Happy staffers will keep your clients smiling

How long did your last commission last? Staffers who win new business at Cubitt Jacobs & Prosek Communications are granted commission for the life of the account.

How long did your last commission last? Staffers who win new business at Cubitt Jacobs & Prosek Communications are granted commission for the life of the account.

"I've never hired anyone who didn't say, 'I've never heard of this before - it's great!'" says Jen Prosek, a founder of the New York-based firm. "It helps people get involved in the business, [and] it helps retain employees because they have a connection that is much stronger."

While hiring talented, highly motivated employees is essential to driving a PR business forward, retaining them is just as important, especially when it comes to a firm's client roster.

Clients like stability, and a revolving door of staffers can lead to the loss of big-name clients, notes Dave Imre, president of Baltimore-based Imre Communications. Among his firm's accounts are Home Depot and John Deere.

"Retention is critical," he says. "In our business, clients don't like change. They form a bond and camaraderie with their account representatives."

Some firms rely on exceptional benefits packages to keep valuable staffers from jumping ship.

Though the Bay Area's era of through-the-roof salaries and a BMW at sign-on may be over, San Francisco-based tech PR firm Blanc & Otus offers some of the industry's better perks to keep employees on board, says Barbara Melchin, the agency's VP of human resources.

Staffers get reimbursed for their fitness-club fees and are treated to regularly scheduled, company-sponsored "out-of-office" events, including trips to local wineries, cabin rentals at nearby ski resorts, and whitewater rafting weekends. In addition, the entire office closes from Christmas through New Year's for an extra week of vacation not subtracted from employees' time sheets. But these offerings aren't Blanc & Otus' main attractions, Melchin says.

"We firmly believe that it is not the benefits we provide that attract and keep top talent, but the company culture and environment we foster that is our greatest perk," she asserts.

Penelope Alexander, recruitment manager for the San Francisco office of Peppercom, says she has seen an increase in employee stability in the market in the past six years. She attributes that in part to employees taking advantage of the option to telecommute or of four-day workweeks, perks staffers had been hesitant to accept during the tighter-market years.

"Quite frankly, the market is pretty realistic and practical," Alexander says. "People are staying with companies longer. It did not used to be that way. There was a lot more job hopping."

Marisa Ramans, VP of HR at San Francisco-based Bite Communications, says her firm offers some of the most comprehensive benefits programs around. Bite makes available perks that include five weeks' vacation time, professional development direction, an international exchange program, and a six-week paid sabbatical after six years of employment.

Bite staffer Molly Holtman says she takes advantage of all of her firm's offers. "What keeps me motivated to work for Bite," she notes, "are the intangible benefits of a fun-loving, supportive culture, my hardworking, witty co-workers, and exciting clients."

Key points:

While attracting top talent is key, retention is vital to a firm's bottom line

Flex time and similar creative scheduling inspire loyalty among staffers

Employers who offer generous vacation packages - and really allow staffers to use the time - are rewarded with more energized, faithful employees

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