What makes an agency a “Best Place to Work”?

Insights and ideas from the annual PRWeek awards for some of the best talent magnets
Happy People

PRWeek recently came out with its annual Best Places to Work list, including agencies of varying sizes. In reviewing what vaulted these firms to the top of the heap, there are some trends and ideas for you to consider in your own business.

Flexible Work Options

The 4-Hour Work Week may not really be a thing for most employees, but agencies are increasingly giving their teams the ability to work when and where they want, as long as they are being productive. Fish Consulting offers “flexible hours and [an] open-ended work-from-home policy.” Hotwire lets team members “work wherever they are most productive.” Of course, as more agencies turn to remote work to shrink office footprints (and lease costs), there’s a mutual benefit to these rules.

More and Better Vacation Time

It is becoming much more common for agencies to give their employees unlimited paid time off (PTO). While there is some debate over whether this actually helps employees (they may actually take less time off with such rules), it certainly has appeal for many firms now. Of course, time off is even better when you get to have fun without financial worry. Highwire PR gives a “free trip” to all 5-year employees to fund a week-long holiday.

Sabbaticals

Giving veteran agency team members extended time off can help them recharge their batteries while improving retention rates for top performers. Highwire PR gives 7 weeks after 7 years, while W2O Group grants 5 weeks after 5 years, and Hotwire offers 6 weeks after 4 years.

Maternity/Paternity Leave

While various regulations require minimum maternity leave benefits, many agencies choose to go beyond the basics. Hill+Knowlton Strategies gives an impressive 16 weeks of paid maternity/paternity leave, for example.

Bonus and Feedback Programs

Even with lots of creative benefits, cash compensation still matters. Bonuses — especially those outside of an annual structure — can be particularly beneficial to staff morale. Allison+Partners got a mention for their spot bonus program, while Cheer Partners was cited for the “peer-driven” nature of its spot bonus program and other forms of non-cash recognition. While many agency managers (and their direct reports) dread annual performance reviews, Rogers & Cowan employees actually gave the firm a “perfect score” on the consistency and helpfulness of their evaluations.

Staff Training

Most agency employees want to continue to grow and learn. This is especially true of millennials who really press employers to invest in them. EvolveMKD was recognized for providing “multiple staff-training opportunities, engaging lunch and learns, paid college tuition,” and more. Lunch and learns have the added benefit of fostering team collaboration. MSSmedia provides “cross training within other departments” which not only expands knowledge but can break down the silos that exist in many agencies.

Highwire PR invests in team development while empowering the individual at the same time. They offer a “curiosity benefit” that gives everyone $100 a year to spend on books or other learning opportunities. Other agencies have built structured programs, including the Hotwire Academy and Porter Novelli‘s Uncommon Ground platform.

Improving Non-Work Lives

The pressures and stresses that team members feel outside the office can sometimes spill over into the business. That’s why agencies like Praytell are looking at non-work benefits like “annual financial planning and life skills sessions.”

Pets

While many agencies consider themselves dog-friendly and allow animals in the office, some agencies have taken love of employees’ animals to another level. Praytell gives its employees a pet insurance benefit. Cheer Partners gives its employees a “pawtnerity leave” benefit (something I hadn’t even heard of before I read it in their profile, although apparently it is indeed a thing.

Mentoring

A number of agencies have begun to formalize mentorship programs, leveraging both internal and external resources. Beehive Strategic Communication was singled out for this benefit, as well as other steps it takes to invest in its team’s skills, abilities, and performance. Hill+Knowlton Strategies got kudos for its “female-specific mentorship program” — something that contributed to high scores for the opportunities they provide to women within the agency.

Philanthropy

It is often said that employees want their employment to bring with it a sense of purpose. One of the ways for an agency to do that is via philanthropy — not just in cash contributions, but also through pro bono work or encouraging employees to volunteer on company time. Porter Novelli was cited for its “positive social impact” through involvement in the community, for example.

Boomerang Employees

With a tight talent market, it is especially important for agencies to be prepared to maintain good relations with former employees and welcome them back if it makes sense for both parties. These so-called “Boomerang Employees” can be not just productive participants, but also strong advocates. One such team member at MSSmedia was quoted to bolster the notion that it’s a great place to work.

Chip Griffin

Chip Griffin

Chip is the Founder & CEO of Agency Leadership Advisors and a longtime agency owner and executive. He helps PR and marketing agency leaders build better businesses.