21. (19) Golin/Harris International

A couple of years ago, Golin/Harris introduced KnowledgeWorks, a comprehensive workplace program that includes professional development—with an emphasis on leadership development—online learning, and benefits including tuition assistance, one of the best sabbatical programs in the industry, employee exchanges, and volunteer opportunities. What’s particularly impressive is that the firm has maintained its commitment to and investment in KnowledgeWorks despite the declining economy, helping it maintain its high marks from employees in difficult times.

Golin gets praise for “excellent people, unwavering commitment to employees, strong corporate culture, dedication to clients,” and one employee raves “we’re all about building trust worldwide and it’s evident in everything we do—from servicing the client with a best teams approach to how we work together as colleagues both in the Chicago office and with our offices around the world.” Says another, “Golin/Harris remains true to its roots in a changing marketplace and unstable economy. The people in this organization are smart and creative and generally love what they do.” If there’s a concern, it’s that some employees “continue to be concerned about the impact of IPG’s problems on our firm.”

22. (-) Capital Strategies

The mission statement says “Public relations and marketing communications superstars want to work at Capital Strategies,” and the firm seeks to deliver on it by building a culture which recognizes its most important assets: the intellect, experience and commitment of employees. One centerpiece is The Boomerang Scoiety, an employee driven community involvement initiative, but there’s also a mentoring program, and an expanding professional development program.

The firm offers a “fun work environment filled with extremely talented people,” and is “not afraid to try new things, and is very flexible when it comes to accommodating employees unique needs.”

23. (-) The Standing Partnership

“The first differentiator separating The Standing Partnership from others will be its renowned passion for creating the absolute best place to work… period,” says the firm’s vision document, which lays out where TSP wants to be in the year 2005. The firm expects to achieve that through a mix of formal programs—like the once-a-month TSP-University, which combines professional development and team building exercises—with an informal commitment to helping employees balance their work and life needs, and get involved in the community.

The firm scores in the top five overall on client service criteria such as keeping clients informed and on workplace practices such as delegating work to the appropriate level.

“I work with 20 people and like every single one of them,” says one respondent. “I think that’s because the culture—from hiring to managemment style to training—ensures people feel valued and happy.” The key is “open, honest communication and not basing an employee’s importance on their position.”

24. (-) Borshoff Johnson Matthews

Several years ago, Indianapolis-based Borshoff Johnson Matthews introduced a new Strategic Quality Initiative that gives employees at all levels the opportunity to get involved in setting the firm’s direction and creating programs that it will help it achieve its goals. Every employee participates on at least one SQI team, focusing on professional development, employees relations, business development, and client service. The firm also has a first-rate professional development program, BJM University, that offers classes August through June on a school calendar—and employees must attend at least six sessions to receive their “diploma.”

Borshoff Johnson Matthews “does a great job of allowing people to have a life outside of the office while still providing excellent client service,” say employees, who are “given the freedom and flexibility to use their professional training and judgement to serve their clients. But, because of the open environment, upper-level management is always accessible to provide guidance and assistance.”

25. (9) Patrice Tanaka & Co.

Patrice Tanaka set out to create an agency that did great work, but also did more than great work. So the first of the firm’s values is community: “At its essence,” says the firm, “our work is about creating community beginning with the workplace and extending well beyond it.” It’s no surprise, then, that PT&Co. is known for its impressive workplace practices—it’s second only to Dome among midsize firms that employees of other agencies would like to work for.

The firm continues to offer a range of great workplace programs: 360-degree performance reviews with candid, constructive feedback; generous maternity, adoption, and child leave programs; coaching with an organizational development specialist; yoga and massages once a week; and a meditation room with daily meditation sessions.

Respondents admired the management team’s integrity in tough times. “While this past year has thrown us substantial financial curves, my employer stood by the employees, maintained everyone’s job and I understand that management took a substantial pay cut to make this happen,” says one. Adds another, “Balancing the economic situation with employee needs was extremely delicate, and Patrice Tanaka and all of the partners at PT&Co. did a wonderful job of staying positive, acting as role models for morale and maintaining high expectations for client work.” The firm’s “commitment to avoiding layoffs this past year has solidified my loyalty to them,” says another fan.

