Retainer and hours
However, if you are on a retainer, you become a dumping ground for agency personnel. Why? The dreaded time sheet. Each week or two -- or in the case of some creatives, months -- each and every person in the agency has to account for their time, what projects they have spent it on, and on which client accounts. But no one, and I mean no one, at agencies is accurate with these "guesstimates." Unless you are working in an environment where you punch out and punch in on every project, our brains are just not geared for accurately figuring out how much time we spent on something two weeks ago.
What happens is that people at the agency fill out the first round of their time sheet and realize that it only accounts for half of their hours. If everyone at the agency was honest and just stopped right there then clients would not be getting ripped off, but that doesn't happen. When you work at an agency, every hour you work must be "billable." The retainer-based account becomes a dumping ground for things like: "Thinking about creative for brand," "Spoke to client about media strategy," "Worked on new way to do graphics for brand," "Thought about new commercial/banner/website idea."
Rarely do they say: "Went out drinking with a bunch of co-workers at lunch for three hours and did absolutely nothing but blow off some steam because we are all stressed from the hours we are putting in and our brains are fried and we needed it so the time we do spend on the account is useful." Nope, you end up with five people billing three hours for a "creative meeting."
Then the agency comes back at the end of the quarter with a request to increase your retainer due to the number of hours being worked on your account. It is a never-ending cycle: The more you increase the retainer, the more hours get dumped there.
Ignore the repeated requests for increases in the retainer based on the hours an agency is showing you until they prove that more than 35 percent of the extra hours have been spent over the retainer. That's about the amount of waste I estimate is inherent in most agency systems. At that point, you are getting value. Instead, you could establish a procedure where work gets accounted for daily by those employees, what projects they are working on, how they are moving your brand forward, etc. Work not billed to that day cannot be accounted for later. I cannot stress this enough. This is one of the only ways to ensure your account is not a dumping ground. It also provides a reality check within the agency of how much time is actually spent on client work, and it will keep your retainer in check. Unfortunately, there is no way for you to actually check on that without access to the agency's time reporting system directly. And that, my friend, is not something you are likely to ever get access to.
That brings me to the next way agencies are ripping you off.