PRWeek’s annual Best Places to Work initiative honors the top agencies and in-house teams that were ranked a cut above by their associates on important issues including workplace culture and salary.
To see how your organization stacks up against the competition and to gain insights from recruitment pros and industry executives about what they see on the hiring front, check out our Best Places to Work Premium Edition.
The lifestyle-focused agency Blaze PR had the highest score for employee improvement and advancement of all small agency entrants.
Employees gave top marks to the agency’s extracurricular activities, formal and informal training sessions, and leadership’s attention to their professional needs.
"I have consistent access to senior-level executives, and clear and open communication pathways to best succeed on a project and gain clear guidance," one employee said.
Besides having strong benefits, Blaze also offers some useful bells and whistles. It covers employees’ individual monthly phone plans and valet parking, which is a big deal in Santa Monica, as one employee noted.
Games, concerts, cooking classes, work anniversaries, and more have cemented this group together. One employee simply said, "I love everyone I work with."
Employees praise leadership’s accessibility, the collaboration it fosters, and the way it celebrates wins. Turnover is low at the firm. A staffer said there was some turnover when they first joined at a time when the agency was rebuilding itself.
Today, as one judge noted, Blaze has a "well-managed, ethical, empowering, and fun environment."
"Transparency is important to employees. The agency does a great job in this area and it ranked high as important," another judge said.
Creativity and collaboration are hallmarks of Boden, a Miami-based agency that specializes in reaching U.S. Latino markets.
"When you can work for a company that allows you to help shape the organization, it matters, and Boden embraces that philosophy," one employee noted.
Boden scored high in having a strong morale and good work-life balance. Turnover is low — the couple of staffers that left in the past year did so for personal reasons and their need to relocate.
The "welcoming, encouraging environment," as one employee characterized it, is built on strong internal communication, one-on-ones with senior leaders, and weekly all-staff meetings in which excellence is recognized.
Titles be damned — Boden welcomes all opinions and ideas no matter where they come from.
"The staff who shared their thoughts are very happy with their chances of success at Boden due to consistent feedback within a collaborative and creative environment," a judge explained.
One notable benefit is employees don’t have to pay for healthcare, "a huge perk that leaves money in their pockets."
Boden also has a professional development program called BodenU, where speakers visit every quarter to share their wisdom. As part of the program, the agency provides annual performance reviews, and employees have check-ins every three to six months so they have a strong roadmap to success.
Davies maintains it has "turned public affairs into an art." The same could be said about its ability to train employees.
Many agencies advertise the opportunities for professional growth, often with empty boasts. But in a shop where an executive assistant becomes the president, that’s a powerful demonstration of potential, one judge noted.
"Employees were able to see the growth trajectory," the judge said. "Training is something where it put its money where its mouth is."
Davies specializes in crisis, real estate, energy and environment, and mining, making for a high-pressure environment, but employees are rewarded. They’re proud of their benefits, including their medical, 401(k), and bonus programs, a judge explained.
"The compensation structure is generous, but we work for it," a staffer noted. "Profit sharing is real. We all see the numbers, and you want to win."
"I received a lot of guidance on the 401(k) and health benefits, which was unlike what many of my friends received at much larger organizations," another staffer added.
Despite that high-pressure environment, employees don’t have complaints about work-life balance. Family members and pets are a common sight at the office. Two staffers said Davies leadership treats it as a "value."
Others said Davies has the uncommon attribute where everyone at the agency actually likes each other.
"People communicate well and aren’t petty. It feels like a culture of people that want to get the job done well and done right," an employee explained.
Maroon had the highest score of any small agency entered for Best Places to Work, with strong marks in all five categories: employee advancement and improvement, work-life balance, general considerations, strong morale, and diversity and inclusion.
One judge noted the way in which the staff has bonded and their work-life balance, saying: "Maroon employees delight in their feeling of camaraderie but appear to be especially happy with the work-life balance they are afforded, with a generous number of work-from-home days each month."
