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3 Worst “Best” Lists

100 Best Companies to Work For

Numbered lists are hot items on websites and in magazines because they generate clicks. Here’s what Reuters chief executive Andrew Rashbass wrote in an internal staff memo, as reported by Politico’s Dylan Byers:

Getting people to click on stories has become a science. The leading technique is the enticingly-headlined numbered list. Buzzfeed are the masters. At the moment they’re running on their homepage “18 Unexpected Side Effects Of Being An Adult,” “21 Things A Guy Quickly Learns After Moving In With His Girlfriend For The First Time” and “16 Gluten-Free Dishes You Can Eat At Almost Any Restaurant.”

I’ve been following one of the “best” lists since it came out in 1984 – Robert Levering and Milton Moskowitz’s“100 Best Companies to Work For In America.” In 1997, FORTUNE magazine took over publishing the “Best Companies to Work For” list annually. I began following it to see what media companies appeared on it so I could blog about their presence (or absence) and rank.

A Glaring Omission

On the original 1984 list, Time, Inc. was the only media company on the list. In the 1993 update of the book, Levering and Moskowitz put only two media companies on the list: Knight-Ridder (newspapers) and Readers Digest, but they both have since faded from the list. America Online was the only media company on the list in 2000, and The New York Times Company made the list (#93) in 2003. 2005 was a banner year for media and media-related companies: Discovery Communication, Emmis Communication, John Wiley & Sons, Valassis (newspaper inserts) and Arbitron made the “Best Companies to Work For” list.

Notice that none of big-six media companies made the 2005 list. In a 2005 blog, I wrote:

I have my suspicions about the validity of the lists because of the way surveys are conducted. FORTUNE claims that about 1,000 companies are contacted and only about a third (356) complete the “exhaustive survey process.” The 57-question survey from Levering and Moskowtiz’s company goes to a minimum of 350 randomly selected employees from each company and two-thirds of the total score for the list comes from these employee responses. The remaining one-third of the score comes from Levering and Moskowitz’s “evaluation of each company’s demographic makeup, pay and benefits programs, and the like. We score companies in four areas: credibility, respect, fairness, and pride/camaraderie.

Therefore, if a company doesn’t want to participate, it doesn’t make the list. I suspect that several media companies that I know are good places to work, such as A.H. Belo, don’t participate. And companies that aren’t such great places to work do participate and “suggest” that employees say nice things in the survey.

The only media company other than Google to be on the list from 2005 to 2013 was Dream Works Animation (#6) in 2013. Google has been on the list for eight years, five as number one, but it wasn’t considered a media company until 2007 or 2008, I think, and has been number one in 2012, 2013 and 2014. One thing this impressive string of wins means is that Google has gone to the trouble of filling out the applications to be on the list. But that, of course, doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t have won if every media and media-related company had bothered to fill out the applications. Google probably would have won.

Best vs. Most Admired?

Compare FORTUNE’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” list to its “World’s Most Admired Companies” list. At least this list isn’t based only on those companies that apply, it’s based on the following criteria:

Our survey partners at Hay Group asked executives, directors, and analysts to rate companies in their industry on nine criteria, from investment value to social responsibility… To arrive at the top 50 Most Admired Companies overall, Hay Group asked the 3,920 respondents to select the 10 companies they admired most from a list made up of the companies that ranked in the top 25% in last year’s survey, plus those that finished in the top 20% of their industry.

The only media company on the 50 “Most Admired” list is Disney (if you don’t count Google and Facebook as media companies), and the top ten are:

  1. Apple
  2. Amazon
  3. Google
  4. Berkshire Hathaway
  5. Starbucks
  6. Coca-Cola
  7. Walt Disney
  8. Fed Ex
  9. Southwest Airlines
  10. General Electric

So, the only company on the “Best to Work For” list that is on the top-ten “Most Admired” list is Google. What does that tell you? That the lists don’t mean much?

Well, no. I guess if you can get a job at Google, SAS, Boston Consulting, Edward Jones, or Quicken Loans, Genentech, Salesforce.com, Intuit, Robert Bird or DPR Construction (the top ten on the “Best” list), you’ll probably be happy.

But don’t pass up a job at Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, Coca-Cola or McKinsey & Co. because they aren’t on the “Best Companies To Work For” list. They more than likely didn’t apply. Apple and Amazon are notoriously secretive, so of course they wouldn’t apply for the list, and the absence of Apple, Amazon and Facebook from the “Best…” list makes it invalid to say the least, and, thus, leads the list of my worst “best” lists.

More of the Same

FORTUNE’s “Most Admired” companies list’s methodology is fuzzy, which makes it hard to understand why the list is worthwhile, even though the list at first glance seems reasonable. Plus, there’s only one media company on the list – Disney – which also seems reasonable, given the sparse appearance of media companies for decades of the “Best Companies To Work For” list.

However, with Wal-Mart, Target, J.P. Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and Wells Fargo ahead of Facebook, will anyone under 40 pay any attention to the “Most Admired” list? Therefore, being so Wall Street oriented, out of touch and having fuzzy methodology, FORTUNE’s “Most Admired” list ranks number two on my worst “best” list.

Ranking third on my worst “best” list is a list within a list – the Cable and Satellite Providers list in the “World’s Most Admired Companies” list:

  1. Comcast
  2. Liberty Global
  3. Direct TV
  4. Time Warner Cable

Bloomberg News reported on a Consumer Report article that listed Comcast and Time Warner Cable as two of America’s least favorite cable companies. Comcast’s service ranked 15th out of 17 companies, and Time Warner Cable ranked 16th in a survey of 81,488 users – a good, solid sample.

But one thing for job seekers to note, on any of the worst “best” lists, is the absence of all legacy media companies but two — Disney on the “Most Admired” list and Discovery Communications on the “Best Companies to Work For” list – not including, of course Google (both lists) and Facebook (#45 on the “Most Admired” list).

The Big Takeaways

The point I’m making is that large, legacy media companies typically aren’t necessarily wonderful places to work. They tend not to treat their people very well because the demand for their jobs far exceeds the supply. Therefore, rather than being highly selective in hiring and treating their people really well, legacy media companies tend to make the short-term choice of not paying other than their stars well and not treating their people relatively well.

Mediaphiles beware, and even pay some attention to even the worst of the “best” lists when considering a job or a career, especially in the legacy media. And if you do want a career in the legacy media, don’t have high expectations of being treaded really well. You’ll have to get your satisfaction from the work you do, not necessarily from the company you work for.

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More Stories By Shelly Palmer

Shelly Palmer is the host of Fox Television’s "Shelly Palmer Digital Living" television show about living and working in a digital world. He is Fox 5′s (WNYW-TV New York) Tech Expert and the host of United Stations Radio Network’s, MediaBytes, a daily syndicated radio report that features insightful commentary and a unique insiders take on the biggest stories in technology, media, and entertainment.

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