2017 Best PR Agencies to Work For, North America | Holmes Report


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The Holmes Report’s Best Agencies to Work For are determined by a comprehensive survey of agency employees at more than 50 agencies throughout North America. The process solicits employee views on a wide range of issues ranging from the integrity of senior management to the quality of professional development, from empowerment and risk-taking to compensation. For more information on the methodology — and how you can order your own agency's results — visit this section's About/FAQ page. The top winner in each category was recognized at the 2017 North American SABRE Awards, at Cipriani 42nd Street in New York on May 2.

1. Jackson Spalding (Independent)
The 141-person agency impressively makes its debut at the top of the list. Jackson Spalding aspires not to be the biggest or flashiest agency — instead, it looks to establish trust and respect both with clients and employees.

The corporate structure reflects this ethos by eschewing titles, bosses or direct reports. Instead, mentors conduct 360-feedback reviews, provide day-to-day career counsel, help structure career path milestones and generally be their internal advocate. The flat structure is intended to keep egos at bay and allow for teams to move more swiftly. (The agency, however, is owned by seven individuals who make-up the Executive Team and who also serve on the JS Leadership Team, comprised of 30 individuals who meet monthly to review financials, discuss agency initiatives and ensure the culture at JS is strong.) The agency has offices in Atlanta Athens, and Dallas with an additional seven outposts throughout the US. 

The agency was founded 21 years ago by Glen Jackson and Bo Spalding, who each have deep Atlanta roots. “We determined in those early days that we would adhere to a philosophy of ‘great work and good works’– great work for our clients and good works in the communities in which we reside.” JS employees are involved in over 90 not-for-profit organizations and civic associations. 

The agency also offers sabbaticals at 10 and 20 years, unlimited sick days, provides a learning allowance, funds 401(k)s without the need for employee contribution, top-tier health benefits with company-paid premiums not just for our employees but also the employees’ dependents. The annual retreat includes all employees and spouses — "and there are costumes. We love costumes.” The firm’s turnover rate in 2016 was 11.9%.

2. M Booth (Next 15) 
The 143-person agency bested all others in our Best Agencies to Work For 2015 (the firm went on to win our overall Agency of the Year award in 2016) — demonstrating how strong culture gives way to smart work and healthy growth. “The M Booth brand is built around a culture that fuels creative energy” — illustrated with the firm’s recently rebranded tagline “Be Inspired.” 

In 2016, the consumer shop moved into new headquarters in midtown Manhattan that’s designed to reflect its culture — open, collaborative, creative, mischievous and fun. Last year, the firm also rebooted Boothcamp, its internal training program, while hiring Nancy Seliger to serve as map the courses based on level. Significant investments also goes into bringing outside experts with a spotlight on improving writing. 

The firm’s work/life plan revolves around the belief that time away from the office directly improves productivity in the office. Work can done on flex time, from home, outdoors on a nice day — there’s even have one employee who is working from her RV as she travels cross country. Offices close at 1 p.m. on summer Fridays, VPs and above have unlimited time-off and the office closes between Christmas and New Year’s. 

This year, M Booth launched a parental policy that provides every new mom and dad with 12 full weeks of paid parental leave upon the birth of their child, including a child placed with them for adoption or foster care. The firm has developed a diversity mission statement and invested in a Diversity Fellow and puts resources to training (e.g. sessions on unconscious bias). The formation of a second employee-inspired group, M Pride, complements Diversity and Inclusion. The firm now offers employees access to legal advice on issues ranging from mortgages, wills, divorce, traffic tickets and beyond.

There are M Ventures mini excursions to places like the Cloisters, the Brooklyn Grange and most recently to the Tenement Museum, the Innovator in Residence program brings in members of the creative community, influencers and mentors join for one month to introduce new ways of thinking. Founder Margi Booth hosts monthly breakfasts to pass along firm “lore.” CEO Dale Bornstein organizes monthly “milk and cookie” conversations to help her keep in touch with what people are thinking and send the message that she is accessible. 

