I’ve been working with SmartBug™ for around six months. When I started, we were deep into the points-based retainer model and I hadn’t experienced another way of agency life since I had been a part of an in-house marketing shop. So I was curious: How do points-based marketing retainers work and what are their advantages?

What Is a Points-Based Marketing Retainer?

First of all, it’s important to lay the groundwork of what we’re talking about when we say “points-based marketing retainer.” This retainer uses points, rather than time alone, as a measure of value. Every agency configures its points differently, but for the most part, points are calculations of time, effort, and value. The idea is that instead of constantly returning to the drawing board to scope time and cost for a project, strategists have a catalog of commonly performed marketing services and can pull from this catalog to create a marketing plan for clients faster and more easily.

This doesn’t mean that every marketing service under the sun is already calculated into points. Unique situations call for scoping out points—I’d hate to see how long a points catalog for every marketing service ever would be.

In a points-based marketing retainer, instead of a specifically scoped plan of action, a client buys a certain number of points each month. The marketing teams then can create a plan by pulling services from the catalog that meet this number of points in order to align with the client’s goals, while still being flexible.

A More Flexible Way to Work

So what’s the point of this—to simply eliminate time tracking and estimation? Not exactly. Many other marketing retainers attempt to eliminate scoping where possible by creating a set plan and sticking to it. Although this works in some situations, further down the road when the plan needs to change, it can be a massive undertaking involving new scopes of work and new signed agreements with clients. The new plan may even require clients to pay more for services rendered.

When I asked my marketing strategist, Shannon Delmarle, about it, she had this to say: “Goals change throughout the year, so when you have fixed deliverables in a contract, it can cause a misalignment with goals. When you need to change it up, you always have to come back to the drawing board to agree on a new strategy. With a points-based marketing retainer, you don’t have to hold yourselves to deliverables created in the initial planning, and you are able to be fluid.

But it’s important to note that this doesn’t mean you can use a points-based marketing retainer for last-minute, ‘see what sticks’ tactics. It’s like a recipe—you know what you need to make it, but when you get to the store, you realize this thing that’s not on the list will make it better. With a points-based marketing retainer, you can add that ingredient with ease.”


A marketing agency is comprised of many clients and internal teams. What’s the best way an agency can effectively plan while still being flexible? The key is giving yourself enough time to plan. At SmartBug, we plan 90 days in advance in order to allow our clients and internal teams to know what to expect. This gives enough lead time for us to complete the work and for the clients to know when they should expect it to be complete.

In this way, too, the points-based marketing retainer prompts us to always be planning ahead, which leads to greater organization and more sound marketing strategy. When you know you have a site migration coming in hot, you can effectively plan around it to make certain that you still have some marketing activity working around it.

Flexible When You Need It, Rigid When You Don’t

When I asked my team lead, Juli Durante, about points-based marketing retainers, she made a really good point about this style of retainer: “The digital world moves quickly. There are a lot of new opportunities you can take advantage of and changes can come out of nowhere.

If you’re looking at digital marketing as a set of fixed deliverables, you may not be as well equipped to dodge, weave, and pivot to reflect the changes of the marketing world and your goals. The points-based marketing retainer is ideal because it allows you to create a marketing plan based on need. If a client needs a robust email strategy, we can create a plan that allows them to be successful. If their goals change or we need to see different results, we can alter the plan when we need to.”

The last part of what Juli said was really an “aha” moment for me. Say you want to focus on nothing but blogging for the first three months working with an agency to build your organic search strategy. The points-based marketing retainer allows your agency to build this into your plan. But what if, on month four, your agency partner comes up with a cool idea to create an infographic or other premium content to convert more traffic into leads?

With the points-based marketing retainer, it’s possible to say, “Okay, great! We can swap a few blog posts in [Insert Month] to create this.” This type of retainer gives you the flexibility to be rigid until you don’t need to be rigid anymore, to align your marketing activities with your goals, without going through the hassle of new contracts and changing work documents.

Creating a Marketing Strategy to Best Fit Your Needs

At the end of the day, your goals for growth should drive what marketing activities you and your agency work on. Many times that goes beyond a cookie-cutter plan. Your agency partner should be working with you to create a customized plan with marketing activities that will best move the needle for your business. You don’t have to settle for a “one size fits all” marketing plan.

Through the points-based marketing retainer, you can test what marketing activities make the largest impact on your bottom line, and what resonates best with your target audience.