Ranked No. 40 in 2013

By Emily Wolfe Explore Big Sky Managing Editor

BIG SKY – Work-life balance, access to the outdoors and giving back are some of the key factors that went into Outside Magazine’s sixth annual “Best Places to Work” list.

Explore Big Sky publisher Outlaw Partners was ranked No. 40 out of 100 for 2013, noted in the Aug. 1 outsideonline.com feature for offering employees access to ski passes, outdoor gear, weekly yoga sessions at Santosha Wellness Center and gym passes at Big Sky Health and Fitness.

“Between powder days and dog walks, staff members go on all-expense paid weekend getaways, with homework to write about their experience for Outlaw’s publications,” the story boasted. It also noted Outlaw’s donations to the Big Sky Community Corp., a local nonprofit that acquires, promotes and maintains parks and trails.

The list was compiled with help from the Outdoor Industry Association and the third-party Best Companies Group. The selection process identified more than 200 nonprofit and for-profit organizations with at least 15 employees in a U.S. office.

“We set up this company to capture and convey the lifestyles we lead daily,” said Outlaw CEO Eric Ladd. “You can do the same level and quality of business in Big Sky that you can do anywhere – in New York City or San Francisco. The big difference is that on our lunch breaks we don’t walk down to Starbuck’s, we go for a ride or walk down to a 30-foot waterfall.”

Best Companies Group facilitated confidential employee-satisfaction surveys and employer questionnaires assessing benefits, compensation, policies, job satisfaction, environmental initiatives and community outreach, and then ranked the companies using Outside’s parameters.

“Obviously it’s still work, you still have to come in,” said Associate Editor Ryan Krogh, who coordinates the feature for Outside. “But one of the things that was fairly consistent was that these aren’t exactly 9-5 jobs. That means you sometimes work more than 9-5, but it also means there is flexibility and you can go skiing on a powder day.”

Six others from the top 100 were in Montana: Adventure Life, Ecology Project International, Mercury CSC, Seeley Lake Elementary School, River Design Group and ZaneRay Group.

In fact, the majority of those featured are in the Rocky Mountain West.

“Residents of those states really value a work-life balance,” Krogh said. “People who live out West have access to the outdoors, and they want that in their lives, so companies are forced to work with that.”

Outlaw came in above industry giants like NOLS, Patagonia and Aspen Skiing Co., something Krogh attributed to its size.

“The companies our readers are interested in and the ones we’re looking to highlight are smaller companies that don’t have the money to offer big salaries, but can offer employees flexibility, vacation days and sick days – those sorts of work-life benefits.”

This story draws the largest reader numbers of any annual OutsideOnline story, Krogh said, noting that it had a million and a half page views in a single day this year.

“It’s one of those programs that our readers really respond to. It’s a perennial quest to find the perfect job that allows you to feel rewarded in your work and have your own free time and recreational life… It touches a nerve with our readers.”

And, he says, the editors have fun doing it. No one has jumped ship – yet.

“We’ve all thought about it – it’s the constant joke – we get this list every year, and we see some of the benefits these companies are offering. It’s like, ‘man, I want to work there.’”

Outlaw, a fully integrated marketing, consulting, video production and media firm based in Big Sky, was founded in 2009 and has grown quickly. It now serves more than 400 clients and also owns and publishes Explore Big Sky and Mountain Outlaw magazine.

After the 2012 announcement, when Outlaw ranked No. 83, the firm saw an uptick in job inquiries; this year it’s already received dozens of calls and resumes since the list was published, said COO Megan Paulson.

Readers might also notice that Outlaw is one of a number of creative agencies on the list.

“Creative people are in short supply, and they demand more when it comes to their careers,” Krogh said. “It’s an industry that rewards employees for working hard, and they want to play hard as well.”

The full list of the top performing small, medium and large companies is published online at outsideonline.com/bestplacestowork.