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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 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,’

she says.

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


Office pets

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.

Traveling abroad

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


Lucrative incentives

’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

the agency.

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.


Ambassador Program

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.

Shopping Sprees

Company: AgitProp

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.’

Gone Fishing

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


Duvet Days

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.

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