11. (-) Rogers & Associates

Los Angeles-based Rogers & Associates does a lot of work in the social marketing arena, handling health and environment-related issues for government clients, which makes the work more meaningful for many employees. It also encourages diversity, and Rogers scores high marks there too. But the firm’s culture is deeper than that, with one of the best mentorship programs in the industry, a better-than-average vacation package (three weeks from year one) and a newly introduced community involvement program that adds volunteerism to the firm’s good works.

Says one respondent, “With experience at a large national firm, I find that Rogers & Associates has the best of all worlds: amazing resources, strong infrastructure, talented staff, impressive leadership, and impressive values.” Some complain that a recent round of layoffs damaged morale, but others say that “in these times of economic uncertainty, it is comforting to work at a place where profits aren’t always placed before people.”

12. (10) Carmichael Lynch Spong

Every firm says its employees are its most valuable resources, and Carmichael Lynch Spong is no exception, using those words in its values statement. But CLS goes beyond the generality, committing to offer “compensation and benefits that are at least equal to if not superior than our competitors,” to create “a fun, challenging and rewarding environment,” and to “stress continued training and professional development.” That last area is what sets the firm apart from many of its midsize competitors, as it scores high marks from employees for training—as well as for open and honest communication.

In fact, the firm finished second overall when employees were asked if they were satisfied with the level of training at their firm, and in the top five when they were asked whether their firm did a good job of explaining career options.

“In spite of the rough economy and declining PR counseling profession, Carmichael Lynch Spong steadfastly continues its commitment to professional development, training, orientation, workplace culture, benefits and compensation,” says one respondent. Says another, “This agency does an exceptional job in motivating and rewarding employees through its own professional development programs. It is also extremely generous in the areas of benefits, work schedules. There is an atmosphere of openness and fun wish spurs creativity and out of the box thinking.” And it helps that “bonuses were paid again this year.”

13. (22) Edward Howard & Company

Cleveland’s Edward Howard & Company was one of the industry’s first employee-owned firms—all staff are eligible to purchase shares from the date of their hire—and offers a profit-sharing plan and generous benefits as well, but it’s in the professional development arena that it truly stands out, with more accredited professionals per capita than any other firm in the country, as well as its own EH&C College, a day-long in-service training program that is offered several times a year. Community service is another highlight, as Edward Howard donated more than 2,700 hours of staff time to local organizations last year.

The firm also scores among the top five agencies overall when employees were asked whether they found their work intellectually stimulating. 

“I am lucky enough to work for a firm that enables me to chart my own course but is collegial enough and has enough seasoned practitioners that I can send up a flare and receive help when I need it, no matter what the situation,” says one respondent. Another raves, “The management staff is incredible at coaching and helping develop me into the best PR practitioner I can be.” Best of all, there were “no layoffs or pay cuts like everybody else has had. We even got some new benefits this year.”

14. (13) APCO Worldwide

Among APCO’s values are several aimed at employees: empower great people to do great work; nurture an organization where everyone is valued; rely on one another in achieving our personal potential. The firm lives up to that with a culture that provides challenging assignments—the focus is on public affairs and increasingly corporate strategy—and a culture that attracts stars (particularly from the realm of government) and yet manages to emphasize teamwork and collaboration. The relatively new APCO ART program (Achieve your goals, Realize your potential, Take charge of your future) makes professional development a priority.

The firm scores the best marks of any big agency on several criteria: encouraging people to use their own initiative; giving them the freedom to decide for themselves how work gets done; and attracting and retaining high caliber employees.

“From [president] Margery Kraus down to the newest intern we all have sense of what we want to do and how we will achieve our goals,” says one respondent. “The work is interesting and exciting and the people are overwhelmingly generous and kind.” What it comes down to is, “I work with incredibly smart people on a daily basis and in an environment where you are encouraged to question the status quo.” When you say your “only criticism is that we are sometimes not tough enough with clients who fail to appreciate or act on our best thinking and advice,” you’re doing okay.

15. (-) Carry On Communications

Before Kevin Grangier opened Carry On Communications in 1998 he worked for a boss who would tell him to haul heavy papers from the office to her home—a one-hour drive each way—because she didn’t want to do it himself, and who one told him that if he left early to catch a Thanksgiving weekend flight the time would come out of his vacation. So when he went out on his own he knew what kind of agency he didn’t want to create. So Carry On, which has grown to 41 employees in three locations (L.A., New York, and Washington, D.C.) has a “creative and often overzealous environment” with four weeks vacation from day one (leaving early for Thanksgiving not included) and Martini Thursdays twice a month, providing an opportunity for employees to mingle, often with clients and media invited too.

