The PRWeek Best Places to Work survey 2009

Sabbaticals, bonuses and duvet days - these agencies have them all. Cathy Wallace guides you through the UK's elite in PRWeek's first ever Best Places to Work survey

Back in February 2009, PRWeek embarked on a mission to find the best agencies to work for in the UK.

We invited all Top 150 agencies, plus any agency that has ever entered the PRWeek Awards, to fill in our survey. In total 114 agencies responded, ranging in size from multinationals with 200-plus staff, to two-man bands. We narrowed the entries down to a shortlist of 37, all of which were invited to provide more information. Agencies demonstrated how they approach iss­ues such as diversity, work-life balance, family policies, benefits and staff training.

PRWeek then met with independent judges Francis Ingham, director general of the PRCA, and Kevin Taylor, president of the CIPR, to go through the final shortlist.

The judges were hugely impressed with the quality of the entries. Taylor noted how many agencies described their workplace as ‘like a family’. The overall imp­ression was of an industry that values and cares for its staff, nurturing talent while respecting the right to a family life. The majority of agencies offer their staff childcare vouchers, the chance to work from home, job shares, personal development funds, gym membership and cycle to work schemes.

But even among a field of strong entries, some agencies stood out and have been awarded gold, silver and bronze status in the first PRWeek Best Places to Work survey. Who made the cut? Read on to find out.


Blue Rubicon

Total staff 89
Staff turnover 2008 Eight per cent
Training budget per head per year

Yes, you read that right. Blue Rubicon really does invest a whopping 20 per cent of its fee income in staff training and development. Founding partner Fraser Hardie says he wants Blue Rubicon to become ‘the defining agency of this decade’ and at this rate, he will succeed. The triple winner of PRWeek‘s Consultancy of the Year Award simply cannot be faulted on any aspect of its entry. Staff enjoy benefits that include, but are not limited to, a pension, life assurance, bonuses, sabbaticals, private healthcare and flexible hours. In 2008, 25 per cent of staff were promoted and the agency attracted more than 1,000 applicants to its graduate trainee scheme without any traditional advertising.

Knowledge sharing and development is integral to the culture at Blue Rubicon. Sessions include all-agency meetings on Monday mornings, knowledge sharing and training ‘brown bag’ sessions over lunch on Tuesdays, and ‘food for thought’ sessions where teams go out to experience something new – be it shopping on the budget of a pensioner or experiencing architecture in London – then share their experiences with the rest of the agency. The agency is so strong on training and development it won a special award in The Sunday Times 100 Best Small Companies to Work For 2009, as well as being ranked 18th overall in the same list, making it the highest ranking PR agency.

Work/life balance is also a priority, with ten per cent of staff working part time and no limit on how often staff are allowed to work from home, time off in lieu for working weekends and bank holidays, and £200 to support wellbeing, be it gym membership, a health MOT or massages.

As senior consultant Jenny Holt says: ‘Blue Rubicon makes people feel rewarded and recognised, but also challenged by their work. It is fun and inspirational, and we have a laugh.

No wonder nobody wants to leave.’


Communications Management

Total staff 27
Staff turnover 2008 Three per cent
Training budget per head per year

Judges thought no PR agency could hold a candle to Blue Rubicon. Then they read Communications Management’s entry. This small, St Albans-based social affairs consultancy has until now stayed fairly low-profile but has plenty to shout about. As well as a training budget of £9,000 per head, staff enjoy a culture that strongly embraces personal development. Benefits include interest-free loans, healthcare insurance, childcare vouchers, working from home, social events and a company fun day, industry guest speakers and an annual awards scheme. Staff are appraised annually alongside quarterly reviews, and are given bespoke training and development plans as a result. Not only is Communications Management a PRWeek gold award winner, but it has also scooped Parcelforce’s Small Business of the Year award, is among Marketing Week’s top 150 employers and was a finalist in the Hertfordshire Business Awards.

Crucially in an industry with a female-heavy workforce, Communications Management embraces family-friendly working.

Staff are given options including part-time working and term-time-only working, and are also allowed to work from home.

Principal consultant Judith Hunt says: ‘I started on a school hours, term-time basis the day my youngest child started school. The company has always supported my attendance at special assemblies and sports days that take place during working hours, and in return I have always been happy to ensure my client responsibilities are discharged, whether this is during school hours or not.’

