So You're a 'Best' Place to Work -- Does Anyone Care?

Marketers and Agencies Spend Hundreds of Hours Filling Out the Surveys

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When a magazine lists a marketer or agency as a great place to work, does that really mean anything?

The answer, like a lot of rating systems, varies.
P&G finished No. 2 in Chief Executive magazine's list of best companies for leaders, but No. 66 in BusinessWeek's recent 'Best Places to Launch a Career.'
P&G finished No. 2 in Chief Executive magazine's list of best companies for leaders, but No. 66 in BusinessWeek's recent 'Best Places to Launch a Career.'

Some executive recruiters doubt all the annual rankings of best places to work ultimately influence many recruits. Nevertheless, some marketers and agencies put in hundreds of hours annually filling out surveys to qualify for the lists.

"Typically, one survey does not impact our recruiting results in a given year," said a P&G spokeswoman, but she added that "consistent rankings on various surveys over time improves our company's reputation. Naturally, this can make an impression on new hires."

But P&G, a company that has found ways to measure most things, hasn't found one to measure that. And any measurement system would find some strange variations.

P&G finished No. 2 in Chief Executive magazine's list of best companies for leaders, but No. 66 in BusinessWeek's recent "Best Places to Launch a Career." The company ranked in the top 20 for 2007 of Working Mother's list of "Best Companies for Multicultural Women" yet this year dropped out of the same magazine's top 100 listing of best companies for all women.

Rival L'Oréal (No. 16) beat P&G handily in the BusinessWeek list of best places to start a career. Yet one person who has worked both places finds P&G considerably better at developing -- and listening to -- younger marketers.

The variation in lists is one reason David Wiser, a Cincinnati executive recruiter, puts little stock in rankings. "I don't think I've ever heard someone say they were going to work for a company because it was on one of the lists," he said.

New York recruiter Barbara Pickens believes the best-of lists do little to influence senior recruits, but may sway new M.B.A.s.

But Michael Stich, a former executive with Texas Instruments, Dell and McKinsey & Co., said Bridge Worldwide's place on the small-company list from the Great Place to Work Institute did influence his decision to join the Cincinnati agency this summer as director of strategic planning.

The right fit
He wanted to move to Cincinnati to be close to his wife's family and already had scoured the Fortune list of the 100 best big employers, which GPWI also develops, only to find none fit for him. But Bridge, a unit of WPP Group's Wunderman, did. (It still fits the small-employer criteria because it operates separately.)

"I think being on the list is a huge advantage for us,"said Jay Woffington, CEO of Bridge.

Agencies, despite the sometimes whimsical titles, cool décor and emphasis on creativity, don't often make the best-places lists. None has made the Fortune list in recent years, with only Omnicom's Integer Group, Denver, and independent Archer-Malmo, Memphis, making the GPWI's medium and small-company lists.

However, Havas' Arnold Worldwide, Boston, which offers amenities such as emergency-backup childcare, has been the only agency on the Working Mother top-100 list the past three years.

"A lot of people who come to work here are mentioning that we're on the list," said Maurice Haynes, VP-director of work-life, at Arnold.

Drawbacks of good companies
One question, of course, is, how great can a place be to work if it's not growing? SC Johnson has consistently ranked high on many of the lists, including top-10 rankings in recent years on the Fortune and Working Mother lists.

Fortune's lists also have noted, however, that SCJ hasn't added any jobs in the U.S. the past two years. Some people familiar with the company agree SCJ is a great place to work, but think it may be so great it creates complacency.

An SCJ spokeswoman disagrees. "We have a very, very, very low turnover rate," she said. "And, no, we don't have complacency. If you don't have to retrain people constantly ... you're much, much better off competitively."

For its part, the Great Place to Work Institute notes that public companies on Fortune's 100-best list outperformed the Standard & Poor's 100 with annual growth rates of 14.2% vs. 6% from 1998 to 2006. Not bad for great places to work.
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