerable value to that planning, and ensure that the content being developed today is evergreen, or sets up the messaging and strategies you’ll be using in the future.
I’ve worked with clients on long-term and month-to-month retainers, depending on their need. Some providers ask for as much as 1 or 2-year contracts, but most are flexible about how it's structured, and often only ask for a reasonable advance notification of termination, usually 30 days. And when it comes to cost, there's a right size that fits anybody nowadays, as you can see from the wide range of retainer pricing in the chart below.
1But that's for a whole different blogpost, I know.
2Both as the boss and as the hire. Not as the barista. Yet.