Communications Management has a strong history of being active in the local community and staff members volunteer with the Prince’s Youth Trust and Young Enterprise. Local students are offered work experience at the agency, and company away days have been devoted to volunteer work. Principal consultant Fiona Leslie says: ‘In a sector where money is all-important it is heartening to support charity in such a significant way.’ It is not all do-gooding, though.

Company socials have included punting on the River Cam, wine tasting, horse racing and a weekend at Disneyland Paris.


3 Monkeys

Total staff 45
Staff turnover 2008
Five per cent
Training budget per head per year

If there is a rumble in the jungle, it is from the stampede of people who want to work for 3 Monkeys. This troupe enjoys a creative, family-friendly workplace, with chief monkey Angie Moxham cultivating a strongly nurturing environment for talent to develop and grow.
Monkeys are appraised annually and given a monkey manager to help them achieve objectives and stay mentally and emotionally fit for their roles. MD and cheeky monkey Annabel Dunstan says: ‘There is praise and encouragement at every turn. Every single one of us is given the support and opportunity to flourish and produce the best possible work in an environment that is inspiring, creative and passionate.’


Just::  Health PR

Total staff 19
Staff turnover 2008 Five per cent
Training budget per head per year

Judges loved Just:: Health PR’s entry. The company has only been going for three years but directors Emma Crozier and Jennie Talman have created an inclusive, creative agency where staff are made to feel safe and confident enough to deliver great work.

The generous training budget is spent on a tailored programme for all members of staff, which includes working with a theatre company to role-play skills such as media sell-in, giving and receiving feedback, and inventing and running campaigns.

‘Justees’ are also sent on CIPR and PRCA training courses, whereas IT skills and finance are taught in-house. Staff are appraised every six months and given continuous feedback.

Benefits include job sharing, flexible hours, working from home, private healthcare, career breaks and bonuses, a pension, the option to leave at 2pm on Fridays, and ‘private membership’ of the local pub. The company may be new, but it has already caught PRWeek’s eye, scooping Best Small Consultancy 2008 and earmarked as ‘one to watch’ in 2008’s Top 150 league tables.


Man Bites Dog

Total staff Ten
Staff turnover 2008 Ten per cent
Training budget per head per year £2,000

It is no dog’s life for staff at this Brighton-based PR agency, which offers a London career by the sea. In the four years since it started, the agency has achieved 91 per cent staff retention and MD Claire Mason says she has an excellent relationship with anyone who has ever worked for, or completed work experience with, the agency. ‘Once a dog, always a dog,’ she says. With benefits including flexible hours, working from home and bonuses on top of regular social events and European weekends away, duvet days, a 4pm Friday finish and bonuses for finding new clients and new staff, it is no surprise even ex-staff members join ‘the dogs’ on their socials.

It is not all play though; staff have a £2,000 budget for external training and everyone has a quarterly performance review as well as a full annual appraisal. Despite being a very small agency, Man Bites Dog still has a HR co-ordinator and a member of staff responsible for diversity.

‘Together we have created an environment where we can all achieve our full potential,’ says Mason. ‘The team has a say in our mission, business plan and how the business is run.’



Total staff 62
Staff turnover 2008 Ten per cent
Training budget per head per year £2,000-£2,500

Perhaps the best testimony to Brands2Life is the fact nearly half its staff members joined as graduate trainees – and never left. ‘All staff have had a pay rise every year they have been here and everyone from account manager upwards has had a bonus every year since we formed nine years ago,’ says co-founder Giles Fraser.

The agency invests strongly in benefits, including childcare vouchers, working from home, share ownership in the company, private healthcare, free dental care, external mentoring and exchange programmes. All staff are entitled to a two-month sabbatical after four years of service.

Social events are also well-represented, with football teams, quizzes and nights out. ‘Staff say the company feels like a family and there are many examples of staff helping each other out outside work, such as painting each other’s flats,’ says Fraser.

Staff are given quarterly reviews and their objectives are linked to in-depth roles. Training and development plans are tied into these objectives.

Brands2Life came 23rd in The Sunday Times 100 Best Small Companies to Work For, and has been accredited by the CIPR, The Holmes Report, Marketing magazine and, of course, PRWeek.


