PORTSMOUTH — Raka celebrated its 15th anniversary this year, proud that it always made a profit and never had a layoff, but especially proud that it held fast to the memory of its creative mentor and namesake.
“The past decade and a half has brought a lot of changes to the industry, and a lot of changes to Raka,” said Duncan Craig, one of the four partners at the digital marketing agency, located on Islington Street. “Through it all, Raka has stayed true to what we set out to do back in 2004, and we’re really proud of the growth and success we’ve accomplished.”
Craig and partner Dan Marino came together in 2004, soon adding partner Zang Garside, to create Raka (www.rakacreative.com) after working together at Wunderkind, a digital agency created by Stephen Rakaseder, who was known as “Raka.”
Rakaseder died at age 34 in 2001 after battling non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, leaving behind a young family and a young company. According to Craig, Raka’s wife, Lisa Rakaseder, told the company after her husband’s death there were two legacies he left behind – their family that she was responsible for and his creative legacy that Wunderkind was responsible for.
Craig, Marino and Garside took that to heart, naming their company Raka three years after Wunderkind had been sold.
“We try to follow Stephen’s example in building an agency that is not only sustainable, profitable and of high value to our clients,” Garside said, “but also very much like a family where our team members are appreciated, valued and empowered to contribute to and impact our growth and direction as a company.”
The three partners in 2012 added Brian DeKoning, first as a director of inbound marketing then ultimately as a fourth partner. Each has a particular discipline – Craig in business development, Garside in technology and operations, Marino in creative direction and DeKoning in strategy and inbound marketing – but they operate as part of the whole to advance the 20-member team that occupies the third floor at 501 Islington St.
“Design, development, strategy – it’s all in house. We’re not outsourcing anything, and that’s actually pretty unusual,” Garside said. “I think having everything in house, especially with the size of the team – it’s only 20 people – we can cover a lot of ground.”
“We came into this business as people who care about the craft of what we do,” Craig added. “Dan and I both have a design background. Zang has a programming background. Brian has a journalism and content background. We have a passion for our craft, and we still are involved. Everybody here is very involved in every engagement.”
What started out primarily as a business for designing web pages has grown to include a full-service suite of digital marketing.
Raka now has three departments to service clients. The first, digital marketing and strategy, provides a plan and tactics to help clients reach online marketing and business goals. Services within that department include defining an overall digital marketing strategy, inbound marketing, content creation, digital advertising, search engine optimization (SEO), social media management, and more.
The second group includes website design, branding, animation, and video. This group also provides user experience design with a focus on helping clients to implement conversion paths that help them to reach business goals.
The third group is development, with services that include custom programming to produce web applications, custom application program interface (API) integrations, website builds, hosting, and both front- and back-end development.
“We begin with a strategy on almost everything now, to help our clients – and our team – document what the goals are and how we will get there,” said Craig. “We consider a client’s audience, their internal resources, and how their marketing and sales teams work together before we start building a website or making recommendations.”
Raka counts among its many clients Bose, Bed Bath & Beyond, Whole Foods, Liberty Mutual, and the state of New Hampshire.
Despite a temptation to quickly accelerate growth in terms of size and employees, the partners say they prefer a measured approach to growth as a result of having seen what happened to others when the so-called dot-com bubble burst in 2001, resulting in a crash in markets.
“We came out of the dot-com era and that was all about explosive growth without any sort of measured thinking,” Craig said. “It was always assumed there was nowhere to go but up. When we started this company it was always about learning from the mistakes that others made during that era.
“Frankly, at the end of the day we want to run a family-centered business where we really focus on the needs of the team. We don’t want to bring on anybody if we don’t know that we can keep them employed for the long term as long as they want to be here and are doing a great job,” Craig added.
“For us it’s been a combination of having learned lessons by watching others and make sure make sure that that we find that right balance between healthy in making sure we’re able to meet the needs of our clients, and also meet the needs of the team in terms of having support, but also not growing so fast that we don’t know how we’re going to sustain the business.”
Its measured growth and the relationships it established with businesses helped it succeed through the 2008 recession with continued profits and no layoffs.
One important asset to Raka for its clients is its designation in 2012 as a HubSpot partner.
HubSpot is a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based developer and marketer of software products for inbound marketing and sales. Its products and services aim to provide tools for social media marketing, content management, web analytics and search engine optimization.
Raka reached HubSpot’s second highest partner tier of platinum in 2017 and was selected to lead Portsmouth’s HubSpot User Group, which meets quarterly at Raka’s offices. Raka has also been a member of HubSpot’s Partner Advisory Committee, a group of HubSpot partners that provide guidance and feedback on product changes and other news from HubSpot.
“Raka is always looking for new tools and the best tools for clients to help them reach their digital marketing goals and their business goals in general,” DeKoning said. “HubSpot has a platform for digital marketers that now also includes sales and service customer service and support issues and chat features on the website. We recognize it as a good tool for us to have at our disposal to help our clients. And as HubSpot has grown and evolved, our services have also grown and evolved.”
“Whenever we work with technology like HubSpot or any other sort of technology that we’re recommending to our clients, we’re always focused on our client’s needs rather than trying to fit their needs into the technology that we want them to be on,” Craig added. “And we’ve had a lot of success with being able to match our clients’ needs with what we’re able to do with HubSpot. While other agencies might be trying to shoehorn clients into a specific technology that they like, we’re really trying to try to find the right fit for each of our clients.”
Its stability has also come from empowering employees.
“One of the evolutions I’ve seen in the last six years or so is the shift from the partners doing everything and being involved in every single aspect to really building an environment to empower people – directors and senior employees – to take ownership for both the quality of the work as well as the relationships with our clients,” DeKoning said. “By building that environment where people feel happy and rewarded for the work they’re doing. It’s made us more stable more successful.”
DeKoning said Raka officially recognized its anniversary with a party earlier in the year at its offices where it hosted clients, family, friends and former co-workers. It also held a luncheon for its team at the 100 Club in Portsmouth to celebrate
Raka has also been very active in supporting the local nonprofit community, particularly arts and education organizations. Raka has donated online marketing support to End 68 Hours of Hunger, The Music Hall, 3S Artspace, Christmas Tree Santas, the Triangle Club, and Prescott Park Arts Festival, among other efforts.