How ReachLocal Used an Irreverent Holiday to Get Back to Its Startup Roots

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This is the second installment of Street Fight’s new Street Culture series. Every two weeks, Street Fight will take a look at the inventive, and at times crazy, ways some of the fastest growing companies in local create the kind of unique company culture that attracts the best and brightest.

It was a Friday, and the inside sales department at ReachLocal was supporting a national day that is not recognized everywhere. The company was celebrating International Talk Like a Pirate Day.

The department at the Plano, Texas, branch was taking advantage of the holiday to bring employees together with a little silliness. ReachLocal departments in offices across the globe are encouraged to engage employees with non-work activities, and the September 19 holiday seemed perfect, says Amber Seikaly, ReachLocal’s vice president of corporate communications.

But she was also looking for ways to leverage those pursuits in a way that could include more people.

“We created the Culture Club,” Seikaly said. “We’re kicking it off in North America and just had our first meeting this month. We brought together representatives from each department to be part of this group, because these reps are already doing activities in their departments.”

The group has so far discussed multiple ideas about how to unite local offices and then help them connect with other offices across the world. Seikaly says that International Talk Like a Pirate Day might be a company-wide celebration in the future.

Some offices may find a “party in a box” in a communal area, inviting groups to unpack and join together in a mini, themed party with whatever is inside the box. The Plano, TX branch is planning an upcoming field day for employees, possibly with an opt-in competitive cook-off, tug-of-war games, and sack races.

ReachLocal was a startup 10 years ago, and had just 15 employees at the end of 2004. Four years later, that number had ballooned to 850 employees, and ReachLocal ended 2014 with 1,800 employees. But the local marketing company has struggled to sustain that growth in recent years, and with nearly every metric of success (from revenues and profitability to active customers) in decline, the company has undergone a major management change including the addition of a new chief executive last year.

“Startups have that great energy, creativity, entrepreneurial ideals; those are the things you need to keep growing as the company grows,” said Seikaly. “With the Culture Club, we want our reps to go back to their departments and get feedback. We want to hear, did that work? Did that not work? We’re going to be constantly adjusting and making things relevant to the organization as it exists today.”

Seikaly has been in communications for more than 15 years, and said that every company should recognize how important their culture is. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day grind, and stepping outside the box with social and community activities can help spark inspiration.

“You might find a couple people who don’t want to participate at first, but then once they get into it, they’re the ones who are the most excited,” she said. “You find that when people start interacting, they have fun even when they aren’t expecting to. But these activities have to be opt-in. You can’t force to people to participate when they don’t want to.”

ReachLocal’s Culture Club is a result of some company leaders noticing successful engagement activities, and looking to further the reach of those activities to other areas of the business. Seikaly said that nurturing company culture can happen in unusual ways, and it’s important to pay attention to unofficial company leaders.

“Culture is always really interesting,” Seikaly said. “Some people try to categorize it too much and make it too formulaic. Culture exists in every environment, whether you foster it or not, but if it’s just top-down, it doesn’t always work. It’s just the leadership pushing things into the organization.”

Acknowledging those who feel strongly about causes, or have the energy to make things happen can cultivate a grassroots trend in company connections. Seikaly said that the energy at the first Culture Club meeting was a reward in itself.

“Everyone was really happy to be having the conversation, brainstorming and looking for ways to execute ideas,” Seikaly said. “One person would give an idea and someone else would build on it. People come to work because they love what they do, but also because they love the environment they’re in. if you can create a fun, encouraging, creative environment, they’re going to have fun and I think be better performers.”

April Nowicki is a contributor at Street Fight.