The firm scored a perfect five when employees were asked whether client satisfaction was a top priority, whether they like the people they work most closely with, whether their workplace is fun, and whether they were able to balance work and life. It also came out in first place when employees were asked whether those who made the biggest contribution got the biggest rewards.

“I’ve been in business a long time,” says one respondent. “This is the first place that really means it when they say employees are the first priority.” According to another, those employees “are extremely intelligent, fun, hard-working and supportive, and the management promotes constant learning and growth.”

16. (18) Dix & Eaton

Dix & Eaton is one of a handful of firm’s to present new hires with a formal employee compact, which spells out expectation of both the company and its staff. The company expects employees to act with integrity, to be willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done, to show initiative, and to be “aggressively dedicated” to clients. In return, it promises “interesting challenging work;” a supportive, collegial environment; a culture that is “kind, respectful, and fair;” and flexibility and openness to new ideas and approaches, as well as to individual needs. And it delivers.

“There are no lightweights,” one respondent claims. “Everyone does his or her job and very rarely does the ball get dropped.” As an agency, “we’ve managed through the downturn with our integrity and character intact, and have positioned ourselves very well going forward,” says another. There’s a good deal of confidence in a management team that “works hard to stay ahead of market trends and embraces change.”

17.(-) Jackson Spalding

Since leaving the Atlanta office of Manning Selvage & Lee to start their own independent firm in 1995, Bo Spalding and Glen Jackson have built Jackson Spalding into one of the market leaders in the region, with more than 20 employees, a diverse client list, and a culture that eschews titles and hierarchy for teamwork and collaboration. Among the standouts are a formal mentoring program and a commitment to community involvement.

The firm scores a perfect five on several metrics: client satisfaction is a top priority at our firm; my firm has strong values and lives them; my firm deals ethically with employees; and my firm deals ethically with clients. It also ranked second overall when employees were asked whether they trusted management to do the right thing and whether their firm valued existing clients over chasing new business.

“The key to our success is no titles,” says one respondent, who says that means “no politics; management listens and acts on its findings and we hire very carefully to make sure all people here fit the culture and embrace the vision and values.” Values are a recurring theme: “Jackson Spalding is an agency that lives its values: We tell the truth. We work hard. We respect each other. We work together as a team. We are of the highest integrity. We have fun. We always look for a better way.”

18. (14) VisiTech

Employees at high-tech boutique VisiTech are encouraged to see themselves as business people and partners in the firm’s success rather than just cogs in the machine. New ideas, innovations, risk taking and creativity and encouraged and rewarded—often with cash incentives—and the compensation structure is designed to attract and reward highly motivated, talented individuals, while maintaining maximum flexibility.

The firm scored a perfect five for allowing employees to balance work and life demands, and when employees were asked whether they trust management to do the right thing. It also ranked first overall when respondents were asked whether their firm encourages people to use their own initiative,

“Our agency does an exceptional job of combining high-level strategy with the actual blood, sweat and tears it takes to execute according to plan,” says one respondent. “This provides for an environment in which staff members feel they have real control and responsibility, which in turn provides for a rewarding job.”

19. (4) Chandler Chicco Agency

Since the day it opened its doors in 1995, Chandler Chicco has set out to create an environment unique in the public relations industry, one that emphasizes stellar results on behalf of clients while offering employees a nurturing, politics-free environment. The firm eschews both job titles and individual offices in an attempt to create an environment in which accomplishment is more important than seniority and communication between team members is unimpeded. The firm also has a strong commitment to professional development, and is one of the few to have maintained the perks and privileges that became commonplace in the dot-com era, from daily free catered lunches to weekly manicures and workout sessions with a personal trainer.

Says one long-time employee, “It is particularly rewarding for me to see how true our leaders have kept to their mission and values for the business over the years, despite the growth and market changes.” People agree that “every employee has equal opportunity to prove him/herself and shine” and say that’s because “the agency is built around values that put clients first and allow people to reach full potential.”

20. (-) .John Bailey & Associates

Detroit’s John Bailey & Associates is a relatively new agency (founded in 1996) with what sounds like an old fashioned approach: “Good people make a good agency,” it says, simply.

The firm scores a perfect five from employees when they are asked whether client satisfaction is a top priority, whether the firm has strong values and lives them, and whether it deals ethically with employees. It finished in the top five when people were asked whether they found their job rewarding and whether they were committed to building their career at their current agency, as well as on criteria such as retaining high caliber employees and trusting management to do the right thing.

“Balancing work and family is very important at our agency,” says one respondent. “Management treats staff as the professionals they are and allows great flexibility in hours and work arrangements because they know the work will get done.” In return, “our biggest advantage is our staff—we work well, laugh alot and enjoy each others’ company, which is important when you work closely together all day, every day.”

Part Three