Maroon staffers get one work from home day a week, paid vacation for the winter holidays, summer Fridays where the office closes at 1 p.m., and 19 additional days of paid time off.
Perks include a gym, shared bikes, food trucks, yoga, happy hour, and a generous expense account that pays for all the tools and systems staffers need to do their jobs effectively. Maroon has even had meditation experts in the office and massage therapists.
A judge noted its new office space is a "small collaborative environment [that’s] always open to employees’ ideas and input." Staffers highlighted their company’s open-door policy, making it easy to obtain counsel from senior leaders.
"Teamwork makes the dream work," an employee said. "We all work well together, collaborate, and depend on each other. Our younger staffers are friends outside of work."
From compensation to time off, and from training to openness, employees at New York and London-based Hunter PR said the firm hits all the targets required to keep them happy. Employees are pleased with the pay. They praised the compensation as gracious, said expenses were reimbursed quickly, and reported they are given vacation days for work done outside of normal business hours.
Staff also felt the firm strongly supports their professional development, applauding the off-site retreats and educational stipend it offers.
At least one judge agreed with those assessments and, in summing up the work environment, said it was clear the agency has its employees’ best interests at heart. The firm has, she explained, the "perks of a small agency with the resources and benefits of a larger agency."
Employees also noted the firm’s management does a great job of keeping staff informed. There’s a "strong spirit of transparency" one employee said, "thanks to a weekly news brief, monthly staff meetings, and an annual state of the union."
And while they’re keeping staff informed, management is also recognizing staffers for their work. At least one employee said her colleagues are regularly rewarded for their efforts via recognition in the weekly company newsletter, awards, and promotions.
Overall, staff at Hunter credit the agency for forming a creative and collaborative environment to work in.
This is the fifth year Praytell, with offices in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Austin, and London, has been a Best Places to Work honoree. This year, judges gave the firm high scores in three major categories: work-life balance, general workplace and employment considerations, and morale.
And it’s no wonder. Employees say the firm is generous with both the tangible and intangible aspects of working at an agency. Staff gave management high marks for listening and acting on staff suggestions and also for the checkbook-based aspects of work: salary, bonuses, paid vacation, maternity and medical leave, and benefits (medical and 401(k) plans).
Employees surveyed by PRWeek also praised Praytell for offering benefits that are rarely found at most businesses. "We have unlimited vacation, work from home flexibility, and even pet benefits," beamed one staffer.
"You can work from home, but our work-from-anywhere goes beyond that. You can move and start a new office or even swap offices for months-long periods," said another.
One of the judges called out Praytell’s training, knowledge sharing, support for education, and transparency as positives at the firm. A second lauded the agency for its generous approach to work-life balance and the level of satisfaction employees have with the ability of women to advance.
Employees at Text100 feel good about their prospects and believe the firm supports their professional development. They gave the development and advancement tools offered by the agency high marks and in comments said the firm puts training at the center of development, offering clear goals and objectives to staff.
"Employees can learn new skills, work in different offices, join new teams, and engage with senior leaders. It’s why I’ve stayed for 16 years," said one staffer.
That’s not to say the culture only cares about advancement. When asked about benefits not specifically listed in the survey, employees were effusive about the agency’s creative methods for ensuring a good work-life balance.
"Text100 offers ‘duvet days’ — days we can take when we need a mental break, or just a day to unwind," explained one employee. "[It’s] valuable for mental health." A second listed flexi days, flexible remote working policies, and culture days as ways the agency tries to keep its employees centered.
One judge noted the time-off benefits, along with brief and efficient staff meetings, is proof the firm respects employee time. Another said, from the grades employees give the company, it’s clear Text100 staffers work in a fast-paced, entrepreneurial, and creative environment.
