The PRWeek Best Places to Work survey 2011

For the third year, PRWeek has surveyed the PR industry to find out which are the best agencies to work for - and why. Kate Magee reveals the top 12.

PRWeek: Best Places to Work 2011
PRWeek: Best Places to Work 2011

Which PR agency is the fairest of them all? In June, PRWeek invited agencies to fill in our online survey, which asked about training and staff development policies, flexible working and benefits. This year, we also included questions about work/life balance issues and internships.

We received more than 100 responses from a range of agencies, from the smallest with just three members of staff to the largest with more than 200.

These entries were shortlisted to 30 and put before the judging panel: Francis Ingham, director-general of the PRCA; Jane Wilson, CEO of the CIPR; Cathy Bussey, deputy editor of PRWeek and Kate Magee, features editor of PRWeek.

The judging criteria demanded agencies had low staff turnovers, a generous training budget, great benefits, evidence of commitment to staff welfare and a supportive and creative working environment. The judges were again impressed with the standard of entries, awarding 12 agencies gold, silver and bronze status.

'The volume of entries this year showed that PR employers are focused on creating great places to work and that from traditional benefits to the more creative perks, there was clearly an overall commitment to staff wellbeing and importantly staff development,' says Wilson.

Ingham agrees: 'Despite the economic uncertainty of recent years, PR remains a fantastic, popular and often fun industry.

He adds that the survey backs up the PR Census 2011, showing the industry rewards talent well: 'The winners should be congratulated for proving that successful agencies don't have to be mean, boring ones too.'

KEY FINDINGS

Working hours

PRWeek compiled data from the Best Places to Work entries to get a snapshot of the agency world. Overall, staff are contracted to work on average 38 hours per week. This backs up the PR Census 2011, which found staff were contracted to work 37.5 hours per week. But the actual hours worked varies between the two surveys. In the Census, which was filled out by individuals, rather than an approved version from an agency, respondents worked an extra nine hours on average. This compares with three and a half in the BPTW agencies, which say they actively encourage work/life balance for staff.

Most BPTW entrants expect their staff to do some out-of-hours work at evening events. Time in lieu is generally offered for those consistently working out of hours - on international clients for example - or those working on weekends.

Most only expect their senior staff (account director and above) to be on call for clients in crisis situations, except for those on rotas for 24/7 press office functions, when duties are split evenly among staff. In return, most agencies offer flexible hours, early finishes on Fridays or shorter summer hours.

Staff development and training

The average staff turnover is 18 per cent, but many are well under this figure, with two agencies retaining all their staff. It is positive to see that the majority of agencies have a member of staff with responsibility for diversity.

Every BPTW entrant offers formal appraisals. Most appraise staff at least twice a year, and many offer 360-degree reviews.

The majority of the BPTW entrants have formal training programmes to ensure investment in staff development.

Although hours and spend vary wildly from agency to agency (explained by how agencies choose to calculate internal training spend), the average was about £3,600 per head per year, and 53 hours.

IN NUMBERS

38 Average contracted hours a week (Best Places to Work survey)

37.5 Average contracted hours a week (PR Census 2011)

41.5 Average actual hours worked (Best Places to Work survey)

46.5 Average actual hours worked (PR Census 2011)

27 Average number of days given by agencies as holiday per year

18% Average staff turnover per year among survey respondents

4 Average number of internships offered by agencies per year

3 Average length that each internship lasts in months

EULOGY - GOLD

Staff 39

Staff turnover 15 per cent

The judges felt it was clear from Eulogy's entry that the management really care about their staff. There is serious investment in staff development, combined with a fun working environment - the agency even has its own soda stream.

Working hours are around 40 per week, staff get 28 days holiday a year, and are only expected to work out of hours about twice a month. The agency also has international opportunities through its offices in India, unusual for a mid-sized independent agency.

Eulogy has a training scheme with internal and external courses, including one-to-one coaching, group training sessions and access to an independent HR consultant. It brings in industry professionals for seminars and offers workshops to share and improve digital knowledge within the agency.

Staff can progress their career at Eulogy. Both the MD and a divisional head started their careers at the agency as account executives. Senior account director Phil Borge says: 'I have been at Eulogy for ten years and I wouldn't have stayed that long if it was not a special place to work. The best thing about working at Eulogy is the way the senior team actively encourages everyone to follow their own interests, develop their own ideas and drive the agency's development in new and exciting ways.'

