July 29

Long Term Marketing Contracts: The Smart Choice?


Your marketing agency asks you to re-up on another long term marketing contract. Should you do it? Here’s some advice.

First, let me say that contracts are good things. 

I use contracts with all my clients. When done right, they are an incredibly useful business relationship tool. 

Contracts help all parties involved know what the business relationship is all about, who’s responsible for what, and how much it will cost each member of the relationship.

Transparent, easy-to-understand, and flexible. Those are the ingredients of a good business contract. 

Oh. And short. 

Education marketing contracts should keep the time of the engagement short.

Short-term marketing contracts are much better for independent schools, colleges, and universities. 

A good marketing contract should not commit your school to work with any agency longer than six months at a time, generally speaking.

Unfortunately, I see far too many education institutions still falling for sales pitches asking them to sign multi-year marketing contracts. 

Honestly, this gets under my skin. 

I’m in business to make a living, but I truly care for my clients — and for schools in general. I, too, am a believer in the power of education. 

I’m also a believer in the need for diversity of educational choices, which is why I enjoy working with private education institutions so much.

So let me share why you should seriously reconsider signing any long term marketing contracts.

The Problem with Long Term Contracts

In my opinion, there are only a few human contracts that should be long term. Marriage is one of them, but marketing contracts certainly don’t make the list!


Life changes, but long term marketing contracts don’t.

It’s only been three months, and you’re really excited about your education marketing agency. 

And the feeling’s mutual! Your education marketing agency loves you, too. 

It’s a honeymoon stage, and everything’s going well. 

That’s when your agency comes to you asking for a long term marketing contract. 

Flushed with your recent success with them – and solidly funded by a recent generous donation – you sign a two-year commitment.

Six months later…

Things happen and funds have to be diverted. Your marketing budget is one of the first to be frozen.

You go to your marketing agency to talk about changing things, but you’re stuck!

Life changed for your school. But your long term marketing contract won’t budge.

In fact, in that moment, you realize that there is a clause in the contract stating that if you terminate the contract early, your school will suffer a significant “kill fee.”

Long term marketing contracts sound amazing when you’re in the honeymoon stage. 

But no one can plan for everything, no matter how good of a lawyer it was who wrote the thing.

Long term marketing contracts are unfair. 

Personally, I think this is the most disappointing part about long term marketing contracts. 

By nature, business relationships are open. 

As an agency owner, I always need to be finding new clients. And as a marketer at an independent school, college, or university, you should always be shopping for the best option for your school.

It’s not disloyalty. It’s business. 

Come to find out, this arrangement works out very well. 

The more clients Caylor Solutions has, the more expertise we gain that we can put to good use for you. Because we have a diverse portfolio of current and past clients, there are few challenges that we haven’t tackled.

And because we know you have a choice of which marketing agency you work with, we’re constantly innovating and improving in order to win your business over and over again and build a lasting relationship.

We have a powerful incentive to keep you happy!

But long term marketing contracts destroy this effective balance of incentives.

If they have you locked in a long term commitment, what incentive does your marketing agency have to keep you happy?

They’ve got you locked into a decisively unfair arrangement.

With a long term marketing contract, you can’t shop for new marketing agency partners, but your agency is allowed to continue onboarding new clients. 

Too often as agencies gain new clients, the old clients become… old. 

You’re no longer the priority. They’ve got new friends now, and you’re left with a lousy long term contract.

Most problems can be fixed in a year or less.

Normally, when you hire a marketing agency, it’s because something is really wrong.

Something in your strategy isn’t working. Perhaps you know what to do, but you lack the expertise to execute your strategy well.

That’s when bringing in a marketing agency is of the most value. 

And to be honest, most of these problems can be fixed within a year or less. 

This is when most marketing agencies come asking for a long-term marketing contract. They know you’re happy with the results you’re seeing, and they want to lock you in.

But did they mention you might not see such incredible results over the long haul? Your results might begin to taper off as things begin to normalize. 

For example, if your marketing suffered from bad messaging, you can turn it around in six to twelve months with the help of an experienced marketing agency like Caylor Solutions.

Once you get your messaging fixed, you’ll immediately see an uptick in all your marketing metrics. 

But now you’ve got a new baseline by which to measure your progress. At this point, growth happens incrementally. 

It’s important to have a seasoned marketing partner to help keep your marketing quality and frequency consistent. 

But if you have a long term marketing contract, your marketing agency is tempted to coast on their initial success rather than work hard when those results inevitably slow down.

You don’t want your marketing partner to get complacent. 

You need them to consistently give it their best and not rely solely on the quick wins at the beginning to sustain the quality of their work.

You need your marketing partner to stick with you after the quick wins, but you don’t want to get stuck in a long term marketing contract.

So how do you make this work? 

Recurring Short Contracts

There are a lot of problems with long term marketing contracts – but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t work with a marketing agency long term!

As you work with a marketing partner over time, they get to know your brand even better. They also get to understand your marketing strategies and preferences better through the years. 

Probably the best reason to stick with an education marketing partner is because they can help you get consistent marketing results year after year. 

Agencies are like professional trainers who keep you accountable to and excited about your marketing strategy and goals. But unlike professional trainers, they can also do the work for you!

Too many schools hire a marketing agency to fix their problem but then fail to keep their marketing efforts strong when the contract is over. 

Then, when they lose all the momentum they had, they find themselves back at square one.

So I recommend ongoing, short-term marketing contracts.

Once you finish a preliminary project with a marketing agency, and you want to continue working with them, don’t sign a long term marketing contract!

Instead, go project by project or keep your contracts between six to twelve months long.

If your marketing agency is amazing, you should continue with them. Just keep the contract periods to a reasonable timeframe.

But if signing new contracts all the time is too much work, here’s another idea.

Consider a monthly retainer agreement.

Monthly retainers are best when you have monthly marketing projects, like creating quality content marketing, and you want to hire your marketing agency to do it. 

The beauty of this arrangement is that you can agree on a set price per month, a solid scope of work, and then continue working together every month until one of you decides to end the agreement in writing (and within a reasonable amount of time).

Consistent cost. Consistent results. No long term commitment.

With recurring short term contracts or monthly retainer agreements, you get the benefits of a long term relationship without the risks of a long term marketing contract.

For honest solutions like what you read above, contact us today.

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