How Can a Research Retainer Keep You from Hulking Out? Part II

Your New Spirit Animal – The Research Retainer

By David Schneer

5.2-Minute Read

In Part I of this blog, we discussed common frustrations felt by client-side researchers: Budget reductions, internal contract processing requirements, and last-minute project requests. Nearly all client-side researchers have experienced these pains in their careers.

There is a simple way to proactively avoid these pains altogether: The mighty research retainer.

In a nutshell, a research retainer is a simple contract with a trusted supplier, designed to fund a variety of engagements over time, streamline the contract review/approval process, and enable you to immediately kick off research engagements – even during down times.

Some particularly wonderful aspects of retainer contracts:

Let that sink in for a moment.

Imagine the possibilities this will open up in your tactical day-to-day.  The savings in time, frustration, and having to explain to stakeholders that you are so sorry but there is just no possible way to get them what they’re asking for.  To be sure, some requests just aren’t feasible even in the best of situations, so you will still need to have those conversations from time to time.  But most often you will now be able to get these good folks all or most of what they need.

Setting up a Research Retainer:

Anyone who has sought review and approval for a traditional research project contract will find the process of setting up a research retainer to be easy. Collaborating with contract and legal departments to set up this kind of relationship will directly support your function’s ability to execute its mission more efficiently. Everybody wins in this situation – product management, research team, contract and legal teams, customers, and shareholders.

From identifying a supplier to which you’re comfortable hitching your research wagon, to stashing additional funds in the retainer along the way, here are the 6 steps to setting up a research retainer for your organization:

  1. Identify a trusted supplier – a firm with whom you’ve had many successful engagements and trust implicitly for a longer-term relationship.
  1. Confirm supplier is amenable to retainer contract (spoiler alert: they all are).
  1. Draft a contract using simple language to define the nature of the expected engagements and the amount of initial funding. Include enough context for internal Legal team requirements, but not so much that it limits the type or scope of engagements you can run.
  1. Submit contract through your organization’s review/approval process.
  1. Sit back and revel in the fact that if someone arrives at your office door with a new project request, you could kick it off the moment they walk out.
  1. Continue funding the retainer as budget allows. Be careful not stash ALL your research budget in a single supplier’s retainer in the event you need to fund other engagements, as needed.



My emotional muscle memory still feels the pain of struggling to get my job done while managing the real-world business constraints within a corporate atmosphere.  Research retainers are a great way to preserve (improve!) the way you do your job. I’ll saddle up that unicorn any day.

It feels great when everyone wins. Give me a call anytime to discuss how you can set up a research retainer to support your organization.


Merrill Research—Experience You Can Count On.

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