For more on Eulogy click here

LANSONS COMMUNICATIONS - GOLD

Staff 97

Staff turnover 20 per cent

Judges were impressed with Lansons' mix of soft and hard benefits. The agency has a share ownership scheme, in which a third of employees are partners, and shares a third of its profits with staff through bonuses and benefits. As well as the harder benefits such as pension, savings scheme, 18 weeks' full-pay maternity policy, holiday allowance of up to 33 days and new business cash bonuses, the agency also offers benefits to make staff feel valued, such as time off for school plays, gifts for children's birthdays, team social budgets, dry cleaning service, subsided massages, manicures and pedicures.

One per cent of the agency's profits are given to charity, and staff are encouraged to run fundraising activities throughout the year.

Lansons provides good progression opportunities - two current board directors started out at a junior level - and 75 per cent of the management board are female, reflecting overall gender balance in the industry. Every member of staff from CEO to account executives is appraised regularly and has a dedicated career manager within the agency.

The agency also has a resident theatre company, called High Tide, which helps with presentation skills and creativity.

The team also has fun - from jumping out of aeroplanes for charity to competing for flights to Japan in a photography competition.

MAN BITES DOG - GOLD

Staff 20

Staff turnover Five per cent

With just a five per cent staff turnover figure, Man Bites Dog is obviously doing something right.

The average time to promotion at the agency is less than 12 months. It has a comprehensive training programme that ensures all staff are trained in time management, management skills, negotiation, delegation and presentation skills, while also offering tailored courses to each individual, such as assertiveness training or research skills.

A ten-per-cent profit share scheme is offered to all employees, including support staff. Other benefits include part-time, flexible and home working, good maternity/paternity packages, as well as regular socials and an annual weekend away in Europe - past destinations include Dubrovnik, Lisbon and Barcelona. Holiday days are generous, with up to 36.5 days depending on length of service.

Account executive Alex Kent says: 'At Man Bites Dog, you really can have your cake and eat it - enjoying the pace and enviable client list of a London agency, while living a Brighton lifestyle. I joined as a graduate and was offered the opportunity and training to work on international campaigns for some of the business world's heavy-hitters. And at the end of the working day, there is always time for a drink on the beach.'

For more on Man Bites Dog click here.

LONDON COMMUNICATIONS AGENCY - GOLD

Staff 21

Staff turnover 19.5 per cent

The judges were impressed by LCA's structured approach to career progression. The agency has written down what is expected in each role from administration to CEO, so staff can work out what skills they need to reach the next level. Staff are given 360-degree appraisals, and guidance has been produced for both appraisers and appraisees about how to get the most from these meetings.

The agency has set up an online training course that every member of staff can access. It includes best practice and guidance on all aspects of PR, from writing a comms strategy, to conducting a stakeholder audit or managing a crisis. The agency pays for all staff to be members of trade bodies the CIPR and PRCA.

Staff are also very involved with setting business goals for the agency. Each year, LCA holds a full-day business planning workshop for the agency, so the whole team is involved in preparing the annual business plan and discussing performance at weekly meetings. Every two years, staff are treated to a weekend away, this year to Prague. Staff receive 25 days holiday and annual bonuses averaging 15 per cent of salary.

SHINE COMMUNICATIONS - SILVER

Staff 53

Staff turnover 18 per cent

Judges liked Shine's philosophy that if staff enjoy themselves and are the number one priority, they will be satisfied and produce their best work. Shine provides private healthcare, share ownership and performance-related pay. It takes work/life balance seriously and allows staff to work flexible hours, buy extra holiday, finish at 3pm on Fridays, take one month's paid sabbatical after five years'

service and offers unlimited holiday for senior account managers and above.

Ten per cent of the agency's profits are spent on staff training, while all interns are paid £250 per week. In 2010, Shine spent £1,470 per employee on fun and social events.

For more on Shine click here

UNITY - SILVER

Staff 16

Staff turnover Six per cent

Unity wanted to set up the first 'humanist' agency - putting people first. Six years on, at least half of its work is for issues or causes, and it looks after its staff. The judges were impressed with Unity's genuinely flexible working policy. The agency trusts its staff, so anyone can work from home whenever they want, they can start late or finish early if they are a night owl or early bird and they can work in the evenings if they want time off during the day. Last year, Unity gave eight per cent of its profits in bonuses. The whole company is taken away once a year. This year, if the team hits its financial targets, the trip will be to Miami. The agency works with the Taylor Bennett Foundation to increase diversity in the industry. The agency also celebrates staff's 'Unity birthdays',the day they joined.

