A PR Firm With a 'Mullet' Outlook

Shift Communications prides itself on making every day an office party.
Freelance Writer and editor, Self-employed
May 30, 2012

When I called Jim Joyal, co-founder of Shift Communications in Boston, he was in a great mood for one main reason.

“Did you know that today is National High Five Day?” he asks me. “This morning my managers got in a line and we went around to every staff member and gave them high fives. It was a blast.”

It’s this jovial attitude that makes Shift a fun place to work and adds to the company’s positive culture—a fact that, according to Joyal, is integral to the firm’s success.

“Todd [Defren, co-founder] and I like to have fun,” he says. “When you walk around our offices, you see a lot of laughter and interaction; that is the environment we were going for when we started Shift.”

Joyal and Defren launched the company back in 2003 upon acquiring a 30-person business-to-business public relations firm with about $3 million in revenues. Today, Shift employs around 100 people, brings in upwards of $12 million in revenue and has offices in Boston, New York City and San Francisco.

Joyal broke down seven cornerstones of the company’s culture.

Cultural committee. Most Shift employees are in their 20s and 30s, whereas Joyal is in his mid-50s. Instead of coming up with team-building activities that would fit his interests, he tasks a group of junior-level employees with idea creation.

“They come with three fun events per month,” he says. “We’ve gone to Red Sox games and concerts. It’s important to involve them in the decision making process.”

Cultural reimbursement. Joyal and Defren encourage participation in cultural activities (such as Broadway shows, opera performances, and so on) by gifting each employee $100 per year for such events.

“When people are worried about making rent, car payments and student loans, the last thing they think about is cultural stuff,” Joyal says. “We tell them to go get a life and the first $100 is on us.”

Ejector seat Fridays. On a few Fridays throughout the year, the management staff will choose one employee at random and send them home, no strings attached.

$100 trivia quiz. About five times per year, Joyal will open the petty cash drawer before a staff meeting and pull out a $100 bill. He will then walk into staff-filled conference room, pose a trivia question about a current news item and give the bill to the first person who answers the question correctly.

Three’s Company lunch. “At a 100-person shop, there are a lot of junior level people who are less visible and vocal and don’t get to know each other,” Joyal says. “So once a month we will pull three names from a hat and pay for them to go to lunch. It’s a nice way of leveling the playing field and encouraging socialization.”

 Rock star kudos. Everyone loves a gold star for a job well done. Shift has institutionalized this fact by recognizing staffers in weekly meetings. The name of each exemplary employee is put into a bowl and the one drawn receives a prize (example: gift certificate to a local restaurant).

The Shift mullet. Once per month, Shift puts out a digital newsletter titled The Shift Mullet. All contents are internal and can include everything from quirky office contests to funny pictures of Joyal.

“The mullet is the haircut known to be business in the front and party in the back; which is a great analogy of what we are,” Joyal says. “The newsletter is a great way to keep employees abreast of things going on across all three offices.”

Company Culture Advice

Joyal offers a few suggestions on creating a positive culture in your company.

Encourage risk taking. Allow your employees to make mistakes without penalty.

Walk around. Regardless of how busy you are, try to get out of your office and talk to your employees every day, Joyal advises.

Communicate. Keep employees up to speed on how the company is doing, including information on new clients, new employees, promotions and employee anniversaries.

Give junior-level employees responsibility. “Let them be part of it,” Joyal says. “You’ll be surprised how involved and responsible they will get as a result."

Learn more in OPEN Forum's Company Culture 2012 series.

Photo credit: SHIFT Communications

Freelance Writer and editor, Self-employed