Employer of the year: Top 30 marketing employers 2006

Communication, openness and employee engagement are at the heart of the strategies used by the firms staff most enjoy working for, creating high levels of loyalty. Jane Bainbridge reports.

It is usual for directors of companies appearing in any form of league table to scan the list nervously, their dread growing the further down they have to cast their eyes. Not so with Marketing's Employer of the Year survey, compiled by The SG Group (previously known as Stopgap) with Survey Solutions. In this case it is an accolade for a company to feature at all, no matter what its ranking.

The nature of this survey is such that, typically, only employees who look upon their employer favourably will spend their time filling out the questionnaire. 'Because all the companies at the very top have done well, there is little to choose between them,' adds Bruce Levi, commercial and marketing director at The SG Group.

This year the survey received more responses than ever before - 2793 from 292 organisations. But while a broader range of companies feature, fewer qualified than in previous years. The criteria have changed slightly this year (see Methodology box), so that very small firms are no longer eligible and there is a sliding scale in terms of the proportion of the agency or department that had to respond for the company to feature.

What is evident from this year's survey is how well marketing performs as a whole. This is an industry sector that takes its role as employer very seriously. The SG Group compared the results against its own database of 80 employee surveys across all industry sectors; Levi says the companies ranked in these tables all do better than the average results from those surveys.

The majority of respondents gave very positive answers, either agreeing or strongly agreeing with almost every question. 'Strongly agree' scored five, 'agree' four, 'neither' three, 'disagree' two and 'strongly disagree' one. The top 10 organisations achieved a mean rating of 4.74, which means that almost all respondents working for them say they are highly satisfied in almost all aspects of their employment.

It has always been the case that agencies tend to score higher than client companies. Smaller agencies, where the founders still run the operation, are hands-on and can inject their ethos into the day-to-day business, are in a stronger position than an isolated marketing director trying to inspire their team within a monolithic organisation.

For clients, however, size can also be an asset, according to Claire Owen, managing director of The SG Group. 'The positive for larger companies is that they have the resources both financially and in manpower terms to implement programmes that will benefit staff. And if the marketing director is part of an organisation where the chairman is committed, it's fantastic - but the downside is that if the marketing director is banging the drum without the support of people at the top, they will have a harder time,' she says.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons Ben & Jerry's has come top in the client table. Part of Unilever since 2000, its employees get the perks associated with a company of size, but it is run as a separate business with its own unique brand and positioning.

Talk to the highest-ranking agencies, and it soon becomes clear that their appearance as a top employer is no accident. Invariably their founders have thought long and hard about what they want their agency to be like, what values it will operate under and what they can do as leaders to get the best out of their staff and ensure they enjoy working together. Ninety eight per cent of agency employees taking part agreed that their company was 'a fun and sociable place to work'.

How staff work together and get on is at the heart of being a great employer, according to Owen. 'The best companies are employing like-minded people,' she says. 'A key ingredient is the community, where no matter what job you do, you want to participate in everything the company is doing. Organisations understand that to create team spirit, staff have to positively relate to each other and have shared values.'

This utopian vision is not borne out easily. Dan Bobby, managing director of top-ranking agency employer Dave, says: 'It is very important that if an individual isn't performing, they can't get away with it. Employee engagement is not just happy-clappy stuff - not everyone is going to make it.'

Across agencies and client companies alike, communication is vital. The high-ranking organisations all invest a great deal of time in both individual and department- or company-wide communications, both formally and informally, to ensure the vision, brand and strategies are understood by everyone. And there are some interesting correlations between answers: for example, those most likely to feel valued as an employee tend to feel that they can make a difference at their company and that the company cares about their wellbeing.

Being a top employer is not just an exercise in altruism. In a highly competitive market where everyone is vying for the best candidates, it is also about staff retention. 'I think any business has to think about being the sort of employer that people want to work for,' says John Milsom, managing director of Bespoke Communications. 'It is a cliche, but if you can't attract and retain great people who want to achieve great things together, you are nowhere as an agency.'

Respondents who agree that they see themselves being with their current employer in three years' time are most likely to agree that they have a clear idea of how their career will develop in the company, that they are satisfied with their prospects and that they are excited about where the company is going.

If final proof is needed of just how well regarded these employers are, advocacy provides a key measure of staff satisfaction. Would the respondents recommend their company as an employer? A phenomenal 95% said they would.