CIRKLE - SILVER

Staff 29

Staff turnover 15 per cent

This is the third consecutive year that Cirkle has won a BPTW award. Judges were yet again impressed with its caring and innovative approach to staff. Ninety per cent of staff work from home on Fridays. The leadership team has complete control over its diaries, with no start and finish times or set holidays. Staff get annual bonuses of up to 25 per cent of their salary, above average maternity/paternity packages, subsided fitness classes and two away days per year. Staff who complete their timesheets every day on time get a free pair of designer shoes of their choice at the end of the year. 'In my 20 years of agency PR, I have never experienced so much flexibility - it breeds trust, respect, devotion and optimizes performance,' says board director Rikki Weir.

JUST HEALTH PR - BRONZE

Staff 31

Staff turnover 13.8 per cent

Just Health impressed the judges with its mix of staff benefits, structured training and fun working environment. It provides the harder benefits such as flexible hours, a non-contributory pension scheme, career development reviews every six months, private healthcare and bonuses. But it also provides company iPhones and Apple computers, and arranges surprise treats such as massages throughout the year. It also works with a theatre company to run a training programme that builds PR skills and professional confidence among staff. Sessions include facilitation skills, managing energy and pressure, as well as leadership development. Other external training has included lessons on the ABPI code, NHS reforms and IT skills. It also runs 'meet the media' and 'outside insights' sessions to give fresh perspectives to staff.

LAUNCH GROUP - BRONZE

Staff 35

Staff turnover Six per cent

The judges were impressed with the agency's commitment to staff wellbeing and training. Staff receive profit-linked, new business and recruitment bonuses. There are weekly training sessions, and those who attend more than 30 a year receive £150 to spend on furthering their development, from learning a language to gaining a professional qualification. Launch Group provides a £250 annual wellbeing budget to help with exercise costs, an extra day off each year to complete a physical challenge or help a charity, discounts with local businesses from restaurants to florists and a wine and book club. Staff also have access to 'Launch Pad', the agency's apartment complete with shower, kitchen and roof terrace. New starters are made to feel welcome with lunch on day one, and agency drinks on day five. This year, all staff are going to Paris.

PEGASUS PR - BRONZE

Staff 41

Staff turnover 12 per cent

Pegasus makes the most of being based on the coast, with a beach-inspired room in its office and sports days on the beach.

It offers company cars and mobiles for senior managers, a 4pm finish on Fridays for all staff, iPads for directors and regular paid company social events.

Judges were impressed that all junior and account executives complete an initial month of training.

The healthcare agency invites other healthcare professionals such as GPs, pharmacists and midwives to talk to staff about how they work. The agency pays for lifestyle courses outside the office, such as nutrition and photography.

During an anonymous staff survey, the agency was particularly praised for sharing its company strategy with staff, encouraging initiative and using appraisals to help plan career progression.

VIRGO HEALTH - BRONZE

Staff 53

Staff turnover 18 per cent

The judges felt that Virgo puts its people first. It has created a place where individuals can grow, be supported and feel appreciated from the moment they join. The agency offers enhanced maternity, paternity and adoption pay, a wellbeing benefit of £250 per year, a non-contributory pension scheme and life assurance. Employees receive three and six-month appraisals in their first year. Thereafter, they are appraised every six months, and given a 360-degree appraisal at 12 months. The review is based on its tailored competency framework. Holidays are generous, with 26 days to start, increasing to a maximum of 31 days after seven years' service. Staff also get the chance to give something back to the community, by supporting the agency's chosen charity, Shooting Stars.

LEXIS PR - BRONZE

Staff 87

Staff turnover 20 per cent

Lexis offers a number of benefits including enhanced maternity/paternity packages and a contributory pension scheme. Contribution to tuition fees and leave are given to those who want to study a professional course. There are also opportunities to be seconded to the New York office.

The agency has monthly awards that allow managers to reward those who go the extra mile with vouchers, experiences and extra time off. Lexis' 4pm Friday finish, a 'special occasion' day off and sabbaticals all ensure work/life balance for staff. Judges were impressed with the way Lexis treats interns, offering a pro-rata salary of £11,565 to help out as admin support to a division, with a programme that ensures they experience a variety of tasks. They are also invited to attend any relevant training sessions.

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