How we created a company culture rooted in our values

Ali McGhee
6AM City
Published in
7 min readJun 7, 2021


6AM City’s intentional company values underpin everything we do. The reason is that we have personal connections with all of them.

One day back in 2018, I joined ten other people at 6AM City’s headquarters in Greenville, SC for a brainstorming session. It wasn’t about our product, per se — a hyperlocal, daily email newsletter that tells our readers everything they need to know about our market cities. It was far more encompassing than that. For the first time since we launched in 2016, we were trying very intentionally to articulate something about the culture of working for 6AM. We spent half a day writing down words and phrases that expressed something about the way we worked, both on our teams and with our audiences, throwing them onto post-it notes and mapping them across the walls of the sunny West Greenville office, a web of ideas that connected to the heart of how we were rethinking what it meant to work in digital media, at every level.

When we walked away from that meeting, which brought together staff members from our Asheville, NC, Columbia, SC, and Greenville offices, I didn’t realize how the effects of the visioning process we had just completed would continue to ripple out, evolving into what would eventually become the company values we now share proudly, front and center, on our company’s website.

Culture Session during 6AM City’s annual company retreat

These five core company values — Responding with Agility, Leveraging Engagement to Achieve Synergy, Listening with Intentional Curiosity, Acting Like an Owner by Delivering Solutions That Move Us All Forward, and Having Fun Through Pride in Place — aren’t just appealing-sounding motivational phrases. As we continue to grow and open new markets across the U.S., bringing our hyperlocal product to new cities (we’ll launch our tenth and eleventh markets, in Louisville, KY, and Kansas City, MO, this summer), we are also ensuring that these values come along with us, rooting locations far apart geographically not only in our brand identity but also in a philosophy that underpins how we approach each and every day.

Our staff members, from editors in local markets to company-wide sales and marketing positions, get to know the values early through our new hire mentorship program, where they explore what each one means for them, at work and in life. Then, they’re reiterated in quarterly reviews, daily check-ins, and informally and organically in conversations and chats. Our team can recite the values, but, more importantly, we have personal connections with each one, ensuring the integrity of 6AM, internally and externally, as we expand.

At 6AM City, we’re natural storytellers, whether or not we work on the editorial side of things. We tell the stories of our cities each and every day through our newsletters, but also through our social media, our community interactions, our client relationships … even our graphics. So, we put a challenge to our team members, asking them to share their favorite value and how they connect with it. Here’s what they said.

Katie Smith, NASHtoday Editor

Listening With Intentional Curiosity

“I love picking people’s brains, and listening with intentional curiosity for 6AM City is like a hyperlocal, citywide version of that. We have the unique position to really tune in to every nook and cranny of our respective cities — whether it’s via social media or chatting with a stranger — to deliver the most desired, conversation-sparking scoops just by opening our eyes and ears and desiring to learn more ourselves.”

Laura Hackett, AVLtoday Editor

Acting Like an Owner by Delivering Solutions That Move Us All Forward

“I find our “acting like an owner” value to be such an empowering and effective way to uplift the entire company. At 6AM City, my creativity always feels valued and appreciated, which in turn allows me and my teammates the room to innovate, and even make mistakes, which makes our newsletter an overall better product.

It’s encouraging to know that as employees we are provided with trust and credibility. It is empowering to know that when I dream up innovative new ideas or solutions that they will be met with open arms, and because of this intentional culture, I never feel like another cog in the corporate machine (which is something I have definitely felt in other positions).”

Erin McPherson, Senior Editor

Having Fun Through Pride in Place

“Working at 6AM City has provided me with a close-knit community of colleagues who support each other with grace, ease, humor, and affection each and every day. I take a lot of pride in working with such a successful and strategic team — but beyond company culture, my work at 6AM has also provided opportunities that make me a more informed, engaged, and active citizen in my own city each and every day.”

Katelyn Schur, LALtoday Editor

Listening with Intentional Curiosity

“As an Editor and a member of the Lakeland community, it’s my duty to report on news in the area with a broad scope to ensure that I’m reaching every niche every single day. This is something I work on with sincere intention as it’s so easy to work with blinders on and share the news that’s relevant to me and my interests. So, to be able to listen to the community, hear their important questions, press releases, events, accomplishments, etc. (whether they align with mine or not), is so rewarding to me. It not only enriches my knowledge of my city, but it adds another bucket of intentionality that I should be listening to.”

Emily Herron, Client Services Manager

Leveraging Engagement to Achieve Synergy

“As part of Client Services, we pride ourselves in providing a quality experience for our advertisers throughout the entire process. At our initial Partnership Planning Meeting, we make a point of providing our best recommendations based on the client's desired outcome. From there, we utilize past performance metrics from similar industries to make suggested changes to ad creatives and branded content. By continually reviewing these metrics and by keeping open communication with our advertisers, we are able to better leverage the items in their contract so that they build off of each other, creating a strong and unique campaign.”

Shari Tingle, Editorial Coordinator

Having Fun Through Pride in Place

“I work with all of our markets and that means being excited about all 8 (soon-to-be 11) cities. There are so many events I won’t get to attend, developments I don’t experience, and local movers and shakers I haven’t met in person, but I still get to convey the joy and excitement of someone who will get to experience those things, and that brings me so much happiness.

Personally, I just love being able to tell everyone I work at 6AM City. It really allows me to be myself while representing the brand. I completely changed my wardrobe when I got the job at 6AM to reflect a combination of myself and the company. I am bright, positive, and bold — just like our company.”

Jessica Kurbatov, Operations Manager

Acting Like an Owner by Delivering Solutions That Move Us All Forward

“Operations is all about moving the company forward, and I am always encouraged to see the moving pieces come together. Our solutions come from intentionally listening to team members within each division and figuring out where there is room for improvement. The beauty of this value is that anyone can bring solutions to the table when they see a gap in a process, and what’s even more rewarding is that their idea is heard and may be implemented. Decisions on growth at 6AM are not just decided by leadership. Every team member is asked to level up and act like an owner.”

Ana Gibson, GVLtoday Editor

Having Fun Through Pride in Place

“I am from Greenville, and when I was a kid, I always thought I was going to move far away to a big city like New York. And now, here I am, with a house and a job I love in the city I swore I would leave. I love experiencing Greenville from the perspective of newcomers and sharing all the insider tips and tricks I have amassed over the last 25+ years. And I love helping local businesses thrive and expand in the place I call home.”

Brook Bolen, AVLtoday Editor

Listening with Intentional Curiosity

“I love this value because so many of us listen and simply wait for a time to respond. Listening with intentional curiosity shifts the focus to listening, and trying to really hear and understand what someone is saying. It encourages us to hear them and see what we can learn, even when (or maybe especially when) we think we already know going in. When we’re open and receptive, our readers feel heard and seen.”

Kaylee Holland, Senior Editor

“To me, ‘Acting Like An Owner to Deliver Solutions That Move Us All Forward is the very thread that weaves the rest of the values together.

By Acting Like An Owner, we’re able to ‘Respond with Agility’ because, as owners, we’ve already taken the first steps that allow us to *become* agile.

In ‘Levering Engagement to Achieve Synergy,’ we create solutions that benefit the entire team, speaking to how we all can move forward together.

When ‘Listening with Intentional Curiosity,’ we’re acting like owners by placing this at the forefront of what we do via what our actions do.

And in terms of ‘Having Fun Through Pride in Place?’ Well, albeit easy to say that we wouldn’t act like an owner if our chests didn’t puff up in pride on occasion in celebration of where we live, work, and play.”


Are company values a part of your work culture? We’d love to hear about them.



Ali McGhee
6AM City

Culture and Team Development Leader at 6AM City — engaging local communities by creating new ways to consume, participate, and share local content.