Imagine the office president dressed in a giant inflated sumo-wrestling outfit ready for a “challenge match” in the office parking lot being cheered on by the staff. Imagine 50 employees, broken into teams and seated on the sidewalk around the office building, fast and furiously using their creative talents to win a lunchtime Halloween pumpkin-carving contest. And think of teams parading in red, white and blue “Crazy Hats” just before the July 4th holiday and then heading out to a quick hamburger cookout.
These are all part of a workplace initiative at BSMG Worldwide/Southwest, the Dallas office of the global public relations agency, that have generated comments such as “Great place to work!” and “Having worked on the corporate and agency side, I can honestly say this is the best environment I have ever worked in!” 
In 2000, BSMG Worldwide/Southwest created the “Benefits+” Program that now includes more than 25 options with names like “Army of Fun;” “Get Fit;”  “Back to Basics;” “ Inside Track;” “Big Idea Monday;” and “Bravo Zulus, Heavy Hitters and High Fives.” More than half  -- including those mentioned -- are unique to BSMG Worldwide/Southwest. Others are implemented on a corporate level.   What makes the program at BSMG Southwest so different?    Benefits+ was designed to create an office with a positive, proactive, creative culture but the key element is that it communicates the importance of mixing fun with work and professional development.
Recent Merger & Change in Philosophy: Prior to becoming part of a global PR firm, the predecessor to BSMG Southwest was a local agency with a structured formal philosophy. With the merger, the corporate culture changed to a more open, entrepreneurial spirit, giving employees more flexibility in communication.  This was easily communicated to new employees, but more challenging for long-time employees to incorporate into their communication and work styles.
Re-Structuring: The employee base of BSMG Worldwide/Southwest changed from having more than 50% senior level staff (director and above), to a more balanced multi-level staff, including many employees in their first job. The challenge was to integrate and communicate with existing and new staff.  
Growth: The staff had more than doubled in size in a 12-month period.
Multi-Generational, Multi-Lifestyle: The BSMG Worldwide/Southwest staff represents many lifestyles and ages, including Boomers, Gen Xers and Gen Ys. The challenge was to develop a program that would involve employees -- from the “mentors” to the “pranksters” to the “healthies” -- in activities that best suited them.
BSMG Worldwide/Southwest began 2000 with a staff of 50 and a number of major changes still settling in from the previous year. Corporate benefits and Professional Development Programs had been implemented and some programs from other BSMG offices had been borrowed and expanded.  It was now time to build on the elements, tailor the program to meet the needs of the staff, balance the activities, get people involved, build ownership and communicate.
BSMG Worldwide uses an annual employee survey implemented by an independent research company to anonymously canvas employees’ opinions on work environment, communication, growth potential, management and more. Results are also tabulated by office and are presented to employees, sparking lively discussions. BSMG Worldwide/Southwest’s management team used the survey and the employee discussions to plan communications for 2000. The team also reviewed the success of the previous year’s activities.
When developing the “Benefits+” Program, the BSMG Worldwide/Southwest management team wanted to encourage and reward creativity, promote learning and embrace change as well as help employees balance work and their personal life. The following objectives were set:
  • Make BSMG Worldwide/Southwest the best PR agency to work at in                                               Dallas/Fort Worth and the United States
  • Provide opportunities for both personal and career development
  • Encourage camaraderie to increase idea flow and improve internal and external communication
  • Build a fun but productive team to do great work for clients
  • Improve employee retention
  • Create an office identity/culture
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate.

The strategic approach for the program was to develop each component unique to BSMG Worldwide/Southwest with goals, strategies and budgets and then turn them over to staff members to run – mirroring the structure of managing a client’s account.
Implementation of Benefits+ began with discussions at staff meetings as each of the components were introduced. For the activities, employees were given brief overviews and an opportunity to sign-up -- whether to work on a committee or join the gym or become involved in a monthly activity.  Participation was voluntary and most activities were implemented during the workday -- some incorporating pizza lunches or Mexican food buffets to encourage camaraderie. Each committee was responsible for implementing its activities and reminded the staff through specially created, sometimes interactive, e-mails or treats and messages left on desks. Highlights of the program included:

  • Fun at Work (FAW): With a goal of having fun at work, FAW included a series of monthly events (e.g. Red, White and Blue Crazy Hat Day, Boss/Employee Exchange Day and Employee Appreciation Day), many with prizes such gift certificates or Flooz Dollars to spend online.
  • Awards: Bravo Zulus (BZs), Heavy Hitters and High Fives: These awards recognize employees for their accomplishments. Bravo Zulus are given daily by peers for doing a great job, whether on account service or simply going the extra mile for to help a co-worker. Heavy Hitters are reserved for the best media placements and are earned daily through peer nomination. High Five Awards are the most prestigious at BSMG Southwest. One winner and finalists are named each month, chosen by the office leaders after reviewing all the BZs and Heavy Hitters each month.
  • Army of Fun: Though no one knows who they are, except our office president, the Army of Fun seems to strike when the staff needs it most. They communicate through anonymous e-mails offering free concert tickets, surprise catered lunches and group outings to sports and arts events.
  • Inside Track: BSMG Southwest team leaders were given the opportunity to share their own real world experiences over a one-hour casual lunch. In 2000, topics included Leadership, Tips on Successful     Media Pitching, How to Move Up in the PR Industry and Things I Wish I’d Known When I Began              My PR Career. Staff members were also invited to submit topics for discussion.
  • Back-to-Basics:  This month long “competition” among account teams (for a $1,000 shopping spree prize) had a goal of improving client service. Teams competed in front of their peers as if they were in a new business presentation and were judged by senior staff and industry representatives. Presentations used actual client work and were judged on measuring progress against client goals, client merchandising and cross-team utilization.
  • Big Idea Monday: One Monday a month, during staff meetings, one team member had the opportunity to lead a 15-minute brainstorm with the staff to generate big, new ideas for a client. The best ideas were then shared with clients (and staff) and several were implemented.

Every employee participated in multiple programs; many took leading roles in 3 or more.
“Benefits +” is continuing in 2001.
There was more interaction between account teams such as sharing ideas, offers to work on other accounts when time was available and pitching in to work on projects and new business.
The 2000 survey showed that 80% of employees responding felt the agency was a better place to work than the previous year; 88% cited that the office had a spirit of cooperation, a 10% increase over 1999; 92% said morale in the office was excellent, very good or good.
Staff turnover at BSMG Worldwide/Southwest fell from 71% in 1999 to 17% in 2000.
The “fun” elements of the program led to employees feeling more comfortable in communicating internally with colleagues and externally when presenting work to clients.
BSMG Worldwide/Southwest won 21 industry awards for work in 2000.