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It’s 2019 and the subscription economy is in full swing. Several years ago, the saying was, “There’s an app for that.” Today it’s, “There’s a subscription for that.”

According to Forbes Magazine, the subscription e-commerce market generated more than $2.6 billion in sales in 2016. You can get a subscription to just about everything you could ever want—software, clothes, makeup, toys, and even digital marketing services.

Digital marketing services? Yes, that’s right. For a recurring monthly fee, you can hire a marketing agency to perform marketing services for you. It sounds easy because it takes the guesswork out of your marketing costs, but it might be too good to be true.

Why Are Marketing Agencies Moving to the Subscription Model?

Marketing agencies that have switched to a subscription-based model most likely have trouble collecting fees from project-based clients. They’ve also realized the amount of money they can make billing by the hour or day is limited. In a nutshell, they want recurring revenue, and subscriptions will make that a reality.

Subscription Marketing Services Aren’t the Standard Model

Subscription services are relatively new to the marketing industry and aren’t the standard.

When you hire a traditional full-service marketing agency, you get several benefits over a subscription service. According to Active Web Group, the biggest benefit is that you’ll be provided with an account manager who knows you and your business extremely well.

If you’re serious about growing your business, talking to random representatives when you need support won’t cut it. A personal account manager is backed by a team of seasoned professionals working in tandem to help your business achieve its objectives.


With a digital marketing agency using traditional billing, your projects will probably incur extra hours. On the other hand, you’ll be billed fairly and only for actual work the agency performed. In short, your cost is likely to be less than if you had to pay a premium for a subscription.

Subscription Models Mostly Benefit the Company, Not the Client

Marketing plans that are subscription-based are all about creating predictable revenue for the agency. Subscriptions generate more revenue for the agency. But what about you as the client?

Does a monthly fee guarantee the agency will work a certain number of hours? Will you, as the client, get credit for unworked hours? Does the agency even keep track? These questions are important to answer before you sign a contract.

Generally speaking, monthly subscriptions are inflated to cover extra work. That’s just how it works. This is because there’s no way a digital marketing agency would risk pricing their monthly subscriptions at cost.

For this reason, clients don’t realize they’re paying far more per hour for marketing services. All they know is they don’t have to worry about surprise fees. But doesn’t it make more sense to pay more than your project estimate if your cost is cheaper overall?

Subscriptions Open the Door to Low-Quality Services

Also, be cautious of subscription-based marketing agencies that provide the same cookie-cutter services to all clients regardless of clients’ unique needs. What’s more, the cost for these services is usually lower than fees you would pay to reputable agencies. That’s because the quality and value of their service is lower.

Is a Subscription the Same as a Retainer?

While there are similarities, there is a difference between a subscription and a retainer. Although both require a monthly payment, a retainer is usually an agreement made after you’ve launched a marketing campaign.

With a marketing agency on retainer, you’re paying a monthly fee for long-term maintenance services according to your contract. For example, your monthly retainer fee might cover continued email marketing services and PPC ad management for the next six months.


The work will look different from month to month, and paying the retainer fee guarantees the agency will perform certain duties according to the agreement.

For instance, email marketing is an ongoing process requiring monthly maintenance. This month, your marketing agency might spend five hours integrating your email marketing with social media. Next month, they might spend only two hours checking in with the data to see the results.

Either way, you pay the same monthly rate because you’ve already established a relationship with the agency and want them to continue to perform the work for you.

Subscription Fever Is Here to Stay

When a trend hits the digital world, it usually sticks around for a while. Subscription-based billing is no exception. The subscription model isn’t necessarily bad for marketing. However, you should agree to it with caution and only if it benefits you as much as it benefits the marketing agency.