AMA with Animalz: Building the world's best agency

Jimmy Daly
February 23, 2021

Kristen Craft and Mark Rogers from Animalz joined us for lively AMA that covered everything from content strategy to career development.

Here's some background on Kristen and Mark:

  • Kristen Craft has 10+ years of experience in B2B SaaS Marketing for customers like Wistia, Ovia Health, and Tettra. Though she loves content marketing, her real “zone of genius” is around building high performance teams: hiring great people, creating clear goals and systems, and coaching others to do their best work. She loves bringing these interests together at Animalz, working with some of the best SaaS companies out there. Follow her on twitter @thecrafty.
  • Mark Rogers is a Content Strategist at Animalz. He’s been working in marketing for almost a decade with stops in advertising and social media during that time, but content marketing is his true love. At Animalz, Mark leads a team that specializes in helping SaaS companies launch new content marketing programs. Follow him on twitter @mrog91588.

Animalz is a supporter of our job board and Slack community—we really appreciate their support.. They are also hiring for several roles right now. You can learn more about those opportunities here.

What does Animalz look for in a content marketer?

Kristen: We look for great writing skills, of course, but we also pay close attention to people's experience managing customers. Personally, I value high EQ a lot. It's super important from a customer management perspective, but also important from a culture/values perspective.

Mark: If i can add to this: curiosity is super important too!

What's the biggest SNAFU of your content career and what was the lesson you learned from it?

Mark: Early my contact career I put together a really complex content strategy because I confused quality with complexity. It took months of work to produce all this complex content and the result was a total fail. I mean, total failure. It got like 100 pageviews across all the content.

I realized that I over-indexed on complexity, rather than following search intent and having a solid understanding of what quality really is

Do you use an ATS for recruitment?

Kristen: Yes! We use greenhouse and bambooHR for most things on the people ops side.

I’d love to hear what your personal favorite tools are for managing content planning/project management as well as editorial calendars.

Mark: I'm old school. I honestly just love a Google Sheet with picklists. Have a color-coded stage associated with each picklist item so you can jump into the content calendar and quickly understand the stage each piece is at --and more importantly the bottlenecks!

What’s a content distribution framework you recommend for growing companies?

Mark: Maybe not so much a framework, but I fully believe that you need to create different content based on the distribution channel.

SEO content needs to be keyword based (obviously), and that usually doesn't work on social, or in newsletters, or internet forums.

For small, but growing companies, search can be a really challenging channel. I usually recommend taking some big swings with content designed to capture attention on social or in newsletters.

Newsletters are totally an underutilized distribution tactic right now.

Do you give feedback after you reject an applicant if they request it?

Kristen: We feels like the right thing to do if someone invests time in applying to Animalz.

What was your worst interviewee and what did they not do right?

Kristen: Personally, I dislike it when people complain too much about past (or current) employers. Even if it's true, it displays a lack of judgement.

Do you have an employee referral program?

Kristen: We do! In fact it's been fun to see how into it people are getting. A few people have been neck and neck on the referrals, and it's been fun to watch them vying for the crown.

What is your most "controversial" opinion about content marketing? In other words, what is a belief you hold that you think is not shared by most people in this Slack?

Kristen: Ooooooh great Q! Maybe it's because I spent 4 years at Wistia, but I tend to think that most companies should use video way more (and not stress about production/editing being perfect).

Mark: Pageviews ARE NOT a vanity metric.

Marketers shouldn't be the author of their content (unless marketing to marketers)

Content marketers need to be friends with the sales team. I could go on.

Can you tell us a little about the Daily Carnage?

Mark: Totally, the Daily Carnage was just one of those swing for the fences ideas that I really like for small growing companies.

We were an agency that had zero brand awareness. I knew traditional content marketing could work, but it would take a long time. So we started playing with other styles of content. This was before newsletters were a huge thing. The Skimm was really the only newsletter out at the time.

And quite honestly, we were just like, "why add to the noise of content marketing with more content marketing, when we can sum up the best of the day in the skimm's style?"

So that's basically what we did. and we got subscribers by legit DMing folks in LinkedIn and just sending them that day's newsletter.

Thoughts on hiring industry-specific content writers - do you hire people with knowledge and teach them to write? Or people who are good at writing and teach them the research skills?