TOP CLIENT - BEN & JERRY'S

Staff: Eighteen staff in total with four official marketers, although there are others that get involved.

Description: Ice-cream manufacturer, owned by Unilever.

Achievements of the past year: The brand has attained market leadership in both the luxury and super-premium ice-cream categories, according to IRI, as well as achieving double-digit growth. It also launched its first Fairtrade vanilla ice-cream. The company has moved to new offices in Windsor - above an ice-cream shop.

Success due to: Its attitude to its staff. 'It's about valuing, recognising and rewarding people,' says Helen Jones, general manager at Ben & Jerry's. 'We encourage people to get involved, to come up with ideas, to feel part of the business and all the decisions being made. We develop people, but we don't put them in boxes and we do challenge them - people need challenging work and they enjoy it.'

TOP CLIENT EMPLOYERS

Company 2005
RANK
1 Ben & Jerry's n/a
2 Cancer Research UK n/a
3 ING Direct 6
4 Momentum Pictures n/a
5 Stocksigns n/a
6 Post Office n/a
7 Sainsbury's n/a
8 Virgin Trains n/a
9 Institute of Practitioners
in Advertising n/a
10 New Covent Garden Soup Company n/a
11 Marshalls n/a
12 General Mills 16
13 Reed Business Information 2
14 SAP UK n/a
15 Loyalty Management UK n/a
16 BUPA 30
17 Virgin Atlantic n/a
18 Cobra Beer n/a
19 Totaljobs Group n/a
20 Alliance & Leicester 10
21 London Underground 28
22 Npower n/a
23 Maxxium UK 23
24 Elior UK n/a
25 Homeserve GB 19
26 National Instruments UK 21
27 VisitBritain 24
28 Yorkshire Tourist Board 36
29 Ferrero 50
30 British Gas 41

Source: SG Group/Marketing survey

TOP AGENCY - DAVE

Staff: Thirty one full-timers.

Description: Creative business consultancy, part of Engine Group.

Achievements of the past year: Income and profit growth of 30%. Recent wins include Myla and Backes & Strauss, the diamond company. Awards include winner in the retail and advertising and sponsorship categories of the Marketing Design Awards 2005 for its work with Vertu.

Success due to: 'Practising what we preach - for people-engagement projects it's very important that we can demonstrate that we believe in these things,' says Dan Bobby, Dave's managing director. 'Energy, creativity and belief define a great organisation and it defines Dave. We didn't call the agency after us; we wanted to build a brand. The invitation is for everyone who joins Dave to do it differently. We try to create and nurture the culture of great people doing great work for great clients.'

TOP AGENCY EMPLOYERS

Company 2005
RANK
1 Dave n/a
2 Launch Group n/a
3 Oxford Strategic Marketing 7
4 Elephants Can't Jump n/a
5 Bespoke Communications 8
6 Brave PR 10
7 Bright n/a
8 Spinnaker Direct n/a
9 Cirkle n/a
10 Jigsaw Research n/a
11 Sense Internet n/a
12 Billington Cartmell n/a
13 Presky Maves 19
14 Blue Rubicon n/a
15 Cow Communications 13
16 Shine Communications 14
17 Geronimo Marketing & Comms n/a
18 Midnight Communications n/a
19 Momentum 4
20 Redmandarin 1
21 Elvis Communications n/a
22 Reeves Green Partners n/a
23 Claydon Heeley 2
24 Clock n/a
25 Opinion Leader Research n/a
26 Grasshopper UK n/a
27 Space n/a
28 Profero n/a
29 Barrett Dixon Bell 46
30 Spannerworks n/a

Source: SG Group/Marketing survey

METHODOLOGY

Companies were invited to take part in an online survey run by Survey Solutions and SG Group through various calls to action including editorial in Marketing and emails sent to The SG Group's and Brand Republic's database of companies. Only those with at least 15 employees were eligible. There was a sliding scale of how many employees had to respond to the questionnaire for them to qualify. For example, smaller agencies needed five responses, while agencies with more than 50 staff required 15. On the client side, five responses were needed from companies with marketing departments of up to 15 staff, 10 responses if the department had 16-30 staff, and 15 if the department was more than 30-strong.

