Best Places to Work

Exclusive Ranking Of The 85 Top Workplaces In The Ad Specialty Industry

Best Places to Work 2012Great workplaces tend to have happy employees. Just ask them. That's exactly what we did.

In surveying the employees of ad specialty companies – more than 4,000 of them this year – we came up with the 85 Best Places to Work in the industry. (For a complete list of those companies, click here.)

How did these companies foster the happiness that makes them great workplaces? It all starts with high levels of communication and a culture of motivation.

Where Communication Thrives

If the Counselor Best Places to Work companies know one thing, it's the importance of communication – in many cases, hyper-communication. Many say that the key to creating a great workplace culture is to ensure that everybody in the office is as informed as possible. Whether it's through in-person meetings, teleconferences, webinars or fun events, these companies dedicate a lot of time and resources to sharing information with their staffs.

And, they all say, it's not a one-way street. Sure, providing information about a company's financials and how the business is doing is important to make employees feel involved in the overall goals and operations of the company. But it's also vital that management hears the ideas of employees. And that employees share ideas with each other.

Take distributor firm NewClients (asi/282470) in Richmond, VA, for example. The company, which is ranked number 10 on this year's Best Places to Work list, says that it attributes its near-100% retention rate to its very strict open-book policy. Management holds regular meetings to give staffers updates about the business, and events are held nearly every month – either off-site or at the company's headquarters. "We run a very transparent business," says Jeff Hall, president. "And, we continually ask for feedback as to what is important for our staff to be compensated fairly and managed well and to enjoy the camaraderie of a satisfying and fulfilling environment."

NewClients also even changed its operating software recently to insure that the company is as transparent as possible to its employees. Now employees can more clearly see the productivity and efficiency of themselves and everyone around them. "A salesperson can view sales, commissions, accounts receivable, and everything relating to the book of business," Hall says. "We openly communicate our corporate goals with the entire team. There are no surprises, and everyone knows that management has their back when it comes to client and vendor issues."

Such a culture, though, can often be a shock to new employees, which is why Best Places to Work companies begin the training process as soon as new hires are signed on. JH Specialty (asi/232445), ranked number eight on the Best Places to Work list, holds an "initiation party" every few months to welcome new team members. The event is held on-site in the company's rec room, and there's plenty of food and drink for everyone. The group even holds a hot wing eating contest for new employees during the parties. "This creates a bond among the team," the company says, "as everyone has gone through the hot wing challenge."

JH also makes sure to get to know its employees as closely as possible, so that it can understand the individual motivations of its staffers. As part of its employee review process, managers use what the company calls a roadmap of each employee to understand their personal goals and upcoming life events.

Formal and regular communication is also something that Best Places to Work companies implement as frequently as possible. ePromos Promotional Products (asi/188515), based in New York and ranked number 18 on this year's list, holds company-wide town hall meetings quarterly. All sales offices from around the country participate, and each team is able to view one another on a screen so that the sense of unity can be enhanced. Jason Robbins, CEO of the company, addresses everybody, keeping all up to date on performance goals, highlighting accomplishments and sharing the strategy and direction of the company.

For ePromos, these meetings are also an opportunity for some recognition and levity. Anniversaries are honored at the end of the meetings, and following every meeting, the company will rent out a restaurant for a fun evening where the whole staff can unwind. "This is a key part of the culture effort, as we are a flat organization and employees look forward to time spent with the CEO and their coworkers," the company says.

Bristol ID Technologies (asi/42034), a supplier that's ranked number 49 on the Best Places to Work list, also depends on formal meetings to inform its employees about the business. Bristol's meetings happen monthly, and they highlight the previous month's performance (including both sales and profitability) and honors exceptional employee contributions to the company's efforts. Each meeting is followed by a catered lunch or a cookout during the summer.

The effort is all meant to show staffers exactly how they fit into the bigger picture of the company. "All employees know exactly how we are performing," the company says, "and they understand the influence they can have on this, as well as take pride in their achievements." With the knowledge that motivated and energized staffers tend to be the most loyal employees, the Best Places to Work companies for 2012 are surely focused on creating ways to ramp up their people's motivation. Indeed, incentive programs are often at the heart of how these companies not only insure peak performance from employees, but also loyalty.

The number-one company on this year's Best Places to Work list, Proforma Albrecht & Co. (asi/116308), firmly believes in incentive plans to create an energized work force. It recently introduced a promotion to its sales reps that allows them to earn reward points for activities that lead to sales. While the traditional incentive program for salespeople is focused on the end-result, Albrecht & Co. decided to mix it up this year and honor people for the steps they take to achieve higher sales. So, salespeople who take courses in the company's online learning center or who utilize Albrecht's lead-generation program can earn points that can be redeemed for various products and electronics.

