Holmes Report Names Best Agencies to Work For
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report

Holmes Report Names Best Agencies to Work For

Edelman, Coyne PR, DAVIES and Trainer Communications to be honored as Best Agencies to Work For at 2009 SABRE Awards Dinner in New York, May 12.

Paul Holmes

Best Large Agency to Work For: Edelman


There was a time, only a decade or so ago, when Edelman routinely finished among the bottom half of the big firms participating in our Best Agencies to Work For survey. But the firm’s scores have been improving steadily, and over the past five years it has consistently ranked in the top five, as more and more employees come to perceive its independent status as an advantage and as it expands the various internal offerings it provides to employees.


On the professional development front, Edelman University has expanded to include a global curriculum; a week-long immersion in social media that examines both technologies and philosophies; a series of “On the Go” online learning modules; and—new this year—a Lessons in a Recession course, which offers a comprehensive approach to improving client services, understanding the financial issues clients are facing, dealing with the changing media landscape, and restoring trust in corporations and other institutions. The firm also has a Managers Bootcamp, providing lessons in coaching and empowering employees, providing effective feedback, diversity and inclusion, Edelman values and more, and Edelman Leadership Academy, a four-day program for more than 60 VP level executives from around the network, focused on strengthening leadership capabilities.


The firm’s Living in Color initiative, launched five years ago, is designed to encourage employees to immerse themselves in the arts, culture, politics, literature, and charitable organizations, and every year Edelman offices provide pro bono support to a range of local and national organizations. The firm also participates in a number of community events. In fall of 2008, for example, the firm took part in the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer 3-Day Walk in Atlanta.  Each of its 13 U.S offices was represented on a team that raised more than $77,000 and was the fifth largest fundraiser at the event.  


Edelman also offers a first-rate intranet, Fusion, designed as a cross between Facebook, Google, and YouTube. Employees can “opt-in” to receive information that is relevant to them, access an archive of Edelman University training content, and see video messages from senior executives. Another neat benefit: employees in good standing who would like time to pursue a dream or goal may apply to receive an Edelman Escape, and a panel of judges chooses a few employees each year to reward with the Escape program of up to $1,000 and one week’s paid time off to pursue their dream or goal.


Edelman is “at heart a family business with the advantages of a large corporation,” says one survey respondent. “The emphasis Edelman puts on its staff being fully rounded individuals who give back to the community and take time for family is wonderful. I am very grateful for the reward initiatives Edelman has offered over the years, espescially for the Edelman Escape program, where I was awarded an additional week of paid vacation and $1,000 so I could take my father fishing and spend precious time with him before he passed away last year.”

Certificates of Excellence: Fleishman-Hillard, GolinHarris, Weber Shandwick, Cohn & Wolfe


Best Midsize Agency to Work For: Coyne Public Relations


Coyne PR has consistently ranked among the leaders in our Best Agencies to Work For survey—it was number three among midsize firms last year—and each time we have pointed to the firm’s mission statement, one of the most distinctive in the industry, and also one that the firm clearly takes seriously: “Our mission is not to be the best agency in America but the best one for work for,” says the firm, demonstrating an understanding of the “value chain” idea: “If we are the best place to work, we will attract the best employees,” the firm’s mission statement explains. “If we have the best employees, we will attract the best clients. If we have the best employees and the best clients, how can we not be the best agency in America?”


At Coyne, our goal is for every employee to leave the office each day a better public relations professional than they were the day before,” says human resources director Stephanie Whitney. That means a combination of formal training—Coyne College provided 70 hours of training to each employee last year, with sessions on social media, writing, new business and management issues—support for those who want to attend industry conferences and seminars, and mentoring by senior staff.


Founder and CEO Tom Coyne is a strong believer in transparency, and the firm shares detailed financial information, particularly important to employees in this economy; client and campaign ideas; new business activity, team reports; and holds regular team meetings. Work-life balance is an another priority, and the firm firms offers three or four weeks of vacation from day one; unlimited sick days; maternity, paternity and adoption leave; flex-time for some employees; and laptops to facilitate working from home. The firm itself works on numerous charitable campaigns for clients such as The Community Food Bank of New Jersey and The Valerie Fund, while its Coyne Return program encourages employees to select and contribute to their own favorite causes.