26. (-) Cohn & Wolfe

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the entire Best Agencies to Work For survey this year was the strong showing of WPP’s Cohn & Wolfe. After enduring a couple of extraordinarily tough years—several rounds of layoffs, and the closure of offices in Chicago, Washington, and Atlanta—one might expect morale at C&W to be low, but there appears to be a high level of confidence in the new management team. There’s also excitement about professional development programming that emphasizes one of the firm’s traditional strengths, creativity.

Indeed, the firm ranks number one among larger firms on several criteria: providing a fun place to work; allowing employees to balance work and life; encouraging employees to develop new skills; and managers who are more of a coach than a boss.

Cohn & Wolfe is “refocusing after very tough two years; returning to its roots; maintaining a sensible strategy; eliminating overhead.” The result is “a great home for PR mavericks who love to do great work and be creative and aggressive.” Respondents emphasize that creative spirit repeatedly: “Some people preach creativity. We live it. It is reflected in everything we do.” Hence the optimism: “While Cohn & Wolfe has always been a maverick agency populated by independent thinkers, it is likely to become even more so in the future.”

27. (8) Greenough Communications Group

The cornerstone of Greenough’s culture is a commitment to creating a workplace environment built on trust, developed by founder Phil Greenough in conjunction with Learning Center, a leadership consulting firm that also offers offsite seminars to GCG employees. The firm offers an impressive professional development program that covers topics ranging from time management and new business to media relations and digital communications, and one of the industry’s best mentoring programs.

Junior employees rave, “They give you real responsibility right off the bat—no coffee fetching or being relegated strictly to ed cal maintenance.” As a result, “we’ve created a culture where highly motivated and talented employees are given the opportunity to shine and be successful.” It helps that the firm “is committed to the highest level of client service and professional development.” The firm’s “leadership is superb, the people talented and committed, with a good mix of young and experienced colleagues.”

28.(-)  Sloane & Company

For a small agency, Sloane & Company attracts an unusual number of big name clients with high-stakes issues, so employees get an opportunity to work on the kind of critical assignments that typically fall to larger firms. That’s one of the attractions of the firm’s workplace. Another is exceptional professional development programming that includes interpersonal skills training as well as modular classes—four each quarter—focusing on practice issues.

Sloane ranks second among all participating firms for providing employees with more opportunity to move ahead rapidly than other firms, and ranks in the top five on key metrics such as satisfaction with the level of training and encouraging employees to develop new skills.

Employees say they are “constantly and consistently impressed by how this firm is managed and sees itself moving forward.” Among the reasons: “Professional development takes precedence; employees at all levels operate with a good deal of autonomy.”

29. (-) Singer & Associates

Another newcomer to our Best Agencies to Work For list, San Francisco-based Singer Associates provides an atmosphere where individuals can excel, combining strong leadership from founder and president Sam Singer with a group dynamic that allows personnel at all levels to contribute according to their ability. There’s a profit sharing plan, generous benefits, and a commitment to community involvement too.

The firm scores a perfect five when employees are asked whether client satisfaction is a top priority; whether the firm has eliminated unnecessary bureaucracy; whether people treat each other with respect; and whether they feel like counselors to their clients rather than just order takers.

The culture is “Dynamic, brilliant, ethical, hard working,” say respondents.

30. (-) Vollmer

If you want to get a sense of what it’s like to work as Texas-based Vollmer, visit the company’s website, where you can follow a day in the life of a Vollmervillian: account executive Gretchen Ferguson. Founder Helen Vollmer has just one rule for employees: Love what you do. She makes it easy to follow by creating a culture that emphasizes work-life balance and provides employees with a host of professional development opportunities.

Vollmer has “provided me with many challenges and opportunities along the way to really grow, both professionally and personally,” says one respondent. “Now, as a supervisor, I am working hard to do the same for my team.” Others like the fact that “senior management take a personal interest in each employee. In addition, the owners of the firm are some of the most ethical and generous people I have ever met.” The “overall atmosphere of the agency reflects that we work to live, not live to work.”