In reviewing the results for GCI Health, one judge noted employees feel empowered in this creative and fast-paced firm. And a likely reason for that is access. In the survey, several employees praised the openness of the firm’s leaders.
"Our access to senior executives is unparalleled in the industry," commented one staffer. "Our senior level execs are extremely accessible and take a great deal of interest in employee advancement," added another.
In addition to being accessible, it’s clear GCI leadership offers clear signals to employees that the firm values them.
"We do staff appreciation activities throughout the year, including March madness and summer lovin’, that include in-office meals, socializing events, gift cards, and surprises," another employee remarked.
One big plus? When asked to rate GCI in terms of how well it sets up new employees to succeed, most staffers gave the firm a perfect or near-perfect score.
Looking at the survey results, one judge said it was clear work-life balance is a priority at GCI and senior leaders are setting the example. That same judge also called out the turnover rate at the firm — low when compared to other agencies — as a major positive.
Judges and staffers alike were impressed with Allison+Partners’ employee improvement and advancement options.
The globally implemented Allison University program is rated as one of the best by employees.
"I’ve been so impressed with the professional development offerings, including Allison University, the global exchange program, outside training reimbursement, and the leadership academy," said one employee.
One judge noted that, with high marks for its management and ability to establish a strong morale, Allison+Partners’ staffers clearly feel their leaders listen to them and are receptive to their ideas.
One staffer called the work-life balance at the firm "ideal." Allison+Partners lets employees work from home, offers unlimited paid time off, and allows everyone two hours of work time per week to work out.
People are also given time off to volunteer and those who are at the company for five years get a one-month paid sabbatical.
"Families are very important to this company," explained one employee.
The culture is the biggest advantage to working at Allison+Partners. Employees are close, and it is common for them to attend each other’s big life events such as birthdays, weddings, and baby showers.
"The culture here is the best I’ve ever seen," said one employee. "People are happy to be here, to do their work, and to bond with their colleagues."
This year, APCO launched a two-day immersive training program for middle management to support the development of strong leadership in the future. The firm also has a strong junior level program.
"APCO invests heavily in learning and development, including a partnership with University of Florida so employees can get their master’s in communications for free," said one staffer.
A major reason for APCO’s success as a global agency is its Global Exchange Program, which enables staffers to work for up to two weeks in another office. Employees raved about this opportunity at the firm.
Other perks include cellphone bills being footed by APCO and daily catered lunch, leaving more money in employees’ pockets.
Credit is given where credit is due at APCO. There is a regular monthly recognition of star employees and cash bonuses for standout service. During weekly email recaps, it is not uncommon to see shout-outs.
Internal comms at the firm has "improved" over the past year, led by president and MD of operations Evan Kraus and his commitment to transparency, noted one staffer.
"With a strong feeling of camaraderie at APCO, the employees also rank the organization as excellent in practicing good governance with transparency and accountability," one judge said.
W2O received the highest marks in this category for general workplace and employment considerations. The firm provides weekly learning opportunities and invests in training and development for staffers. Leadership at the firm is transparent with communications, openly sharing information with employees.
For new staffers, the agency serves as a welcome and warm environment. Each person at the firm has a mentor and can meet with them each week to share their feelings and question. Team directors and managers also meet with their employees biweekly.
"Viewing their organization as collaborative, fast-paced, and fun, W2O employees are also pleased with the ability of women to advance," noted one judge.
The agency boasts an impressive benefits package. A newer part of that is the Your Fourth Trimester program, implemented in 2017. The program provides employees with a career coach as they become working parents. Those who have participated in the program said it helped them smoothly and successfully transition into the working parent role.
"Having a coach when I returned from maternity leave was a game changer," noted one employee. "It solidified how much my company supports working moms."
Additionally, the agency supports outside-of-the-office team building events, including participation in a weekly kickball league, and regular team happy hours. "People love to hang out together and participate in team sports, volunteerism, company events, and more," said one staffer.
