Hiring a marketing or communication agency can be intimidating to some people as they don’t know what to expect in terms of the relationship, monetary commitment and how agency services work. However, there are several different kinds of ways to partner with an agency including monthly services, one-time projects, retainers and payment-by-results.

Monthly Services

Usually, public relations and marketing services fall under monthly services. These can be services like social media management, content development, AdWords management, email marketing and other frequently reoccurring communication tactics. These types of services require almost daily attention and are typically comprised of planning, implementation and analytic review cycles.

In terms of the payment of monthly services from agencies, the monetary commitment by the client can vary depending on how many services are being performed by the agency. While working with an agency in this way, the agency will determine the monthly cost by the number of hours that it is estimated to take to complete those services each month. Even if the agency goes over those hours or under, typically the client is still billed for the contract-approved amount. It is important for both the agency and the client to agree on the monthly cost before the work begins so that each side can budget accordingly and set appropriate expectations.

One-Time Projects

Agencies also offer one-time projects as an option for clients. One-time projects can include those like branding projects, website design and development, marketing and public relations audits and strategy services. These projects usually include a timeline with a semi-firm start and end date with the total cost calculated by the amount of hours and people that will be included in the project. The cost is based off of the agency’s hourly rate which can vary depending on the agency’s location, service, what staff will be working on it, and experience level. Securing the work of an agency for a one-time project is a great way to decide whether working with an agency is right for your business, and whether or not you picked the right agency. It’s a good test-run and you can always continue the relationship after the project is completed.


A lot of agencies use retainers. Similar to other professional services, a retainer does just that—it retains the agency for when you need them. Typically, an upfront determined amount is requested by the agency to be retained for a certain time period. From that retainer, hours are deducted based on the work sent during that agreed on time period. However, should a retainer not be used in full by the end of the designated time period, the agency is still entitled to keep the remainder of the money. Just like one-time projects, the hourly rates used with retainers depend on agency’s location, service, what staff will be working on it, and experience level. Retainers work well for clients who may have a lot of last-minute, unexpected issues arise (i.e. crisis communication/emergency communication) because the agency is “on-call” for your business whenever help is needed.

Payment by Result

Agencies can also choose to bill their clients based on results rather than a monthly cost. A few services that use a payment-by-results billing method can include press coverage, AdWords management and influencer marketing. For instance, instead of paying a monthly price for press coverage and having press hits ranging per month, paying-by-results allows you to pay a predetermined amount per press hit; so, you only pay for when you have coverage. This is a similar concept to some influencer marketing approaches. For digital advertising services, payment-by-result is usually based off of a predetermined amount multiplied by some metric of the ad (usually total clicks). This can work well for smaller businesses with more limited budgets. It’s also a strong choice when organizations strictly want help with public relations or earned media. (Not sure the difference or what you might need? Check out this post)


Probably the most popular of all of these is some form of combination payment method. This means you could have two or three of the above in the approved billing agreement. For instance, take search engine optimization (SEO), some SEO services will include an audit in the beginning (one-time project) and SEO tracking and performance measurement each month (monthly service). Similarly, strategies are one-time projects that often have the firm implementing the strategy which could include one-time projects, payment-by-result and monthly services. Firms can even work on a monthly service with a separate retainer for any other services that may come up throughout the year, like a crisis or handling a large special event.

Working with an agency can be a way to reach your business goals quickly, efficiently and by using third-party experts to mitigate employment costs. Once you’ve hired an agency to help your business, understanding how billing works for your hired agency will help keep communication, goals and expectations in alignment.