Kristen: Great Q, and we're grappling with this right now. For instance, we've developed a strong niche/expertise in technical content. Do we need developers who can learn to write? Do we hire writers and train them on some dev basics? Do we need both?

We haven't answered this Q perfectly, but for now, we're trying to make sure we focus on both. This will become harder the bigger we get, but quality is our differentiator, so it feels important to not compromise on either front. We have a similar mindset when it comes to other niches (like interviewing SMEs or writing data-backed reports).

How do you value entertainment in content marketing, and how do you balance it with the informative/educational parts?

Kristen: It's so tempting to try to kill two birds with one stone, but I think content is most effective when it focuses on a single (or primary) job to be done, i.e. the educational content should focus on/maximize the potential for learning, while the entertaining content should focus on entertaining.

IDK if that makes sense, but I find it valuable to get really specific about a single job to be done, rather than trying to accomplish two different things.

What’s your recommendation for approaching content strategy at a multi-product company where each product targets multiple unique audiences? Would love to hear your advice on how to funnel users to more audience-specific content from TOFU content pieces that address multiple audiences for a single product.

Kristen: IMHO, a lot of it comes down to site structure and strategic making it easy for people to get the broad lay of the land, and then making it clear how to get to the info/content that aligns with more specific pain points.

I guess that's another part of it...digging into pain points and getting really specific about them is a good way to help site visitors identify where they should focus their attention.

Mark, what's your strategy process look like?

Mark: For me, the most important thing to consider is the company's business model. So my strategies always start there.

Freemium needs to treat content differently than sales-driven orgs.

From there, you have to take time to understand the audience. What are their job tasks, where do they go to ask questions, what do they read?

Then, write down the goal of the content strategy. What are you trying to achieve? And I try to make this realistic. A good goal isn't "to change the world through educational content." It's more like, "to drive leads, sales brand awareness, etc. for my company."

Then, understand your constraints. Essentially, what's holding you back from achieving that goal?

Finally, take a look at the competitive landscape. A lot of people believe you should ignore your competitors. But I find it valuable to understand what resonates with the audience.

At Animalz, you have access to amazing editors. For those of us who are solo content marketers without anyone to review our materials, how do you recommend learning from our mistakes and growing as writers?

Kristen: I'm a very visual learner, so I like reading about other people's approaches and then putting it into practice. for example, ever since I read this, I've approached writing (using this BLUF mindset) differently.

This doesn't quite speak to your Q about learning from your mistakes...on that front, I also like to keep a running google doc of things I've learned and feedback people have given me. almost an idea farm if you will.

Mark: I always found it valuable to re-read my content months later. The gap in time allows me to step away from it and look at it objectively. What's good? What's bad? What should I do differently?

Whats something most ppl forget to put into their content briefs Also what tool do you use for content briefs?

Kristen: I love briefs with a lot of specificity around:

  • the audience
  • a numeric goal (leads, traffic, etc)
  • the big takeaway

In some ways, I sort of think the BLUF should be spelled out as early as the brief.

Mark: I actually don't love any of the brief tools out there. I find the best way to write briefs is to do the research yourself.

Something most folks forget about -- search intent. What are people looking to get out of the keyword when they're searching?

I’d love to dig in to building high performance teams! How do you strike the right balance of providing direction and coaching, while also encouraging folks to step outside their comfort zone and take a more independent approach to problem-solving?

Kristen: I'm going to cheat a little and share the article that we discussed earlier today as a whole team: The Leader as Coach.

I tend to think that the best leaders and coaches guide others through questions. Ie it's not my job to solve your question/problem for you, but rather, to help support and elevate your thinking so that you can solve it. What we've been discussing lately is how we can foster this mindset in all of our managers (and even during informal leadership moments).

What are the best tools for keyword research?

Mark: I'll vote for Ahrefs. But I actually really like Keywords Everywhere too

For web-based product companies, how do you recommend companies structure teams and processes so that the content and brand voice can carry over to the product?

Kristen: One of my fave phrases/ideas is "positioning oneself on the same side of the table."

This comes to mind here because I think product/marketing/brand benefit from creating opportunities to sit on the same side of the table. For instance, customer calls/conversations are such a great way to align on trends and shared language.