Waggener Edstrom

Total staff 60
Staff turnover 2008
11 per cent
Training budget per head per year

Since it opened in London in 2001, Waggener Edstrom has nearly doubled in size every year, and its revenues have grown by nearly 2,000 per cent. Staff have flourished with the agency, enjoying flexible hours, working from home, subsidised sports, overseas secondments and volunteer days. Being part of a global company has its benefits too – staff can go on exchange to other offices around the world.

All staff follow a learning programme that includes in-house training and £1,000 a year to fund external professional development. Wag Ed is supportive of alternative working hours, working from home or going part-time to support work/life balance.

Executive V-P and general manager EMEA, Chris Talago, says: ‘People are our product; developing and retaining them drives everything we do.’


Mischief PR

Total staff 22
Staff turnover 2008 Nine per cent
Training budget
per head per year £1,500

Mischief PR is as creative with its benefits as it is with its campaigns. Staff have access to a free financial adviser, a nutritionist, travel insurance, a £300-per-year ‘do something interesting’ fund, free mobile phones and calls, a wedding bonus, two away days every year, fresh fruit daily and a desk full of sweets. This comes on top of core benefits including working from home, private healthcare and bonuses.

‘Mischief was created to shake up the PR industry and to do this we needed to hire its most talented people and create the best possible environment for them to succeed,’ says MD Mitchell Kaye. Staff are reviewed twice a year and their training needs picked up and actioned immediately. The Holmes Report named Mischief as the second best UK consultancy to work for in 2007, drawing attention to how staff were ‘treated as if they truly are the firm’s most valuable asset’.


Market Engineering

Total staff 11
Staff turnover 2008
Ten per cent
Training budget per head per year

In 2008, this small automotive and engineering PR consultancy was awarded Investors in People status. The inspector was so impressed, she recommended the company apply for The Sunday Times Best Places to Work award. Founder Richard Gotch (pictured) says: ‘Being a good employer is particularly important for us due to the small pool of people available with the right skills for our very specialist sectors.’ To attract and keep the best people, Market Engineering offers a list of benefits including private healthcare, share ownership in the company and education sponsorship.

Work/life balance is a priority and staff are allowed to work from home. The firm also takes a flexible approach to transport, allowing a consultant to ‘trade’ an executive-level car for a bike and a small car.


Launch Group

Total staff 35
Staff turnover 2008
Ten per cent
Training budget per head per year

The Launch Group is so committed to offering staff a great place to work it even has a ‘Launch pad’, its own apartment complete with shower,

kitchen and sofas. The agency also runs Launch clubs including book, theatre, wine and film clubs. Founder Johnny Pitt says: ‘Launch is its people. The management is totally transparent and honest.’ It offers employees benefits including flexible hours, private healthcare, bonuses, share ownership, social clubs, away days and team socials.

Launch recruits graduates and offers staff the opportunity to develop their careers through a regular training programme. Group account director Katie Warren joined the firm following a work experience placement. She says: ‘The training I have received has allowed me to meet my ambitions.’


PFPR Communications

Total staff 21
Staff turnover 2008
Five per cent
Training budget per head per year

Automotive PR agency PFPR Communications has just had its Investors in People status renewed. In his report, independent adjudicator John Baker commented on ‘excellent practice’ in the way the company supports its staff.

Staff at PFPR have access to a training budget of £1,500 per year. They are also given benefits including flexible hours, working from home, secondments, rewards for finding new business, and fresh fruit for all staff. Staff also get every fourth Friday off, which adds up to 13 extra days holiday per year.

The team attends intelligence-sharing sessions where presentations are made on subjects relevant to the agency’s core business. Chairman Peter Frater also takes a different staff member out for a pub lunch each month to help build relationships.



Total staff 14
Staff turnover 2008 Nought per cent
Training budget per head per year

Co-founder Gerry Hopkinson says everyone at Unity is given a chance to influence the agency’s client list, campaigns and culture, ‘so we all feel genuine love and responsibility for our work’. Policies the agency has taken on as a result of talking to staff include ‘pasta and pitch’ sessions, where the wider team is talked through pitch documents over lunch, and free fruit every week.

Staff receive benefits ranging from secondments, performance-related pay, flexible working and PRCA membership discounts, to social events, duvet days and paid leave to follow work-related passions.

Unity encourages the next generation of PR professionals through gap-year placements. Every student who has completed a year with Unity has been awarded a first – a sure sign they are being trained for success.


To find out more on the winning agencies please go to;

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