BEST EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT

Client: Ben & Jerry's

Agency: Dave

Claire Owen, managing director of The SG Group, describes employee engagement as 'a belief in the organisation; it's about pride and commitment. If you can engage your staff, they'll do anything for you.'

For Ben & Jerry's, its socially responsible positioning is as important as its open and honest working environment. 'Staff participate in community action days, where they help to build playgrounds, for example, and we do nice things as a team,' says general manager Helen Jones. 'Staff get to meet our farmers and cows, and some have even gone to the Arctic, to the Climate Change College we set up. Everyone feels valued and participates.'

At top agency Dave, the emphasis is on communication to ensure everyone feels involved in delivery strategy. It classifies its clients by clear criteria as those that are important to revenue, those that are important to Dave's reputation, and those that are good fun. Clients that meet at least two out of three criteria are 'to be cherished', but if a client fulfils only one criterion, then the agency discusses whether it should continue to work with them.

'You must make senior people visible and accessible to all,' says managing director Dan Bobby. 'You need regular one-to-one and one-to-many communications so people understand the business and how they as individuals are getting on. Strategies always have to be reviewed.'

TOP 5 CLIENTS

1 Ben & Jerry's
2 Momentum Pictures
3 Cancer Research UK
4 Stocksigns
5 ING Direct

Source: SG Group/Marketing survey


TOP 5 AGENCIES

1 Dave
2 Oxford Strategic Mktg
3 Elephants Can't Jump
4 Bespoke Comms
5 Launch Group

Source: SG Group/Marketing survey

BEST LEADERSHIP AND BRAND VALUES

Client: IPA

Agency: Launch Group

There can be no denying the impact that leadership has on an organisation or department.

The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) is an anomaly among the companies that feature in these results. As a trade body, it must answer to more than 250 member agencies, so all its staff have to be focused on servicing those clients. Director-general Hamish Pringle is determined that the trade body should not fall prey to the tendency to become a backwater for retired practitioners. 'It is subtle, but my job is to enable others to be better at their job,' he says. 'Each department or team head has been given their own budget and autonomy for their own strategies. I'm not telling people what to do, but rather helping them do what they are doing already.' Part of his strategy is to get staff members to set their own targets, rather than have them imposed from above.

When Johnny Pitt set up integrated PR and communications agency Launch Group five-and-a-half years ago, he was determined that no matter what the size of the company, talking about its goals with staff was crucial.

'Leadership is about setting a clear vision and buying into it; then people feel empowered,' he says. 'The more ambitious employees are for themselves, the quicker the business moves on. By sharing a vision with people, you are able to bring them forward with you where the company is going.'

TOP 5 CLIENTS

1 IPA
2 Cancer Research UK
3 Stocksigns
4 Ben & Jerry's
5 ING Direct

Source: SG Group/Marketing survey


TOP 5 AGENCIES

1 Launch Group
2 Dave
3 Bespoke Comms
4 Elephants Can't Jump
5 Oxford Strategic Mktg

Source: SG Group/Marketing survey

BEST PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT

Client: Cancer Research UK

In today's cut-throat job market no one can afford to stand still. Professional development not only helps progress individuals' careers, it also ensures that employers are getting the most out of their staff.

As a charity, Cancer Research UK must ensure its income is focused on research. Its salaries will never compete with the private sector, so staff development is key. 'This is better for the organisation, as better work means more income,' says the charity's direct marketing director, Anthony Newman.

As well as running a graduate training scheme, the charity also operates talent-management programmes with bespoke development for all. It also often pays for employees to pursue IDM and CIM diploma courses.

'We are more interested in finding the best talent and learning what they need for their job rather than employing specialists,' says Newman.

TOP 5 CLIENTS

1 Cancer Research UK
2 Stocksigns
3 Momentum Pictures
4 Ben & Jerry's
5 Post Office

Source: SG Group/Marketing survey

BEST EMPLOYEE BENEFITS

Agency: Bespoke Communications

Bespoke Communications does not offer pensions or private healthcare. Instead, it rewards its staff with above-average salaries and performance-based bonuses. Free gym membership is on offer, but staff can take cash if they prefer. 'We share a passion for decent food and wine, so we also spend the odd evening at London's finest restaurants,' says managing director John Milsom.

TOP 5 AGENCIES

1 Bespoke Comms
2 Oxford Strategic Mktg
3 Bright
4 Dave
5 Elephants Can't Jump

Source: SG Group/Marketing survey

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