The effort is meant to show salespeople the breadth of tools they can use, and to keep them as loyal as possible to what Albrecht offers them. "We want our employees and sales representatives to feel as though they are a valuable partner, and they should know that we take their opinions and recommendations seriously," the company says.

Bob Lilly Professional Promotions (asi/254138), based in Dallas and ranked number seven on this year's Best Places to Work list, also takes incentive programs seriously, offering many contests to its staffers and salespeople throughout the year. There are sales contests in which winners can receive cash, electronics or other gifts. And, there are days off awarded to employees who complete major projects for the company.

Even further, some companies turn their incentive programs and motivational strategies into games. Take PromoSpark (asi/349939), number 22 on the Best Places to Work list, for example. The company had noticed recently that it was having too many mistakes on orders going into production. So, it conceived of what it calls an "accuracy" game.

"We gave employees a monetary reward and for every order that went into production without errors, they got to keep the money," the company says. "For every order that went into production with a mistake, $5 was taken away from their reward. The game lasted 30 days, and we noticed significant improvement and the issue of mistakes has since been resolved."

The plan allowed people to focus more clearly on the task at hand, and the game offered a sort of backward incentive plan. Traditional incentives reward people for good work at the end – this program forced people to work hard throughout, knowing they'd miss out on a reward if something went wrong. "People pay closer attention knowing their reward could be reduced," the company says, "as opposed to working toward something they haven't earned yet."

Other companies make incentives a part of just about everything that they do. Showdown Displays (asi/87188) is a Best Places to Work supplier that takes its motivational and incentive programs to the max. It has a Department Quality Champion Program, which honors a specific department each month for showing the most improvement in quality. A traveling trophy – which is actually an event cooler that's filled with soda and snacks – then works its way from department to department. "This program promoted teamwork and motivation within departments," the company says.

Further, once a month at Showdown, an employee is recognized as the Customer Champion of the Month by their fellow coworkers. And, there's a High Five program at the company, in which management acknowledges individuals daily for the big and little things that they accomplish. Once an employee's High Five card is completed, they can redeem it for a gift card. "We are a team and respect one another and have a common goal to make our business a great place to work," the company says. "It is the positive attitudes, daily interactions and personal growth that bring us back every day."

And, after traditional incentives have run their course, some unique workplaces simply work out together to ramp up the motivation. Within the past year, Cavanaugh Marketing Network (asi/159262), ranked number 37 on the list, started a voluntary push-up club to promote fitness and mental toughness at the company. With about 50% of employees participating (both women and men), the group meets four times a day to bang out as many push-ups as they can. The annual goal for the team is 250,000 push-ups. As of the end of June, they were at about 50% of their hefty goal – and the team is working hard every day to ensure they meet it.

"Members are very prideful of their dedication to this effort and have seen their fitness levels increase," the company says. "Visitor involvement is also solicited."


How We Did It

The Best Places to Work program involved an in-depth survey process developed by Counselor's research partner for this project, Quantum Workplace. The process began in February with a nomination period that involved industry firms initially nominating themselves for the contest. More than 300 companies completed the initial nomination process.

Then, each company asked all of its employees to complete a 37-question survey about their experience working at that organization. The survey measured 10 different areas: team effectiveness, retention risk (employee loyalty), alignment with goals (does employee understand goals of company?), trust with coworkers, individual contribution (does the company adequately recognize employees?), manager effectiveness, trust in senior leaders, feeling valued (does the company invest in employee success?), satisfaction with current role, and people practices (satisfaction with company benefits).

Ultimately, about 150 industry companies began the survey process with their employees. Surveys were administered between April 1 and May 15 through a secure, online site created by Quantum. In instances where certain employees couldn't get to a computer, paper surveys were conducted through the mail. Also, the survey was translated into Spanish, for non-English-speaking workers.

After the surveys were completed, Quantum scored all of the responses and all questions on the survey were weighted evenly. Quantum then presented Counselor a ranking of all the companies that qualified for inclusion in the program – to qualify, each company had to meet a certain benchmark percentage of the amount of employees who responded to the survey (this was based on a sliding scale depending on how many people a company employs).

Counselor then took the top 85 companies from Quantum's scored rankings and is honoring those organizations as this year's Best Places to Work in the ad specialty industry.