It’s not that often that I disagree with two heavyweights in my field but tonight I find myself shaking my head after reading Mike Manuel and Steve Rubel.

Project vs. Retainer

Mike says he’s a project pusher and loves the flexibility projects bring to his workflow. As someone whose worked on both project and retainer bases (is that right?), I can say that I far prefer the latter.

It’s true that, done right, projects are a great way to work but I prefer the deeper client engagement that a retained client brings. My favourite ever account to work on, SAS UK, was a retained client with GolinHarris back in the UK. There was an established team with an extremely deep knowledge of the client, its business and its industry.

When I left, GH had had the account for more than seven years. As a result of knowing the client inside and out, we were lean, mean PR machine that generated some amazing coverage.

I realise that the closeness we all felt to the SAS account may have meant we lost a bit of perspective but I believe it was worth it.

I’m sure Mike would argue that PRs are rather like firemen. We both have the transferable skills to be parachuted into any situation and do a great job – it’s just that I, personally get more satisfaction from doing a *ahem* deeper dive into my clients’ business and industries.

As I don’t have much financial oversight over my clients, I can’t give an opinion of the savings generated by a retainer as opposed to say, having to submit a formal and possibly competitive proposal and presentation for every project…

Virtual Worlds. If not now, when?

Steve on the other hand is pushing virtual worlds. Seems as if he’s moved away from Second Life in particular and is now on virtual world’s in general.

I’ve always been a supporter of the potential of virtual worlds, especially given the, to quote Steve, “human need to fantasize and socialize”. However, I’ve also been a proponent of the potential of RSS – a much more basic technology that is struggling to reach the mainstream despite being bundled iin both Internet Explorer 7 and Outlook 2007 from software giant Microsoft.

If something as genuinely useful as RSS is getting the cold shoulder, what chance a virtual world that demands huge amounts of time and computing power and that will invariably be taken over by gambling and porn very early on?

*UPDATE* Just found this article from 2003 on The Sims and how child pornography and virtual child abuse proliferated this precursor to Second Life. Unfortunately it seems that before the potential can be realised, the pornographers, paedophiles and gamblers move in time after time.

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5 Responses to Antidisestablishment-contrarian

  1. I’ve worked with projects and on a retained basis with clients (within a consultancy and as a self-employed consultant). For me there are pros and cons to both.

    As you say, it is possible to develop more strategic insight and reflect the client better if you have a long-term relationship. Practically being “embedded” can lead to either party taking the account for granted – and I think that a blanket retainer fee can lead to such complacency.

    Pitching continously for projects is not good use of agency (or client) resources – although it can be a helpful approach to keep a long-term account fresh by presenting ideas on a ad-hoc basis to respond to particular issues or opportunities.

    As a freelancer, I enjoy projects more. It is a chance to get involved in a client’s business in depth over a short period of time. A relationship can be long term when you are able to deliver benefit for specific projects, but there is not the need for being on hand for minor jobs.

    I tend to think if you want variety then consultancy and projects will suit you best. If you are after more security and routine engagement with a client, then being in-house would be better than agency retainer.

    Some analogies with wives, mistresses and one night stands comes to mind, but I’ll leave you to think that through.

  2. Scott says:

    Good point on the RSS.

    I’m surprised it hasn’t caught on faster. It’s easy to use and so practical…whether you have a list of a couple hundred blogs or you prefer to read just a few news sites….

    Not sure what is holding people back….the RSS feature in IE7 has made it about as easy as it’s going to get….hmmm…

  3. Ed Lee says:

    Heather – hopefully the work we both find mutually satisfying will find us!

    Scott – the RSS feature in Outlook 2007 is really bad and it seems that the people who would have the curiousity to find out what the orange button in IE7 does would be the people to have downloaded it in the first place. I’m not sure when corporations are going to be forced to implement Vista or Office 2007 but I’d *hope* to see an uptake in RSS subscribers then…


  4. Alicia says:

    I am sure I am coming into this debate well after it started but I thought I would put my two pence in anyway.

    I work across various retainer and project clients (many of these are repeat clients who have come back on board for various campaigns) and I have to say its really tough call to say which is better retainer or project based work.

    I agree that on a retainer you can get complacent and you feel that the campaign (and capital) will continue long into the future. But that said and done – on a retainer, if you do get complacent and have a slack month – you have the opportunity to redeem yourself by working that little bit harder the following month.

    The one problem we often come across with project based clients is overservicing. You have a lot to prove in a short time span, so you work extra hours on that particular client (and sometimes at the sacrifice of your retainer clients) in order to prove you’re the best team.
    /agency/freelancer and keep them coming back for more projects, which you inevitably over service (by the way I must say the majority of my project clients are events PR – which is in itself notorious for overservicing)…

    Its a tough call, I like the security of a retainer client but I like the excitement of a project.

  5. Ed Lee says:

    Alicia – great comment, please keep such thoughtful contributions coming!

    If you like the security of retained work but the excitement of projects, why not start with a small base retainer and overlay a number of projects throughout the year? It’s not quite starting afresh on a new client, but it can inject that sense of urgency that can slip away from retainer based accounts…


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