Who do you include in the retainer?
Your day-to-day account person is the most important person on your account. That person's time should not be split between any other accounts, if you can afford it. You should have them lock, stock, and barrel because they are the person at the agency who has to marshal forces on your account. He or she is the person who fights for internal resources.
The next most important is a creative duo. My favorite people to include in the retainer are a strategist and production duo. Huh? Not an art director and copywriter combo? Nope. Here's why. I find that the traditional copywriter-art director combo is from a bygone era. They have pigeon-holed their skills, are inefficient, and are best used on a limited basis for a slew of creative ideation, but not on a retainer basis. They tend to not produce the amount of useful work that a strategist and production artist duo can. Have them on your account one week a month, at most. That's enough time to generate the ideas and creative direction necessary. But have the strategist duo on the account day-to-day, which means ideas are always flowing, as well as different ways of approaching problems.
Combined with a production artist, the strategist can crank out ideas quickly and mock them up so you can see their potential without every piece of production having a job associated with it. This vastly increases the amount and quality of the work associated with the account being produced as ideas are already in the production process.
By including a production person in your retainer, you can rapidly produce concept work, adapt to the market more quickly, produce more ideas, and see how they flesh out. Keep them cranking as much as possible and give them free reign to do so.
This dynamic trio, account, strategist, production, should always be included in your retainer. Save the creative director and copywriter for ad-hoc project work and specific ideation. Also, as much as the agency will try and include senior management on the account, avoid it. They aren't worth it and are split with too many responsibilities. Unless they are going to be key to ideation on the account and will direct the team on a daily basis, ignore who they are. If they do not produce, keep them out of the retainer.
This frees you from one of the biggest ways agencies are ripping you off: the idea, pitch, and approval process. The traditional approach of a creative team going off, thinking of ideas, doing mock-ups, and then coming in to pitch is just an antiquated way of doing business -- not quick enough to adapt, and too expensive. Sure, if you have money to burn, keep operating that way, and while your competitors realize there are much more efficient, relative, and productive ways of doing business, they will out-think and out-perform you.
Determining the size of your retainer, and more efficiently organizing your agency team to be productive, will help you save a considerable amount of money, while enabling your account to produce more high quality, efficient work at a fraction of the cost. And in the end, your agency will be happier and will thank you because it's producing more work and not constantly running into the road blocks of the previous process.
Or you could just continue to let your agency rip you off.
Sean X Cummings is founder and difference maker at SXC Marketing.
On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.