Best Places to Work 2010

A Pat on the Back Just Won't Do at SicolaMartin

Agency's Management Style Keeps Morale High by Rewarding 'Martians' With Flying Saucers, Cash, Time Off

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- In ad industry years, SicolaMartin's average employee tenure of 7.5 years is tantamount to a lifetime. "A lot of us have worked together so long that there's a personal bond," said Cherie Cox, president and 19-year veteran of the Austin, Texas-based agency. "We care about each other."

Monthly at SicolaMartin, the Gold Suit makes the rounds, recognizing big thinking in the creative department.
Monthly at SicolaMartin, the Gold Suit makes the rounds, recognizing big thinking in the creative department.
SICOLAMARTIN
LOCATION: Austin, Texas

EMPLOYEES: 50

GIVING BACK: This year, SicolaMartin instated "10 in 10," a program that gives employees 10 paid hours in 2010 to devote to volunteer work, whether as part of a group or individually. Every two years, employees also have the chance to pitch their favorite charitable organizations to coworkers, who select the pro-bono accounts SicolaMartin will serve, including, most recently, The Austin Children's Shelter and The Breast Cancer Resource Centers of Texas.

They have fun, too. Stress will always be a part of business, said Diane McKinnon, senior VP-exec creative director. So a little levity goes a long way in fostering a healthy workplace. "We take the work that we do very seriously. But we don't take ourselves so seriously. That's a fundamental truth about who we are as an agency."

Employees call themselves Martians, for instance, and each of their business cards features a different Martian character.

From an HR perspective, SicolaMartin perks include summer hours and a five-week "Fresh Air" sabbatical after five years. But the long tenure also seems to stem from a less tangible factor: The agency, whose clients include Dell, Sybase and AMD, doesn't employ formulaic, cookie-cutter approaches to management.

"Our culture is about looking at people as individuals and finding ways, within the framework of a functioning business, to accommodate personalities and inspire people to be the best they can be," said Ms. McKinnon.

Moreover, peer-to-peer recognition programs enable employees to inspire each other. For the annual "3-i'd Martian" award, employees reward the coworker who best demonstrates SicolaMartin's core values -- integrity, innovation and inspiration -- with a $2,500 prize and a week off.

Monthly, the Gold Suit (it's lam�) makes the rounds, recognizing big thinking in the creative department (of course), while a Flying Saucer Award is cross-departmental.

Meredith Cuevas, senior account manager and former saucer holder ("It felt like winning an Oscar," she said) couldn't imagine working somewhere where her voice didn't count. For Ms. Cuevas, the fact that strategy, account management and creative don't happen in siloed vacuums is a major plus; at the start of each project, people from all disciplines work together to determine their approach moving forward.

"People are encouraged to ask questions: Why are we doing it this way, and can we do it better?" It's one of the best things about working at SicolaMartin, Ms. Cuevas said.