Sometimes I feel "content specialist" is a new title to what people were already doing before: writing advertising copy and other formats like case studies, webinars, blog content, etc (of course, also drawing strategies and coordinating actions). I have done it all, but sometimes I miss the big picture: so what are the most valuable actions in content marketing?

Mark: Good question! Most valuable action: reporting. I think that's what takes a person from writer to content marketer. A good explanation of your work through data (reporting) proves your value.

What is Animalz's approach to ongoing learning and development?

Kristen: We're developing a suite of courseware to help people gain expertise in specific topics like SEO, SME interviewing, thought leadership. But we also spend a lot of time talking about/coaching people about leadership development. just this afternoon, we had a great discussion about coaching styles and how to level up as a leader and coach.

We have very specifically defined roles/levels, so that people know what they need to do to get promoted and level up at Animalz. I love this transparency because it helps even the playing field and also helps you keep an eye on the prize on where you can go and what you need to do to get there. This kind of clarity is so rare in the tech space, I've found.

What is your favorite part of working at an agency? Do you see any trends on if people prefer working at an agency earlier on in their career or later?

Kristen: I love the intellectual caliber of the people at Animalz. truly, the most intellectually curious group I've ever gotten to work with. Hard to say if people prefer working at an agency earlier/later in their career. We have a very diverse mix of people and perspectives, and it seems like different types of people get different things from the experience, based on where they are in their careers.

Mark: I love how varied my days are. They are NEVER the same. I also love working for a remote agency because I'm surrounded by the biggest content marketing geeks in the world!

Hi! 7-year B2B content agency alum here. It's a fun world to work in. When I managed an agency team, one of my challenges (for myself and people I managed) was balancing TODAY vs THE FUTURE -- or client work/production vs the more creative, explorative side of working for an agency. How do you help people manage the daily reality of their work load while still continuously learning and experimenting so they can give clients forward-thinking strategic advice?

Kristen: Great question! A lot of our team members time block their cals to make space for this kind of learning and experimentation. That seems to help.

I also think that experimentation and learning are easier when people know they have explicit permission to lean in here, i.e. if an approach/decision is reversible, what's the true risk of going for it? I try to encourage people to go out on a limb and try new things, especially if they've thought through risks and pinpointed ways to mitigate them.

I find generally that most content marketers don't have a prioritization model for MOFU content because it's so scattered and even less identifiable than TOFU or BOFU. What's the best?

Kristen: I often think about this thru the lens of the customer what is this journey? What emotions does a customer feel at every stage? Why? How to speak to those emotions? I find this helps clarify what types of content are needed at the MOFU stage.

I'm also the kind of person who's obsessed with talking to customers, so that's shining through! If you ask me almost any content question, I'll always find a way to bring it back around to "talk to customers!"

Mark: I actually don't love categorizing types of content by funnel phases. I think it's more useful to, as Kristen said, talk to the customers and find out the problems they're trying to solve.

What are your favorite books, blogs, podcasts, etc. that you’d recommend for learning about content strategy?

Mark: I always struggle with this question. I've found a better way is to think critically about the content you read online. What convinced you to read it? How did you get there? What's good about it? What could be better?

Oh wait...i'm supposed to plug the Animalz blog. Yeah read that!

What’s the key differentiator for you as an agency? What helps to get new clients?

Kristen: Our biggest differentiator is quality. Some agencies are trying to compete on price. we're never (or rarely) going to win there. Another is our network. We work with some of the hottest B2B SaaS companies around. This gives us visibility into industry trends, and it also allows us to facilitate partnerships and co-marketing opportunities that can have a massive impact on audience growth.

Generally we see companies that have a content marketing team that tends to be siloed from their product marketing team, when these two depts. should be tied together to reel visitors back to their product/services with their content. What should content marketers be demanding from their product marketing team?

Kristen: You're right! They are often siloed. This sort of connects to your other question about tofu, mofu, bofu.

Assuming that the product marketing folks are the ones who have the strongest finger on the pulse of the customer journey, I think they need to educate the larger marketing team about how every single piece of content speaks to this journey.

What's the big picture? How does everything hang together? What goes does every piece of content serve?

Thank you Animalz! Show them some love by subscribing to the blog and checking out their open roles.

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