3. Text 100 (Next 15) 
The second Next 15 shop to make the ranking, Text 100 returns to the list for the second consecutive year. One way that Text 100 stands out is its more than 40 online and offline training sessions conducted across North America last year to support its “T-shape” approach to people development.

The firm also brings in third parties for training. For example, Text 100 partnered with Insights Discovery to implement a program that uses the neutral language of colors to define core human communication styles. The firm also conducts a “City Swap” program that foots the bill for any staff member to spend a day spent working in another office when he or she travels abroad for pleasure. 

Along with secondments and trainings, brainstorming and idea-sharing are also big parts of Text 100’s culture. The firm uses a range of platforms to share creative ideas across our teams, including: its creativity lab BANG! that brings together teams across the globe to shape new ideas for clients and for Text100 and its ideation platform, where teams shape and develop fresh thinking for campaigns, new client initiatives and planning.
This commitment to flexibility is another core component of Text 100’s culture and benefits. For example, new parents can fit work around their new family with its maternity and paternity leave policies. Under the “Textgiving” program, each office designs its own community give-back programs. 

4. Marina Maher Communications (Omnicom) 
Marina Maher Communications makes its recent debut on the ranking. MMC has garnered many accolades for its work over the years, so it’s not surprising this creativity stems from a thriving culture. To start, the firm eschews that there’s a “right path” for career advancement and empowers employees to develop their own trajectory that can span across its core functions: client leadership/brand management; insights & analytics; engagement and creative. It's also a promotion and recognition culture with high-performers being formally identified, tracked and rewarded with opportunity, recognition and incentive (many current VPs and SVPs started as interns at MMC).

In the last two years, MMC made organizational changes and brought on talent with different skill sets to meet evolving client needs. As a result, the firm revised its competency model and annual performance management process. All employees participate in performance reviews that include multiple touch points throughout the year and a self-review and 360° feedback. Formal and informal communication with senior management, including the CEO, is open to everyone.

The firm offers the flexibility to work from home, non-standard hours or on a reduced schedule – subject to team leader’s approval. MMC employees are also encouraged to make “extracurricular” contributions in their areas of interest including: leadership or culture committees, mentoring, volunteering, or representing MMC at recruitment fairs, industry events and internal events.
Employees are also encouraged to participate in causes for which they have a passion outside the agency, which could include professional associations, Omnicom cross-agency initiatives or charity organizations. MMC also offers opportunities for global employee exchanges. The MMC Masters Program is a multi-level internal training program designed to keep people growing professionally and personally that benefit the individual as well as the agency. MMC also offers staff customized one-on-one and team coaching in the areas of client effectiveness, presentation skills and performance management.  

Each year a select number of high potential / high performing employees attend external training courses including social/digital and healthcare conferences, Omnicom Digital Workshops and Omnicom University. MMC for a Cause is the umbrella program under which MMC manages its internal charity efforts. The firm’s big passion project is a partnership with She's the First, which sponsors girls’ educations in the developing world.

5. Fahlgren Mortine (Independent)
“I have always believed that great culture attracts the best people, and the best people attract the best clients,” says president/CEO Neil Mortine. This philosophy distills exactly why the Best Agencies to Work For is such a strong indicator of a firm’s overall health. This thinking has enabled the Ohio-based firm to continue to thrive for an impressive 55 years (the firm grew by 19% to $24.4m in 2016). 

The company says it outright in its mission — “we're not just careful communicators; we care. About your people. About our people, and the people you need to reach to accomplish your business objectives.” Management strives to establish a collegial, collaborative culture while promoting a healthy work-life balance. Competitive salaries are matched with benefits packages that include generous time-off. Employees have unlimited personal time — for doctors appointments, car troubles, etc — and can use up to two hours of personal time per day, whenever needed — no questions asked.

The agency-wide professional development program Fahlgren Mortine University fosters a commitment to truly understanding clients' businesses and a willingness to propose big, bold ideas. Other perks include philanthropy programs and frequent culture-centric celebrations. The firm works with more than 50 nonprofit organizations, investing more than $1 million in agency services in the last three years.

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Coming in May 2017