AMBITIOUS manage retainers smartly with Synergist

With PR, managing the peaks and troughs of work can be tricky, particularly when you’re operating on a retainer system. Learn how AMBITIOUS agency uses Synergist to navigate this, helping them to avoid over servicing, plan resources and use data effectively to scale and grow profitably.

“Synergist allows you to get the hard data to understand a whole host of different things.”

Lis Anderson, founder and Director of AMBITIOUS

Who are AMBITIOUS? An award-winning PR specialising in corporate and B2B communications. ‘Ambitious… by name and by nature, we go beyond conventional PR strategies to deliver maximum results for our clients.’

Agency type: PR agency

Services: Communications strategy, content, digital PR, media training, PR, social media

Size: 20+ employees

Location: Bristol

Who is Lis Anderson? Lis is founder and Director of AMBITIOUS, with an agency career spanning over 25 years. She leads team development and agency operations alongside working with clients to provide senior counsel.

The problem

Navigating the pitfalls of retainer-based work

With PR, managing the peaks and troughs of work can be tricky, particularly when you’re operating on a retainer system. As AMBITIOUS began taking on more clients and working on more complex projects, existing systems and processes needed to change.

“It was clear more relevant systems needed to be put in place to keep operating effectively and efficiently, and to take the business to the next level.”

“PR in the main does tend to be retainer led, and for us around 70% of our work is retainer-based, and the rest is projects. We needed to get a live handle on how we are managing these retainers and our clients’ budgets.”

“We are constantly trying to manage the inevitable peaks and troughs associated with working on a retainer basis. For example, if we’re working on something that’s an average of 20 days a month for a particular client, we could easily spend almost all of that as a team within the first few days of work.”

“We generally have a schedule of works across a three, six and 12-month period. That’s the Plan A. But inevitably, with PR, things change, and we often have to navigate our way through new challenges for clients, which can eat through the planned schedule. So it’s important for us to have as much live reporting as possible so we can prioritise what we need to do and discuss openly and accurately with clients. For example, if something happens unexpectedly, what would a client want to do? For us to use their existing retainer or to give us an additional budget? We need to be able to project manage budgets and effectively plan our resources.”

"If we haven’t got a grip on our client’s budgets and where we need to allocate our resources, that’s when we can end up over-servicing or even hiring the wrong skillset.”

The solution

Using data to inform decision making

“Synergist now allows us to have really good internal processes. Every client has a schedule of work, and this is reflected in how we structure Synergist, so it’s easy for our teams to upload time and expenses to the job and for us to monitor and report on that.”

“We can understand more about whether we’re overservicing or underservicing our clients, and if so, what’s causing this.”

“If we want to invest in a client relationship, things like onboarding a new team member or adding people to sit in on calls, which we wouldn’t add as billable time, we can add in an ‘Investment line’ to track the time.”

Synergist has helped Lis move away from micromanaging the financials with spreadsheets, to real-time data and strategic-level information to make informed decisions.

“Growing specific clients is easier as we now have the hard data to understand a whole host of things. We can see easily over a period of time, whether that’s months or years, how profitable a client has been to us. Even if they are quite a small client, we can see that although the fees might not be particularly high, they are nevertheless profitable.

“At the click of a button, we can identify where our spend has been with particular suppliers, which helps our Finance Director have more robust conversations around business terms. And with Synergist, we can cut this in a number of ways. So it could be by supplier, by a number of different suppliers, or on certain clients.”

“It also enables us to pull out time reports for certain clients in highly regulated industries. We tend to focus on output and impact rather than time, but it’s good governance for us, particularly with the public sector when they need to see exactly what we’re buying. It gives us a robust and transparent report.”

Example monthly PR retainer screen in Synergist

The return on investment

“Synergist helps us in terms of upselling. It’s easy to just get paid a retainer and then overservice that tenfold. It helps us to be more commercially minded with our retainers and bill for extra work done – not easy to do unless you’re monitoring this.”

“Projects can be more profitable because there’s always a start, middle and end. Sometimes, on a retainer basis you can see time running away and it starts to get out of control.”

“Ultimately, managing time is key as that’s what we’re billing for.”

“We take a deep dive on a quarterly basis into all our data, everything from sales to resourcing to costs, so we can see if anything is presenting as a concern. This custom reporting dashboard was set up by Agency Works as part of our onboarding.”

“Our business plan was to grow and scale, and what Synergist allows us to do is review the data and make informed decisions to support this. For example, we could see that we were unlikely to hit our targets with our current resource and activity, so we knew we needed to recruit to drive these numbers. This is proper, data-driven action rather than expensive guesswork.”

“If your job is to be running the business, then you need to understand all the optics and Synergist helps you in terms of resource planning and management.”

If you want to demonstrate reputationally that you are managing your business professionally, Synergist is an excellent way to do that.

Lis Anderson, founder and Director of AMBITIOUS

It’s working for them... could it work for you?

Whatever your agency looks like – 10 to 500 people, design to digital –
Synergist can be shaped to the way you work.

See it for yourself.

Synergist consultants, Agency Works, will be in touch to arrange your bespoke demo. Their experience working with hundreds of agencies means they can help you work out what's right for you.