2021 Best PR Agencies to Work For, North America | PRovoke Media


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.

And, of course, the weight of the global pandemic along with racism and election anxiety, in addition to other serious issues that made 2020 an exceptional year for PR firms looking to not just keep employees engaged but, in many cases, afloat. Over the next few weeks, we will look more closely at how the Best Agencies to Work For fared on issues like the pandemic response, diversity and overall compensation. 

Winners for the top ranking agencies were presented at the virtual 2021 North American SABRE Awards on Tuesday, May 11 at 6:30pm ET. Tickets can be purchased here.

#1 Zeno Group (DJE Holdings) 
Zeno is having a great year all-around — its North American revenues were up by an impressive 13% in the year of Covid, when many of its peers faltered. In addition to out-performing many of its peers in growth, Zeno landed in the top spot as the best large agency to work for. 

The words “fierce” and “fearless” have come to define Zeno’s culture and are embodied by CEO Barby Siegel. Those characteristics, however, are also shared across the organization and that came to light stronger than ever amid the tumult of 2020. For instance, as work transitioned remote the 368-person firm prioritized the well-being of its employees by increasing its wellness stipend and expanding its commitment to mental health with additional time-off. 

But more importantly, Zeno focused on being human. Siegel wrote to her team for 75 consecutive nights, addressing fears and anxieties, sharing moments of vulnerability, while offering hope as staff faced dramatic shifts in work and life. These emails continue, but now on a weekly basis, totaling more than 100. Early on, Zeno encouraged everyone to start their calls with "how are you?" and to pause to really listen before launching into their work. Staff were urged to take the time they needed to balance work and home life — no questions asked.

In the wake of George Floyd's murder, Zeno offered a Day of Reflection for staff to take time off and consider their own thoughts and actions related to social injustice. In 2021, Zeno will observe Juneteenth as a paid holiday. 

In addition to the meeting the needs of the moment, best agencies to work must have established policies that employees can rely on. Take, for instance, Zeno encouraging employees to expand their horizon with training portals; providing parental leave, including 14 weeks paid for new mothers; and paid sabbaticals for long-term employees. 

#2 Real Chemistry (New Mountain Capital) 
#3 FINN (Independent) 
#4 Hill+Knowlton Strategies (WPP)
#5 Edelman (DJE Holdings) 

#1 Coyne PR
Like many firms, Coyne faced a devastating Q2 but, thankfully, the remainder of the year the firm bounced back, even seeing remarkable growth in new areas. Amid this business volatility, Coyne quickly adapted to the new working reality and went a step further to accommodate concerned employees. Leadership introduced a permanent new program dubbed "Work Your Way," which gave every employee across all levels a completely flexible work alternative. Employees were given the freedom to work from home full-time, relocate to a different office, or select a new office in the greatly expanded space the company was acquiring to more safely accommodate social distancing guidelines.    
Senior leadership made it their promise not to layoff or furlough a single one of its 148 employees. They made it clear that salaries and valuable medical benefits would remain intact. The agency's training program, Coyne College, went into double-time for junior and senior execution levels to include month-long training boot camps. 
To maintain culture, Coyne’s virtual calendar included scavenger hunts and happy hours. Team members of all levels from every practice stepped up to contribute their special and unique talents.

#2 GCI Health (WPP)
#3 M Booth (Next 15) 
#4 Allison + Partners (MDC Partners) 
#5 APCO (Independent) 

#1 ReviveHealth (Weber Shandwick/IPG)
ReviveHealth enjoyed an outstanding year 2020, with revenues up by 23% for the year — but even amid skyrocketing demand, the firm kept its culture a priority. In fact, the 104-person firm credits its culture to its success.   

ReviveHealth has been a perennial fixture on our Best Agencies to Work For list, and has maintained its distinctive culture post-acquisition, with last year seeing everything from “open forums” giving employees the opportunity to meet with leadership in small groups to frequent care packages for employees working at home. 

Beyond the standard benefits that all employees have come to expect from an employer, ReviveHealth has an array of clubs, committees, groups and activities to participate in, including cooking and book clubs. The firm also boasts a “deep passion” for DE&I with a desire for non-judgmental sharing of ideas, information, and learning occurs in a conversational way. The firm’s benefits also include parental leave, tuition reimbursement, and stock options. 
#2 Hotwire (Enero)
#3 Spectrum (Independent) 
#4 C+C (Independent) 
#5 Hot Paper Lantern (Independent) 

#1 Davies Public Affairs (Independent) 
A noteworthy comeback to the list for one of the longest-running Best Agencies to Work For winners: Davies Public Affairs boasted an astounding 100% retention during the volatility of 2020. That is, in part, because the 35-person firm didn’t view working remote as a dramatic shift. For years, Davies has operated with teams seamlessly collaborating and engaging, thousands of miles apart. Rather than losing great employees, when circumstances compel people to move, the firm has a track record of setting them up to work remotely.

For 2020, however, the challenge was about more than technology — it was about culture. This pivot meant more deliberately curating relationships as a team and one on one. That meant transparent communications, one on one check-ins by the CEO and president. With that, the leadership was deliberate with addressing the emotions, the fears and the desire to focus on our client's needs. The CEO wrote nightly emails — thoughtful, inspiring and productive thought pieces five nights a week for the first two months and then weekly and monthly.  Zoom meetings were prioritized, not just for project management, but for talking and connecting.

Facing business uncertainly, only the CEO took a paycut and the firm remained committed to covering 100% employee premiums for medical, dental and vision insurance - and partially funding employee Health Savings Accounts. The firm continued its Real Profit Sharing, meaning staff can earn up to a 100% performance bonus, based on company profitability, client satisfaction and individual contributions —  on top of an already competitive salary. The goal is to always provide salary increases before someone has to ask — calling that “pure respect.” 

The firm makes a concerted effort to recruit diverse management and equal pay is a priority for women and ethnic minorities. Autonomy is highly-valued with employees setting their own hours with performance being measured by results, not time in the office.

#2 Hoffman Agency
#3 Health & Commerce
#4 Max Borges Agency
#5 Bospar

# 1 Fish Consulting 
In the newly-created micro boutique category, Fish Consulting — a mainstay on the boutique list for years — jumped to first place. The 22-person shop calls its culture collaborative and open-minded, where people are comfortable speaking their mind.

While social perks are appreciated, the best agencies to work for implement policies that ease employee’s lives, for instance, like generous PTO, spot bonuses, longstanding work-from-home policies, dog-friendly offices, to name a few. In addition to embracing this, Fish also maintains a stellar retention by prioritizing 1:1 meetings with mentors and promoting from within and providing training for growth opportunities.  

Other perks include a “kudos board” which shows appreciation for and recognize fellow “Fishies” as they call themselves for prizes. The team is delighted with surprise “thank you’s” all year including care packages, summer Fridays, and more. 

#2 Zapwater
#3 Confidant
#4 Belle Communication
#5 H&S