BEST IN-HOUSE AGENCY
One of the best ways to attract, nurture, and retain talent is to give them opportunities and tools for professional development as well as advancement. This is an area the judges found T-Mobile excels and — in the words of one judge — is "always looking to improve."
That could be seen in the comments from team members: "Amazing development, education, and advancement benefits. Completed my business management degree at University of Phoenix with no student loans" to "more development programs I can take advantage of." One team member added T-Mobile promotes "heavily within" — which encourages staff to become engaged and improve in their jobs.
The mobile communications company also scored exceptionally well on leadership being receptive and inclined to act on staff feedback as well as employee recognition. A staffer noted T-Mobile’s multiple recognition programs span teams, departments, and the wider organization.
T-Mobile also communicates effectively to employees, including with its "recently improved" intranet, T-Nation. "Many opportunities to hear from and interact with leadership," said an employee.
Talent also applauded the organization’s progress on diversity and inclusion. "Our company’s insurance even covers gender reassignment surgeries — amazingly progressive. Proud to work for a company that does that," noted one team member.
"Great support for the LGBTQ community and complex family situations," another added.
One judge summarized the company this way: "With very high scores for their physical workspace, the happy employees at T-Mobile enjoy work-life balance and feel rewarded for their efforts."
Fast food operator Yum takes a dynamic approach to encouraging work-life balance — a key factor in its strong employee morale and retention scores that earned kudos from the judges.
"Onsite daycare and year-round half-day Fridays are offered. There’s an onsite fitness center with trainers," said one judge. "People tend to stay with the company."
Yum also gives employees four weeks of annual vacation and provides for work-from-home arrangements as often as needed. "Flexibility and work-life balance is built into the culture as a priority," noted an employee. "We can work at times that are best for us," added another.
The workplace is also highly collaborative, with community workspaces, a "social hive" listening space, and an internal social media platform for thought-sharing and recognizing employees. Yum’s approach to employee communications is "creative, concise, and thoughtful," said a staffer.
With a great corporate culture, talent noted there is plenty of tenure in the ranks, but that doesn’t mean the company lacks new blood.
Retirement, promotions, and relocations create openings for new talent to bring fresh perspective.
Employees are set up to succeed with initiatives such as grow yourself week, which brings staff across the organization together to share ideas, and the facilitation of one-on-one meetings. Both help staffers get to know one another better. "We have a competitive environment without pitting each other against one another," explained a staffer. "When one of us wins, we all win."
Even in the middle of its $66 billion acquisition of agricultural behemoth Monsanto, Bayer has maintained its strong reputation with employees. One judge noted that while the acquisition "has had an impact on employee turnover, naturally with changes," Bayer is well-respected by its employees for giving them the flexibility to be at their most optimal.
Team members especially applauded flexible and remote working hours. "While there is no set policy on how many days employees can work remotely, managers are sensitive to work-life balance," said one staffer. They also have the ability to take time off and recharge. "Importantly, teams are robust enough to allow relaxed time off," added another.
The company’s headquarters includes a cafe serving healthy foods and beverages without charge, a free gym, and meditation spaces. Talent also noted excellent 401(k) matching, an employee discount program for company products, and training opportunities including a communications academy.
"With a very high level of satisfaction about the way they are treated, the employees at Bayer are also very proud of the charitable and social impact work performed by the company," noted another judge.
That includes a policy of allowing every U.S. employee two paid days off to volunteer at an organization of their choice. "This is a major recruitment tool," said a team member. Last year, the company also established National Community Day to extend its commitment to supporting the communities in which they work and live.
Judges for PRWeek's 2018 Best Places to Work were: Karen Bloom, principal, Bloom, Gross & Associates; Nikita Davis, MD, New York and Northeast, PR Talent; Jamie McLaughlin, president, Capstone Hill Research; Virginia Noriega, former senior associate, Heyman Associates; Bernadette Casey, executive editor, PRWeek.