When Animalz put themselves on the map as a content marketing agency in 2015, they were fully prepared to write the best content on the web. That meant making thought leadership clear, not couched in jargon. It meant using words, graphs, diagrams, gifs and videos to make the complexity of anything from profit margins to product management accessible to their audiences.
But when it came to laying out the complexity of their own company, they were unexpectedly unprepared.
Animalz founder Walter Chen (center) with some of the team's first members — Andrew Tate (left) and Paige Picard (right).
“At the beginning, we had such a small company that we were able to produce great work ad-hoc,” says Andrew Tate, General Manager. “But we had growing pains as we tried to establish our values, structure, and our content pipeline as we grew to more than just a few people.”
Rounds of brainstorming and lightening-fast changes ensued as the agency grew. “We needed a tool that would help us lay out our ideas for building a great company and producing great content because we were struggling to express our path and our values. For us, that meant diagramming with Gliffy,” says Tate.
Whether it was building repeatable customer strategy or reorganizing the company, since the beginning of their growth as a company, Animalz has used visuals. These diagrams have helped them to refine their internal process to build the best content on the web. Here's how they did it.
From day one to now: finding best fit
Animalz knew what they were getting into in terms of customer-agency relationship when they started. But figuring out the best way to structure their team became a huge question mark as they started to grow.
“We started as one small team where everyone did everything,” says Tate. But as they grew, they struggled to articulate a new structure. They split into teams, “each with a team leader to try and distribute work load and knowledge across the company. But this ended up siloing information, making it hard to rearrange assignments and difficult to share expertise outside of your team.”
To throw a wrench into the works, in early 2017, the team went fully office-optional, with about half the team working 100% remote.
“It was important to us that we were able to hire the best people out there, and that meant opening the pool to everyone, not just those able to live in New York,” Tate explained, “and this really affected our ideas around company structure because we suddenly needed to be able to clearly articulate roles, responsibilities and values across an ocean.”
Those problems that had arisen with the team structure — siloing knowledge and lopsided distribution of different company values — became magnified. They needed a way to express their own internal complexity in an accessible way.
“We were already starting to use graphics, whether it was mapping out best practices for customer strategy or demonstrating what makes the most compelling introductions,” said Lauren Christiansen, Content Marketing Analyst. “We were asking can this be diagrammed? before writing out our ideas about content. So, when it came time for a big restructuring of the company, “we thought why not use diagrams — we know they work.”
A diagram of Animalz' pipeline, from ideation to publishing.
Drawing the path to success
As they moved forward with expanding the team, Animalz used Gliffy to brainstorm and troubleshoot changes in the structure of the company. They had already seen that teams were too segmented, and being able to visualize new roles helped them avoid the same mistake twice. Laying out the new plan in a diagram led to multiple iterations on each role just from the red flags that cropped up as they diagramed.
Take their diagram below — which went through about seven iterations — of the point person position, a role that consists primarily of writing and research:
“In [this] diagram, you can see how a point person is interacting with customers and other roles at the company,” said Tate. “This brings to the forefront how every responsibility works together. Each person can get an at-a-glance understanding of exactly how they're helping the company make the greatest content on the web.”
As the restructuring began in earnest, these diagrams for the company roles were pivotal. “They made our new responsibilities and structure immediately apparent,” said Christiansen. “They gave us all the information without having to read a multi-page document.”
“Plus, they really define how all of our work contributes to our company's success. It makes our work feel more connected, more tangible, which is especially important for a remote worker, like myself. It represents our value as team members and the value of our work to our customers.”
Another visual Animalz uses to represent what parts of the content pipeline each role is responsible for.
These new documents formed the blueprint for growth at the agency. “We want to get every new team member up to speed as fast as possible, which can be hard for a remote team. With our structural diagrams, there's no question about how the pipeline works and what each role is focused on, or what our expectations and values are, even for someone starting day one,” explained Tate. For a company that is rapidly scaling, this is key.
Winning as a team
As the company continues to grow and change, Animalz has found that using diagrams has helped them support team members as they reach for success with the company.
“We're a small team, and anyone who wants to tackle a problem is encouraged to do so,” says Christiansen. “Being able to jump in on a problem, start brainstorming, start getting together a diagram and map out your thoughts — that's empowering for everyone who wants to get involved with our company's internal problem-solving but maybe doesn't know how to start getting their ideas down.”
And as people keep coming up with diagrams and thought maps, timelines and flowcharts, the team builds its own wealth of internal resources. Sharing diagrams in Gliffy, as well as inserting them elsewhere, is a key part of how knowledge and resources are shared.
“We're able to preserve the knowledge and the values of the team pretty easily [with diagrams],” added Tate. “We've built our own library of internal resources where any member of the team can get at-a-glance help on anything from getting an article into research to our proven strategies for writing great content.”
Two examples from Animalz' internal library — on the left, an article's road to research and on the right a screencapture from their guideline on using visuals.
And the diagrams aren't always perfectly polished, either. Take the diagram on the right above — there's nothing fancy about it, but it hits home an important message. “When we're trying to get ideas down, sometimes it's better to get it done than to have it be perfect,” says Tate. “If we can get utility out of the diagram even if it's not perfect, that works for us in 9/10 of internal situations.”
This internal library helps Animalz keep building on their success, even as people are shifted from customer to customer, new team members are added, and their company structure is refined. Especially as a remote team, this wealth of strategy and knowledge keeps the team winning together.
Building agency success at Animalz
Whether they're illustrating a high-level business concept for their customers or perfecting the agency structure, Animalz is using Gliffy to fuel their success. It's a tool that everyone in the company uses and one they come back to whenever something needs to be laid out — they have hundreds of diagrams in Gliffy for a team of less than 20. Diagramming helps them explain complex ideas clearly and quickly and adds to their internal and external content. Members of the Animalz team talking all things content on New York's Lower East Side.
To learn more about the tools that Animalz uses, check out our post on how they streamline their workflow with diagrams. To learn more about how Gliffy can help your company, hear from our customers or contact us.