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PHMG's startup culture helps fuel sales

Jul 25, 2023

Every morning Corey Nieder looks forward to a fast-paced workday. As head of sales for Texas at PHMG, Nieder is responsible for pumping up his team of 17 sales representatives to meet targets and have fun along the way.

The sales reps are responsible for booking appointments with businesses that they believe would benefit from the company's product: audio tracks that play music or messages while a caller is on hold. The company, which started as Please Hold Media Group, calls it "audio branding."

The job is challenging — employees are on the phone all day persuading car dealers, medical offices and tech companies to accept an appointment to learn more and hear a demonstration track. To keep employees engaged, the company offers lots of incentives and perks. Can you deliver an appointment by noon today? You get $50 cash. Need a haircut? You can get one for free on the 17th floor. Is your son starting kindergarten? You can take the day off to take him to school.

Based in Manchester, England, PHMG opened the Chicago office, its U.S. headquarters, two years ago. "We have the feel of a startup," Nieder said.

PHMG is ranked No. 21 among small employers in the Tribune's list of Top Workplaces, as measured by the consultancy Energage in Exton, Pa.

[ TOP WORKPLACES 2018: Complete coverage ]

The company employs about 100 at its Chicago office, including inside and field sales representatives covering Illinois, Texas and its recently opened California territory, as well as recruiters and operations staff. The audio tracks are produced in England.

"We translate the DNA of a business into music, voice and script," said Peter Evans, CEO for North America. The parent company employs 400 and generated revenues of $50 million last year.

Most of the reps are in their first or second sales jobs. "We give them a taste of the good life," Evans said. They can earn $50,000 to $80,000 annually, including commission, "which is not bad for a 24-year-old," he said.

The company provides training, such as how to identify leads and how to perfect the pitch. "After two or three years on the phone, you have skills and experience you can use as a springboard," Evans said.

For talent acquisition executive Toni Birditt, the reward comes from working in a fast-paced, entrepreneurial environment. Although she finds job candidates through traditional postings, she also attends events in the startup and tech communities to get the company's name out.

Birditt, who joined PHMG more than six months ago, said she was looking for a place where "what I did, day in, day out, would be instrumental to the business."

The incentives and perks are a big plus. Birditt recently earned a bonus that enabled her to travel to Mexico to attend a friend's wedding. The incentives promote a healthy competition and "keep the team driving forward," she said.

She also feels appreciated. "When you’re in hypergrowth mode and building a business, every move counts," she said. "Sometimes things fall through but when they work out, (management) recognizes your contribution."

Another benefit: meetings are short and to the point. Sales managers meet with their teams for 10 to 15 minutes in the morning to discuss plans and goals for the day, describe the incentives being offered that day and inspire them to hit the phones hard. At the end of the day there's a short wrap-up as the teams organize for the next day. "We highlight the wins," Nieder said.

In 2016, Nieder was in between jobs, living with his family in St. Louis when he answered an ad for the new Chicago office. He enjoyed a rapid rise and after a year he was promoted to team leader, where he led a group of five sales reps. He recently was promoted again, this time to head the Texas sales team.

"It can be draining being on the phone eight hours, making 100 calls a day," he said. "So you have to create a good culture and have some fun. We think of ways to get the guys and girls excited about the job."

For example, during soccer's World Cup, if the reps had booked appointments, they qualified to select a team in an in-house tournament. "If your team scored, you got to leave early," Nieder said. "That was great, especially during the summer, when people want to enjoy the weather."

Judith Crown is a freelance writer.

Ownership: Private


Company description: Audio branding

Year founded: 1998

Chicagoland locations: 1

Chicagoland employees: 105

From the survey:

• "My ideas are taken seriously and I enjoy the people I work with."

• "The culture is amazing, as is the product and pay."

Ownership: Website: Company description: Year founded: Chicagoland locations: Chicagoland employees: From the survey: