Valuable Lessons in Monthly Retainers for Solo Pros

May 1, 2019


One of the great resources for PRSA members is the MyPRSA web portal. No matter what your area of interest is, there is a good chance you’ll find a discussion on the board that will inspire improvements in your work and possibly your life.

Recently, Courtney Malengo, APR, founder of Spark + Buzz Communications in Gaithersburg, Md., announced in the MyPRSA Open Forum that she had launched her own consultancy, and that she wanted to know how to set and manage monthly retainer fees.

Rather than try and answer that question myself, I thought it might be worth sharing the excellent advice she received from other PRSA members:

  • Bridget Paverd, partner with GillespieHall: “We have a successful retainer model that has worked well for all: Agree on a monthly retainer for the core deliverables as you the client understand them, calculate project scope (time and resources), and if the scope extends beyond these deliverables by more than 15-20 percent, discuss presenting an expanded scope of work document to your client.”
  • Sean Williams, vice president and practice lead, education and internal communications, True Digital Communications: “Think less of time and more of projects. The more you ‘product-ize’ your services, the better you’ll be able to serve clients, and the more money you’ll make. Indeed, you still must have a clear idea of how long it will take you to do stuff, but you don’t necessarily have to charge like that. Instead, you can set fees based on activity. You are bringing more than your time — you’re also bringing your years of experience and whatever ‘special sauce’ you have.”
  • Jon Goldberg, chief reputation architect, Reputation Architects Inc.: “Ultimately, you want to get as far as you can from time as a measure of what you do and bill instead for the insight you bring to clients based on your years of experience. Clients aren’t hiring you because they need x hours of public relations. They’re hiring you because you know things they don’t.”
  • Gayle Falkenthal, APR, Fellow PRSA, president of the Falcon Valley Group: “Understanding all of the variables you must consider in creating brand strategy, plus your creativity skills, goes far beyond watching the clock tick away. I’ve helped business owners start a whole new line of service with a single bit of insight into the marketplace they never considered, and then supported it with my communication skills. Your contribution to something along these lines would be worth far more than a few hundred bucks an hour.”

The common thread in these comments is that it’s important to change your mindset when it comes to monthly retainers. Get away from thinking in terms of hours, and more in terms of value and your own capabilities.

Also: If you’re an independent and haven’t checked out the MyPRSA Open Forum, and particularly the section forum for the Independent Practitioner’s Alliance, you’d be well advised to do so. It can make your day and maybe even your year.

Tim O'Brien, APR

Tim O’Brien, APR, owns O’Brien Communications, an independent corporate communications practice in Pittsburgh, and hosts the “Shaping Opinion” podcast. Email: timobrien@timobrienpr.com. Twitter: @OBrienPR.


Ebony Vaz says:

Great insights by all! Good call on crowd-sourcing the responses, Tim!

May 9, 2019

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