Team manicures. Martinis every Friday night. Extra time off with no questions asked. Free massages. Dogs in the office. Exotic vacations.
Team manicures. Martinis every Friday night. Extra time off with no
questions asked. Free massages. Dogs in the office. Exotic
The labor market is tight and public relations - especially due to its
growing popularity - is no exception. Maintaining a client is cheaper
than going out and finding a new one - and the same is true of
PR agencies and in-house departments have had to get creative in what
they do to keep their people.
Monica Pandolfi, of DTG in Boston, who recruits talent for PR agencies,
says that money, title and blue-chip accounts are no longer enough to
retain PR talent. Addressing quality-of-life issues has become an
important way to keep staff. ’I think most companies have realized at
this point that happy and well-rounded employees are better performers,’
Says Lee Martin, a leading recruiter with Howard Sloan-Koller: ’The
nasty bosses of the past are almost something of a memory gone by.
Unless the managers treat their staff well, they are in a great deal of
Morale-building perks have gone far beyond free sodas in the break
Martin says he has never seen PR agencies do as much as they are doing
now to hold onto talent. And some of the approaches can be quite
Creamer Dickson Basford’s new director of stress management is a whole
new breed of agency pro. CDB chief Darryl Salerno decided to bring
Merlin, his new Maltese, to the office as proof of the new approach to
agency life. The pooch has proven to be a morale booster. ’Last year we
had a total of 26 people resign in the first nine months,’ says Salerno,
who is also known as Merlin’s Dad. ’We’ve only lost three this
Salerno doesn’t claim that Merlin’s charms cauterized his staff
hemorrhage, but the dog is symptomatic of the dramatic change he
instituted when he took the helm at the end of last year. ’Our people
felt they weren’t valued,’ says Salerno. ’Merlin goes to the heart of
how we’re treating people.’
Lyerly Agency, a 22-employee communications firm in Charlotte, NC, has
come up with a truly inventive way to hold a carrot in front of
In late July, an armored car made a surprise delivery of dollars 16,000
in one dollar bills to the agency’s conference room. Its purpose: a
dramatic way to introduce staffers to Lyerly Check Plus, an incentive
program for sharing up to dollars 16,000 annually among employees.
According to the firm, that’s the average amount an agency pays out for
mistakes in production and other client-related errors during a typical
year. By avoiding such errors in the future, the savings are shared
among employees on a quarterly pro-rated basis (up to dollars 4,000 per
quarter). Fewer errors mean more money for employee distribution.
Denver-based Schenkein/Sherman, a leading PR firm in the Rocky Mountain
region, offers its employees bimonthly massages, a monthly stipend to
cover health club memberships and team outings for manicures and
AgitProp, a New York boutique for fashion and entertainment PR, gives
employees an allowance for shopping sprees at a premium retail outlet
mall in the New York area, in addition to free services at a Fifth
Avenue hair salon. The goal? To boost morale, yes, but also - the
ultimate in client assimilation - to expose employees in an intimate way
to clients’ products and services.
Manning Selvage & Lee has developed a ’cultural-exchange program,’ in
which selected staff members are invited to travel to another office
across the country or the globe. The goal is to bring the company closer
’I have a feeling that I belong in the company whereas in other
companies you feel like a drop in the ocean,’ says Anne-Laure Loffredi,
who traveled from the Paris office to Los Angeles.
Creative recruitment incentives have paid off significantly for IT and
e-commerce firm I-Cube, which recently merged with Razorfish in New
M.J. Langlais, I-Cube’s employment and employee relations manager, says
that the firm saved over dollars 250,000 in recruitment costs last year
by offering Harley-Davidsons, VW Beetles, Mediterranean cruises and the
like to provide incentives to employees to recruit their friends to the
’This year so far, we’ve hired 125 people, and approximately 20% have
come through employee referrals saving dollars 140,000,’ Langlais says,
adding that she hopes to see that number double by the end of 1999.
Stacey Hurwitz, PR manager of I-Cube, says that the program has paid off
with increased employee morale.
’Our employees are getting together as groups to try to win the prizes
and split the cash,’ Hurwitz says. ’They’ve become very creative in
their outreach and more energized in general.’
A more straightforward way to achieve retention is through professional
development. But some agencies have begun to redefine ’professional
development’ to emphasize team building and company morale.
When in the mid-90s founder Roger Fischer decided to have Fischer &
Partners of Marina Del Rey, CA, specialize in healthcare PR, he thrust
the agency into one of the most highly competitive staffing markets. He
needed to attract top talent to build his senior management, and he
needed the kind of management that would create an atmosphere conducive
to retaining account staff.
Fischer interviewed several consultancies before he hired Hutt Bush of
Coaching for Results. Bush’s approach to staff training and development
included the concept of ’socialization,’ which Fischer now considers the
key to the success of his newly engineered agency.
Part of the socialization process has included each member of the agency
identifying the animal they most identify with and explaining how that
animal represents his or her core values as a human being, not as a
professional. According to Fischer and Bush, this open dialogue -
presented in an off-campus roundtable forum - created a new intimacy and
respect among the staff.
To reinforce this relationship daily, employees have plaques posted on
their office doors with a picture of their animal, their listed core
values and their ’prime-time’ working hours. This exercise enables
co-workers to remember the best way to approach and interact with their
fellow employees and which times of the day are the most productive for
each individual. ’It’s about becoming better human beings and how you
treat one another,’ Fischer says.
