2020 Best PR Agencies to Work For, EMEA | PRovoke Media


Analysis: What Does 'Best Agency to Work For' Mean In the Covid-Era?


Best Agency to Work For is possibly the only predictive PRovoke Media award. Over the years, we’ve noticed a direct correlation between the agencies on this list and those that take home our biggest honor (often times at some point in the future) — Agency of the Year recognition. That’s, in part, because firms that take culture seriously tend to attract and retain smart and creative talent who, in turn, produce stellar work. It’s a simple formula but one that’s easily overlooked amid the breathless pace and tremendous pressures that are a seemingly inevitable reality of agency life. But this pace is exactly why agencies shouldn’t underestimate the power its culture has on the work its employees produce.

For much of the world, 2020 will be remembered in two parts — the short few months before the coronavirus took hold and after. Our Best Agencies to Work For surveys in EMEA were taken in February, just as the coronavirus was spreading. Given how dramatically the world has changed since then, what makes for a good employer has shifted too. Many of the agencies on this list have now doubled-down on flexibility and mental health initiatives, while also driving more morale and engagement activities. 

“I think the biggest change will be that we’ll see an easier acceptance of true flexible working in our industry,” Axicom's Europe president Kate Stevens says. “In a client service business it can be really hard to achieve that without a set of core hours and a framework in place. But the moment that’s imposed you don’t have true flexible working. What this lockdown has taught us is to have more acceptance that people will need to work odd hours. I like to think that’s the start of real change, which will help increase the diversity of our workforce overall in this industry.”

The pandemic has disproportionately impacted communities of color. This, coupled with ongoing police brutality in the United States, has also pushed racism and social justice to the forefront and forced the PR industry to, once again, reflect on its poor track record when it comes to recruiting, retaining, and promoting Black employees. As the industry faces more pressure to take action, we asked the CEOs from this list how they plan to do this within their organizations. 

Rich Fogg, founder/CEO of UK-based CC Group, says in 2019 the firm undertook a complete review of its three planks: training & development, mental health and diversity. With renewed effort on the third pillar, the firm started at 92% white in 2019 and ended the year at 86% white.

“The senior leadership team — account directors, associate directors and directors — was 100% white in January and by December was 82% white, through promotions,” Fogg says, adding this incremental progress isn't enough. The firm has now made commitments around racial equity that include supporting initiatives that Elizabeth Bananuka is putting forth, such as The Blueprint kitemark that recognizes firms that value and invest in diverse talent. 

Nicky James co-founder of the South Africa-based Tribeca, says her agency's view is that "business needs to view its role as that of making a positive difference and impact within the environment and community in which it operates, with a vision that aims to make significant positive changes to people’s lives. This is what underpins Tribeca’s approach to South Africa’s policy of Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) to correct generations of social imbalance." An independent trust with focus of igniting a culture of Black female entrepreneurship in South Africa owns 18% of the agency and the agency partners with Black-owned enterprises and suppliers, among other steps.

"We recognise that as Tribeca grows within the context of South Africa’s unique history, the actions listed above, as well as having a staff complement of over 60% black is not enough," James says. "We need to strive to ensure that our senior management is more representative of the demographics of the country, and that we proactively continue to drive real change by playing an active and impactful role in righting the wrongs of the past - and fighting against the wrongs of the present - for Black people in the workplace and in our community."

At Milk & Honey, 15% of employees identify as Black, Asian and minority ethnic.

"PR has a problem attracting the diverse voices, full stop," says founder Kirsty Leighton. "Part of the problem is recruitment, fishing in the same ponds. Part of the problem is how the industry is viewed, we are not recognised as a profession, more of a trade and I think this is unhelpful."

Elly Kestenbaum, director at the London-based Tin Man says the agency has reflected on what an inclusive workplace means amid the turmoil of 2020.

"2020 has afforded us with some time to explore what it means to be a good employer, to allow our staff to bring their whole selves to work and we’ve put a number of programmes and policies in place to consistently strive to be a better employer," says  Kestenbaum. "Most recently, with the global attention on the Black Lives Matter movement, we have started to employ even more Diversity and Inclusion initiatives, to address the under representation of [Black, Asian and minority ethnic] individuals in PR. We have always worked to create opportunities and reduce barriers for under-represented groups and pre-Covid we had started to build our D&I programme into an industry wide scheme."

The #1 agencies in each category will be recognized at the virtual 2020 EMEA SABRE Awards on June 30 at 4.30pm BST. Please book your tickets here and start arranging your viewing parties now.


#1 AxiCom (WPP)
AxiCom, WPP’s technology specialist communications agency, makes it debut on our list in the #1 spot. The firm, which recently appointed new leadership across Europe and North America, boasts a benefits package that includes upwards of £600 towards wellness, monthly spot bonuses, and up to 30 days annual leave after five years employment. When it comes to training and development, AxiCom allows staff to pick the skills they want to focus on for their 40 hours of training per year. This can be management training, photo editing, video courses, or other areas.

The WPP-owned firm also has a zero-tolerance policy for inequality. AxiCom invests in unconscious bias training and works with a Diversity and Inclusion consultant around creating an equitable culture. Mental health and wellbeing is also a priority and the firm works with mental health groups and provides its employees with around-the-clock access to counseling via phone. — AaS 

#2 BCW (WPP)
#3 APCO (Independent) 
#4 H+K Strategies (WPP)

#1 Milk & Honey (Independent) 
Established only in 2017, Milk & Honey positions itself as an energetic agency for ambitious growth companies. In 2019, the 21-person agency hit £1M in revenue, expanded int Sydney, and grew to service 24 clients — all the while maintaining its 'people-first' mindset.  

The agency was setup so that employees would have the opportunity to jointly own the business, and last year, the firm added its first employee shareholders. The firms focuses its recruitments on transferrable skills and attitude, rather than relying simply on PR experience. Employees are also encouraged to build their own personal brands, for instance, via industry trade organizations and mentorship. The firm also conducts offsites, profit sharing schemes (25% of profits are shared with the team, 25% with partners), 25 days paid holiday, £1,000 in annual training, performance bonuses, and pension contributions, among other benefits. The firm's 52 weeks of maternity leave extends to everyone, regardless of tenure. Also, no employee works on more than five retained clients at a time.

In 2018, the firm added private healthcare insurance for all team members — which covers health, optical and dental —plus, all employees have a 'bee buddy' whose role is to support on any non-client specific issues that an employee may be facing. — AaS 

#2 GCI Health (WPP) 
#3 Chameleon (Independent) 
#4 Tin Man (Independent) 
#5 CC Group (Independent)

#1 Schwartz (Independent)
For the second year in a row, Schwartz tops our Best Agencies to Work For in EMEA list. The German firm is mainstay on our top five list because of its familial culture, which has remained the bedrock of the agency since its inception and continues to be at the core even as the firm grows. 

Schwartz focuses its agency around three core values: transparency, trust and trainings. The agency's leadership ensures that employees understand, not only in their client area, but also what is happening at the management level. Every member of the teams — from junior up to director level — has full insight into all ongoing agency business, pitches, revenues and fees. The agency also has no doors, so everyone have access to all areas of the agency, including meeting with leadership. Schwartz enables trust with flexibility that empowers employees to decide when they start working and when they finish. Hours in the office are never tracked. — AaS

#2 Allison + Partners (MDC Partners)
#3 Tribeca (Independent) 
#4 Canela (Independent) 
#5 One Philosophy (Independent) 



Analysis: What Does 'Best Agency to Work For' Mean In the Covid-Era?