by By Sarah J.F. Braley and Michael C. Lowe | April 01, 2013

How is your relationship with your workplace? Are you still in love? Or has the luster faded? In preparing our second annual feature on the best places to work in the meetings industry, M&C asked planners and suppliers for their input through the MIForum, Twitter and Facebook. We also considered Fortune's annual ranking of best places to work and's Employees' Choice Awards. Our selection criteria included factors such as a clear corporate mission, great benefits, a flexible work environment, accessible management, a strong sense of corporate social responsibility and more.

Our four choices for 2013 share some common threads: A strong personality at the top sets a tone for the corporate culture and demonstrates a commitment that employees will want to carry through. Far from ordinary office environments, these companies create a community so special that no one wants to leave.

MARKETING DESIGN GROUPMarketing Design Group inside
One sunny morning in January, Jessica Porambo, an account coordinator with San Diego-based trade show marketing agency Marketing Design Group, walked through a San Francisco neighborhood and slipped Scratcher lottery tickets into the mailboxes of complete strangers. The deed was one of 26 random acts of kindness employees at MDG completed to commemorate the 26 victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. The companywide initiative had staffers returning to the office to share the results of their deeds with co-workers.

"It was really fun to be able to communicate who did what every day," says Porambo, 22. "Having things in common helps us work better together, and it makes the time more enjoyable when we have these experiences to share."

Indeed, the acts of kindness comprise one of the many activities that continue to build a tight-knit bond among MDG's 20 employees. Founded in 1967, the company thrives on a cohesive, collaborative office culture. The entire staff occasionally works on art projects together or takes afternoon field trips to see museum or gallery exhibits to "feed their creative soul outside the work environment," says Kimberly Hardcastle-Geddes, MDG's president and owner. "It allows us to develop a sense of camaraderie and friendship that we can apply to work."

An atmosphere of creativity and professional growth is fostered in more direct ways, too. Every week, for example, a member of the account services team leads a discussion on a cutting-edge topic relevant to the industry, like potential marketing applications for Pinterest, or a recent experience with a client that might be of value to others. "Information is shared freely across the organization so we're all benefitting from each other's knowledge," says Hardcastle-Geddes. "We know that the best ideas come from a variety of sources."

The collaborative spirit is especially important because MDG employees enjoy a flexible schedule that allows them to do things like leave early to pick up their kids or participate in volunteer efforts, and that means there might be extra work for the rest of the crew during such absences. And, no need to rush home to walk the dog; it's a pooch-friendly office.

Other perks include a $75-per-month mobile phone allowance, a fully paid health-care plan and a profit-sharing program that functions like a 401K without requiring employees to contribute any of their own earnings.

The office is blocks from Balboa Park, where staffers often go for pre-work runs together or to walk their pups.

M&C Video: Tips on Building a Company Culture