Best Places to Work in Virginia - TOP SMALL EMPLOYER CRT/Tanaka

CRT/tanaka employees are ‘ambassadors’ of workplace values

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Print this page by Tim Loughran

On its LinkedIn profile, the 65-employee CRT/tanaka marketing and public relations company tells potential clients that “We are driven by our compassionate hearts, curious minds and values-guided souls, which have allowed us to build a powerful, unique and profitable PR firm unlike any other.”

The company’s employment postings and its Facebook page explain the firm’s workplace culture with what executives call its “Nine Shared Values.” The list includes “what’s best for the group comes first” and “work for and trust each other.”

Don’t be fooled by the Deepak Chopra-style copywriting. The 15-year-old firm is the top small company among the 2011 Best Places to Work in Virginia. Its passionate belief that hard work, respect for fellow employees, client-centric teamwork and family-friendly work schedules should all be held in equally high regard has helped CRT/tanaka build an impressive global portfolio.

National and international customers include Air New Zealand, Mexico’s avocado growers, Spain’s Rioja wine region, Dyson vacuum cleaners, Liz Claiborne, Network Solutions, Charles Schwab, Sprint Nextel and the Washington, D.C.-based Council of Better Business Bureaus. Virginia clients include Performance Food Group, Longwood University, the nonprofit Housing Virginia organization and Bon Secours Health System.

“It’s a value system that really goes back to our decision to break away from a larger agency [Earle Palmer Brown] in 1996,” says Mike Mulvihill, the president and co-founder of CRT/tanaka. “That agency did what many companies do: They took care of a select group of senior people ... and everyone else was a cog — and if that cog wore out, so be it.”

Another company founder, Chairman and CEO Mark Raper, agrees. His experiences at EPB and working for the late industrialist Harry Figgie (the head of Figgie International Inc. whose management style was once described by company insiders as “hire ’em, tire ’em, fire ’em”) spurred Raper to create something different at CRT/tanaka. “Learning what not to do is often the most important lesson [for any company to succeed] ... To be a great company, you first have to be a great employer,” Raper says.

Last September employees from the company’s five offices (Richmond, Norfolk, Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C.), gathered at a corporate retreat “to articulate our brand promise and help employees understand their roles as corporate brand ambassadors,” says Jeff Wilson, associate vice president and director of business development.

That process calls for all managers to consistently articulate the firm’s workplace values in as many forums as possible. Those include the agency’s website, internal newsletters, company-wide e-mails, new-hire training sessions and internal staff meetings, regardless of their size. Standout “ambassadors” who distinguish themselves for excellence in projects benefiting a client, nonprofit organization or fellow employees are awarded the company’s annual “whatcanbe” award. The award currently carries a $2,500 bonus and an extra week of paid vacation.

Convinced that happy, engaged employees acting as effective “brand ambassadors” can help boost revenues at any company, CRT/tanaka executives frequently suggest changes in the workplace culture of their clients as part of their work. “We counsel our clients, that if they want to increase sales, or improve their ROI ... it all tracks back to how well you handle your staff,” Raper says. 

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