Fun with fish
Fischer came up with another incentive involving animals - specifically
fish. As a way to increase the fun around the office, one day he put a
goldfish on every staff member’s desk. When they arrived they found the
fish with a note stating that whoever kept their fish alive the longest
would win a trip to Catalina Island, off the coast of Los Angeles.
According to Fischer, employees have gone as far as bringing in
aquariums and surfing the Internet to learn about the care of fish.
Another straightforward incentive, in addition to training, are
Instituting a sabbatical program has been one of the most significant
achievements for CDB’s Salerno this year. He offers his staff four to 12
weeks vacation beginning with the fifth year of service at the
He was inspired to do this based on his own good experience taking time
off after leaving Burson-Marsteller. In an effort to woo back former
employees, he offers to credit them for time accrued before they left
Malibu, CA-based Phelps Group’s sabbatical program is part of CEO Joe
Phelps’s emphasis on what he calls ’freedom and light.’ He has arranged
his office to ensure that everybody gets a view of the windows even if
they are in the center of the cubicle bull pen. In addition, flexible
hours enable his staff to freely manage their arrivals and
This makes child care and commuting on the L.A. freeway more
’I think most smart people want the freedom to look long-term and be
treated with the respect that is due to adults,’ Phelps says. ’If you
can keep associate turnover down, that will add to the bottom line.’
Creativity and a willingness to throw big prizes and incentives at
employees and prospects is natural in such a tight job market. The big
question is whether or not agencies will continue to be so generous in
the eventual economic downturn.
Recruiter Ted Chaloner of Chaloner Associates has a mixed response.
’I think certain companies will only use these incentives in tight
For instance, I think signing bonuses for (account executives) will
disappear,’ he says. However, Chaloner thinks that programs such as
sabbaticals will survive. ’Some of the professional-development programs
and such have turned out to be a great selling tool,’ he says.
DTG’s Pandolfi is more enthusiastic about what agencies are learning
about the benefits of their new programs: ’I absolutely think if they
keep up this trend, their employees will be less likely to stray if the
economy should turn bad.’ She thinks the emphasis on quality of life is
the harsh medicine agencies learned after the mass exodus in the early
part of this decade.
FIVE TOP PROGRAMS
Company: Manning Selvage & Lee
Benefit: Selected PR staff are invited to travel to distant offices in
the nation or around the world.
Description: MS&L introduced a staff cultural-exchange program this year
as a means to unify its offices around the nation and the globe. The
program was implemented as a professional-development exercise allowing
staff the chance to exchange ideas and learn how PR is managed in other
cities and offices.
Response: Anne-Laure Loffredi traveled from the Paris office to Los
Angeles as one of the firm’s charter ambassadors. ’The very best thing
was being able to work on similar clients to the ones I work with in
Paris,’ she says. ’It was a very valuable business experience even
though it was a short period of time.
I feel very much involved in the company now, because I realize how easy
it is to adapt and work in another office.’
Cars, Cruises and Cash
Company: I-Cube, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Razorfish
Benefit: Employees responsible for recruiting new I-Cube employees are
rewarded with a series of material and service awards that increase with
the number of recruits hired by that person.
Description: I-Cube offers a wide range of prizes such as house cleaning
for a year, a two-week Mediterranean cruise for two, Harley-Davidson
motorcycles, VW Beetles, or the cash equivalent of any of the prizes to
encourage employees to refer and recruit friends and colleagues to the
firm. The program was implemented because I-Cube realized a 90% saving
in cost-per-hire on employee referrals versus headhunters.
Response: Employees were excited about the prospect of winning the big
money or prizes. They more aggressively pitch the firm to their friends,
families and colleagues. The program has added a fun atmosphere to
working at the firm and an increased camaraderie as groups of employees
work together to compete for the prizes.
Benefit: Employees are given an allowance for an all-day shopping spree
at a premium retail outlet mall. They also get free salon services at an
upscale hair salon in New York.
Description: As president of a small, all-female PR shop serving the
fashion and entertainment industry, Amy Krakow wanted to give her staff
benefits that they would enjoy on a personal level. The program also
complements client relationships by exposing her staff to the clients’
products. It was implemented because Krakow wanted to attract top talent
and give them an incentive to stay.
Response: ’I know they get a kick out of it,’ Krakow says. ’The
principle is bonding. I don’t like a competitive atmosphere in the
office, and with that in mind, doing these outings encourages
cohesiveness among the staff.’
Company: Fischer & Partners
Benefit: Employees compete to earn a weekend cruise to Catalina Island,
located off the coast of Los Angeles.
Description: Proprietor Roger Fischer gave each employee a goldfish and
said that whoever kept the fish alive the longest would win the
The program was implemented as another way to create camaraderie in the
office and a way to keep things light and fun.
Response: The employees consider their fish a mark of pride - and
something of a mascot. Fischer and the management team are working on a
way to reward the entire staff with a fishing trip or a glamorous
Company: Text 100
Benefit: Employees get four weeks of vacation and ’Duvet Days’ - two
unscheduled days off in addition to the 10 paid holidays and five sick
days the agency already offers.
Description: Duvet days offer employees a chance to take a day off with
no questions asked. The program is designed to help employees
decompress. Human resources manager Sara Gelinas says, ’You don’t have
to worry about getting busted shopping at the mall or skiing.’
Response: Gelinas says employees never fail to take their ’Duvet Days.’
They feel like they are being treated like adults with real adult
It allows them to take care of responsibilities such as parent-teacher
conferences or to just take a day off without having to invent an excuse
or pretend to be sick.