Best Places to Work

Best Places to Work: No. 8 Airfoil

Tech-PR Firm Hones New Talent by Making Mentoring a Top Priority

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Cue Eminem, but instead of a Chrysler creeping through the cold, gray Motor City, imagine 52 technology PR pros running around in search of hidden treasure.

This isn't a car commercial; it's a scavenger hunt kicking off Airfoil PR's 10th anniversary. The midsize technology firm on the outskirts of Detroit, with employees in from its Silicon Valley office, was celebrating a decade that has helped define it as a top place to work.

Now in its 11th year, the firm is on track for 10% growth in 2011. It has programs in place to contribute to that momentum as it continues to fuse its unique culture, location and tech PR offering.

Location: Southfield, Mich.
Employees: 52
Top Executives: Lisa Vallee-Smith, CEO

A key element in maintaining its vibe is employee transparency, said HR Manager Jennifer Cattini. She said the firm holds meetings with all employees to talk about where it stands financially and what it needs to do to meet objectives and new goals. It also provides them with incentives to meet those goals. New this year are special bonuses and a profit-sharing plan as an extra contribution to employees' 401(k) plans. If the agency meets its 10% revenue-growth target , it will contribute additional rewards via profit sharing, bonuses and special shopping or travel vouchers.

"We want employees to feel like they're being rewarded for extra work," she said. "We associate that with revenue and new-business activities."


Other benefits include summer Fridays, a $200 wellness reimbursement program for any chosen health initiative, a flexible work-from-home policy and a technology-data-package reimbursement. The latter reflects an investment in generating employee knowledge and excitement about technology for startup clients as well as larger clients such as Microsoft, Ms. Cattini explained. There's also an internal committee on a mission to identify emerging technologies.

Less-obvious benefits in the form of mentoring exist within an account-geared structure. Each VP is assigned a portfolio, and all staff members are assigned an Individual Action Plan (IAP) lead who monitors and collaborates with them on performance reviews and career paths. Meanwhile, the firm uses Microsoft Lync software for internal communication through video chats, online whiteboards and group conversations.

Mentoring isn't just a casual thing at Airfoil; it's taught. The firm's new internship program assigns account executives to interns with the aim of honing leadership skills in young talent.

And it can't hurt morale to have a flagship in Southfield, Mich., which neighbors a region that America has been rooting for. "There's a feeling of pride that we live here, and we're doing well and in the tech scene," said Katie Trautmann, a three-year employee and account executive. "Having a partnership in the Silicon Valley with Detroit gives us unique insight and ability."

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