3 Benefits of Signing Up for a Design Retainer

By August 27, 2020 Project Management

Design retainer illustration with scheduling, calendars, and graphic designers

When it comes to the marketing or internal comms content you produce, you know that quality matters. That’s why you’ve decided to hire a graphic designer or design agency to ensure your content is both engaging and goal-oriented. But not all agencies are created equal, and their processes can vary broadly, even within a single organization. And ensuring those processes align with your needs can be difficult, especially when you have an ongoing list of needs, and want to produce a variety of content over a longer period of time. This is where a design retainer can make all the difference. 

How do you know whether a retainer is the best way to structure your relationship with a design agency? Let’s take a look at what a retainer is, and how to identify when it’s the right fit. 

What Is a Design Retainer?

A retainer is an agreement between a client and an agency to retain a predetermined amount of design hours each month for an extended duration of time. This is structured differently than project-based engagements, in which time is purchased or reserved for a specific project or scope of work. 

3 Benefits of a Design Retainer

There are 3 major advantages to agreeing to a design retainer with your agency partner. Let’s take a look. 

1. Flexibility

Sometimes you just need to produce one asset: an explainer motion graphic, perhaps, or an interactive landing page. But more and more, marketers and internal comms professionals are having to think in terms of campaigns. With their brands seeking to build a presence on more channels than ever before, they want to maintain a certain level of consistency across the assets they produce while also adapting those assets as necessary for each platform. 

This is no easy task. After all, when you’re planning for this type of campaign, it can be difficult to know at the outset every single thing you’ll need and when you’ll need it. And that’s where a design retainer can help. 

When a company’s design needs span multiple assets or projects over an elongated period of time, and when those needs  aren’t easily captured in a detailed scope of work, a retainer is often the best fit. A retainer, in this case, will be a blanket agreement which allows a designer’s time to be applied more easily at the client’s discretion. You’ll no longer have to wait in the agency’s design queue every time you need a new asset — the time you’ve secured via a retainer will be there for you, ready and waiting. 

2. Consistency

A design retainer also allows you to get to know the team you’re working with — and allows them to get to know you. And when that team is fully empowered to learn about your company over a longer period of time, they’ll come to understand your goals, your brand, and your audience on a deeper level. As a result, they’re better able to recommend and deliver custom solutions for you. 

And because you often need to develop full visual campaigns with consistent messaging and design style throughout, nothing will be forgotten or lost in translation just because you’re developing that content over a longer period of time. Since you’re working with the same design team for the length of your project, they’ll be able to assure a consistent look and feel from start to finish.

3. Value

At first, a design retainer might sound like an intimidating option. Will you get your money’s worth, or will you end up paying for hours you didn’t use? This is a common question when hiring a graphic designer or signing a retainer agreement with an agency.

But in fact, signing a retainer might actually save you money. That’s because, when you’re signing up for a larger volume of design time with an agency, that usually comes with significant discounts on their hourly rate. The agency sees this as a worthwhile trade-off for the consistent volume of work. 

So if a retainer is starting to sound like a good fit for your organization, you may actually find it’s the most cost-effective option of all. 

Should You Agree to a Design Retainer?

Knowing all of this, you can start to see how and when a design retainer makes a good fit for certain projects. So how can you make the final decision as to whether it’s right for your company? 

If you routinely seek outside design services across numerous different scopes or projects, this is one big sign that a design retainer can help save you time and money. 

A retainer might also be a good fit If you are understaffed internally. Even if you are seeking to hire a graphic designer eventually, you might still need a designer in the short term who can work closely and collaboratively with your marketing or communications team. A retained designer or design team can take on this role, acting just like an in-house designer until you’re ready and able to fill that slot on your team. 

So before kicking off your next project, step back and assess: does the scope of the project, the time it takes to execute, and the variety of design needs call for a retainer? If so, talk to your design agency partner about which option will deliver the most bang for your buck. 

Erin McCoy

Author Erin McCoy

Erin McCoy is director of content marketing and public relations at Killer Visual Strategies. She earned her BA in Spanish with minors in French and Russian, and holds 2 master’s degrees from the University of Washington: an MFA in creative writing and an MA in Hispanic literature. She has won nearly 2 dozen awards in photojournalism, and has dedicated those skills to boosting Killer’s brand recognition and thought leadership in visual communication. Since Erin took on her marketing/PR role, Killer has been named a member of the Inc. 5000 for 4 years in a row; has been featured in such publications as Inc., Forbes, Mashable, and the Huffington Post; and has been invited to present at such conferences as SXSW and SMX Advanced.

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