2020 Best PR Agencies to Work For, North America | 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.

This year’s employee surveys were taken before the Covid-19 lockdown, so we reconnected with many of the CEOs of the agencies featured on this list. We asked them what being a Best Agency to Work For looks like in this pandemic era. For more on that, see here

Winners for the top ranking agencies were presented at the virtual 2020 North American SABRE Awards on May 28 at 6:30p ET. Tickets can be purchased here.

All participating firms can also obtain their own results mapped against either the industry or its competitive set. For more information on this, contact us.  


#1 Allison + Partners (MDC Partners) 

This is the first year that Allison + Partners breaks into the large category, and impressively, the MDC agency lands right at the top. This accolade also comes as Allison + Partners celebrates its best-ever year with double-digit growth. In 2019, the agency also prioritized attracting and retaining talent as a top priority by unveiling “Vision 2020,” an internal initiative that provides a covenant between the agency and its employees.

Among the ways it implements this vision is through programs like its “open door” policy with company founders, including CEO Scott Allison, as well as mentorship initiatives, reimbursement for external training, enhanced performance reviews, a leadership academy, in addition to other professional development offerings for its 291 employees in North America.

When it comes to benefits, Allison + Partners offers a one-month paid sabbatical after every five years of employment. The firm has also adopted unlimited vacation, end-of-year closure, summer Fridays, plus giving employees time-off for milestones like birthdays and weddings. To encourage employees to prioritize health, the agency rolled out ‘workout Wednesdays’ which includes dedicated time during the workday towards wellness. The firm also offers a variety of bonus programs. Allison + Partners’ US retention rate stands at 85%. — AaS 

#2 W2O Group (Independent) 

#3 Finn Partners (Independent) 

#4 APCO (Independent)

#5 H+K Strategies (WPP)


#1 Walker Sands (Independent)

Walker Sands is another agency that has graduated its category size, only to debut at the top of the next list. Two years ago, the B2B tech shop won the small agency category and in 2019 ranked as the #3 best agency to work for in this category.

Here’s why Walker Sands does so well: the agency embraces the simple reality that engaged employees lead to engaged clients, which leads to a thriving business. There’s the basics — expansive health insurance and 401K matching, but an employee-first environment goes beyond this. The firm employees a full-time L&D manager who oversees personal learning plans for all 142-employees. The independent agency has also created employee resource groups as part of its D&I initiative: People of Color at Walker Sands, Walker Women and Walker Sands Supports Working Parents.  While the industry has made notable strides on parental leaves, agencies often lag the corporate world when it comes to these benefits. Walker Sands, however, has implemented 12 weeks paid leave for both men and women upon the arrival of a new child.

Unlimited PTO can also be problematic for many reasons, including that employees — without guidance from management — can take too few days. Walker Sands avoids this trap by rebranding the perk as flexible PTO with no maximum days and guidance that employees take at least 20 days off per year. The firm also offers summer Fridays, health & wellness reimbursement, transportation reimbursement, 5-and-10-year anniversary trips, plus coverage of things like Amazon Prime membership and pet insurance when employees hit certain levels. The firm’s retention rate is 81% across offices in Chicago (HQ), San Francisco and Seattle. — AaS

#2 GCI Health (WPP) 

#3 M Booth (Next 15) 

#4 Current (IPG)

#5 Fahlgren Mortine (Independent)


#1 Highwire (Independent) 

For the second year in a row, the technology shop Highwire is our Best Agency to Work For in the small category. The 90-person agency — with offices in San Francisco, Chicago, New York and Boston — offers incentives and perks beyond the basics. All employees start with three weeks PTO, plus offices close between Christmas and New Year’s. The 401K match vests immediately. Now we’re all remote, but before the pandemic, Highwire had both a flexible work-from-home policy and a mandated ‘work out of the office’ on Fridays. Also notable is its enhanced referral bonus. If the agency wins a piece of business introduced by a Highwire employee, that employee will earn 5% of the agency's revenue from that client for a year.

The agency offers $250 spot bonuses for great work across levels and managers are encouraged to champion for their teams. Other benefits include a $100 curiosity benefit (and one of the firm’s core values), a $50 fitness benefit and $50 phone reimbursement benefit each month. After five years, employees can take an all-expense paid trip for a week to the destination of their choice, not counted against PTO. Employees who stick around for seven years can apply for a seven-week paid sabbatical. The leadership team enjoys at Long Term Incentive Program.Highwire's Society team oversees a number of activities to forge employee bonds. T

he firms retention rate is 77%. — AaS

#2 Hotwire (Enero)

#3 ReviveHealth (IPG)

#4 Mitchell (Dentsu)

#5 Kivvit (Independent)


#1 Zapwater (Independent)

Last year’s boutique agency winner, Zapwater, emerges as the best boutique agency to work for again. Boutique is always our our most voluminous and competitive category — so Zapwater’s consistently strong showing should be noted. The 29-person agency — with offices in Chicago (HQ), Miami and Los Angeles  — infuses its culture around creativity, quality, productivity, collaboration and enthusiasm. Of course, those values have to be backed with action and in 2019 Zapwater elevated many of its offerings in this regard.

For instance, last year Zapwater established a Wellness Committee comprised of representatives from a variety of positions and backgrounds across all three offices. The committee’s mission is to empower and advocate for the well-being of employees through a variety of programming, policies, and educational opportunities. Using staff-wide feedback through anonymous surveys, the committee generates and implements new initiatives consistently, while encouraging employee participation in wellness benefits on an ongoing basis. Zapwater aims to integrate sustainability considerations into agency and clients’ business decisions, strategies and recommendations.  Zapwater also recently launched ZapU, an ongoing professional development and team building program that’s built around off-site staff retreats. Approximately 1.65% of gross revenues are spent on staff training and professional development programs.

The firm has built a culture of trust that enables healthy flexibility.  Zapwater has an “open door policy” with all staff to receive advice or address any issues. All employees are given four weeks vacation/PTO per year with another week added after five years. Zapwater also provides an additional paid week off for anyone using it towards volunteering.

Other perks include summer hours and “bring your pet to work” policy. — AaS 

#2 Firehouse Strategies (Independent) 

#3 Konnect (Independent)

#4 Fish (Independent)

#5 TIE

- Reis (Independent)

- Startr (Independent) 


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