“The overall philosophy here has created such a great culture,” says one respondent. “People are nice to each other at every level, we respect each other, the agency constantly builds morale, and I truly believe leadership always does the 'right' thing by the employees.” It all starts at the top, says another: “Coyne PR makes a very active effort to keep a positive and upbeat atmosphere. Employees at all levels are treated respectfully. Tom Coyne's influence filters through all levels of management.” But it creates a pervasive atmosphere: “The people here actually care about my future. They don't just tell me that; they prove that through superb training and giving me every possible opportunity to get my feet wet in the PR pool.”


Certificates of Excellence: Marina Maher Communications, Text 100, Padilla Speer Beardsley, Access Communications


Best Small Agency to Work For: DAVIES


Our Best Small Agency to Work For for the second consecutive year, California public affairs firm DAVIES, says its objective is “to build the most strategic, most knowledgeable, highly motivated, best equipped, client focused organization of of winners in the nation.” To achieve that objective, it starts with an unusually sophisticated talent identification tool—a system that would be the envy of many top 10 firms—it callsThe Talent Readiness Generator, which involves a series of processes that together enable the agency to attract, orient, develop, motivate and retain top talent.


Recruitment begins with The Talent Locator, a unique sourcing process, and The Talent Identifier, which employs several assessment tools. On the professional development front, the firm uses The Performance Builder, which is segmented into three areas of focus—company, client, and craft—and includes focused staff retreats, presentations, on-the-job training as well as companywide reading and discussion, formal coursework from outside vendors, in-house workshops, and industry conferences related to our practice areas.


Meanwhile, a Career Path tool defines the progression in proficiency, client focus, and responsibility for each practice level. It’s an approach that keeps standards high.

“Davies has the highest quality individuals producing the highest quality of work,” says one respondent to our survey. “We enjoy doing what we do and working with one another. There is a unique opportunity here to become part of a culture that encourages personal growth and development alongside professional development. And, we are continuously rewarded based on merit alone, ensuring that we maintain a high quality firm.” Says another: “This is a well-run business that also treats people very, very well. Performance standards and humanity are not mutually exclusive at Davies. It is a firm that demands value creation for clients, yet cultivates a sense of caring and relationship between all employees.” And finally: “The leaders care about everyone and they are the hardest workers by far. The management never expects anyone to do more than they do; they set a high standard for caring and working.”


Certificates of Excellence: Gagen McDonald, Jackson Spalding, LaunchSquad, Biosector 2


Best Boutique Agency to Work For: Trainer Communications


Bay Area technology PR specialist Trainer Communications provides proof that a disciplined and strategic approach to recruitment, retention and development doesn’t require huge resources or cumbersome infrastructure—just a genuine commitment on the part of senior management to getting the people side of the business right.


At Trainer, that all begins with a recruitment process that leverages the SOAR (Substantial Goal, Obstacles, Action, Results) methodology described in the book You’re Not the Person I Hired and concludes with a McQuaig assessment, all designed to match the right people to the right jobs with the right expectations. Training takes place on four different levels: cultural and leadership training, drawing on some of the Bay Area’s most renowned leadership coaches—Dr. Howard Teich of PACE; Rayona Sharpnack of the Institute for Leadership; Dr. Strozzi-Heckler, leadership guru for U.S. armed forces—to build a high-performance culture; PR and marketing  training; technology domain training; and sales training, using Sandler System training for non-selling professionals.  Those that participate are held accountable for a specific level of activity from a sales perspective.


One respondent hails “the entrepreneurial spirit that is encouraged and supported from the moment you walk in the door. Everyone at Trainer has a voice and is encouraged to speak that voice to anyone at the agency from the CEO on down. We refuse to stand pat and are always pushing ourselves to innovate, to think differently, and to do whatever it takes to help our clients achieve their business objectives.” Another cites “the opportunity to take initiative at every level” while others are enthused by “the team spirit and ‘can do’ attitude of everyone within the company.”


Certificates of Excellence: Carolyn Grisko Associates, Tech Image, PerkettPR, Wheatley & Timmons



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