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Animalz

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Animalz

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August 5, 2021

Pros

Animalz genuinely attracts some best-in-class clients from the B2B SaaS world. If you're looking to get a foot in the door in tech as a writer/content marketer, this is as good a place to start as any. The pay is not competitive at all once you’re past the entry-level phase, but if you’re just starting out, or are willing to make the trade-off for a resume boost, after 6 months to a year, you’ll be able to write your ticket anywhere else for significantly more money. 100% remote, which is nice - especially if you live outside of the big markets like NYC and SF. It’s less of an advantage than it was prior to Covid, now that significantly more businesses are shifting to remote-first. But it’s not nothing. On a personal level, most people are really friendly and kind. In some cases this comes off as a bit disingenuous, or like an attempt to distract you from how chaotic everything is and how exhausted you are. But overall people seem to mean well.

Cons

Note: The below is an honest reckoning with the state of the business as I experienced it as an employee. Some or all of this may no longer apply by the time you are reading this review. Someone from leadership will assuredly be by shortly to address the below and tell you that it is completely inaccurate, as you will note they have done with other reviews. And hey, I genuinely hope that by the time you read this, it is. Individual team members have very little control over the accounts they are assigned to or the topics they write about. As a freelancer, you have the freedom to specialize by subject matter and then choose your clients based on what you can be successful writing about. That's not how Animalz operates -- they’ll take whatever clients will hire them and assign whoever is available to write for them based on not much at all. Probably as a result of the above, article quality is a near-constant complaint from clients, especially more technical ones. That’s probably because the content is being written by English majors with little to no background in the topic they’re writing about. Animalz has no idea what to do to solve this issue on an institutional level. But that doesn’t stop them from selling to those more technical clients, which means content managers are constantly being set up to fail. Employee turnover is extremely, extremely high. In 2021 alone, the company has seen between 20% and 25% churn -- increasingly from more tenured employees. At the time I left the business, the average tenure of an Animalz employee was a little over one year, and the median was just over half a year. This makes it extremely challenging as a new employee, as there are so few “old hands” to learn/seek support from. Leadership is intensely concerned with managing optics with new employees. For example, sometime around November/December 2020, they issued an edict to middle management to discourage “venting” - that is, expression of frustration or struggle with workload, clients, home life, etc. in public channels. It’s difficult to express what an enormous harm this did to employee morale and psychological well-being. Employees were left drowning, in desperate need of support, and expressly told that they needed to keep it to themselves. Everyone from middle management down is overutilized and underpaid. Individual middle-managers mean well and genuinely want to help their direct reports succeed. But when they are managing 10-15 different CMs, the vast majority of them less than six months into their tenure at Animalz and in many cases their careers as content marketers, while also many of them onboarding 3-5 new accounts per month, their ability to actually provide the help and support their direct reports need is slim to none. The company ostensibly practices “transparency” but over the past three to six months that “transparency” has devolved into PR, bullshitting and “controlling the story.” Genuine questions about hiring, business operations, processes and best practices will be met with stonewalling, gaslighting, outright hostility, and repeated references to how leadership’s *feelings* are hurt by the questions. Leadership fails to appreciate that they staff a team of literal communications professionals and, in many cases, journalists - people who’s literal job is to spot spin, evasion, and dishonesty. Underestimating their employees is one of leadership’s most routine failings. Discrimination along protected lines is rampant across the business. Women, people of color, LBTQIA+ employees and people with disabilities are routinely paid lower salaries for equivalent (and in some cases, more) work and responsibility than their male, white, straight, “abled” counterparts. International hires have been told they are full-time employees with all the rights and responsibilities when in fact they are independent contractors, and that is a literal labor violation. International employees with specialized skill sets like backgrounds in computer programming are paid multiple tens of thousands of dollars below US market rate. Meanwhile, the company has made public commitments to DEI -- international DEI, in particular. Employees will also take sick leave, and receive DMs and in some cases text messages demanding that they log onto work systems and “set the team up for success” when they are literally incapacitated. Again, pretty sure this constitutes harrassment or some kind of labor violation. Leadership has also engaged in active union-busting activities, up to and including lying to individual contributor employees that they were prohibited from participating in unionization efforts when in fact they have a legally protected right to organize. The company also routinely steals/appropriates the expertise and work product of individual contributors and passes it off as “company process.” Processes and concepts built by individual contributors for managing things like ideation, workload management, etc. have been passed off as Animalz’s intellectual property with no credit given to the individual contributors who actually designed those processes. This is particularly horrifying coming from a company that puts the fear of god into its employees regarding plagiarism and crediting sources. The company will be dead in the water if employee work is plagiarized. But plagiarism on behalf of the company? Totally fine, apparently. Does the company legally have a right to claim employees’ intellectual property? Probably. But ethically, particularly as a literal media services provider, the practice stinks to high heaven. Leadership has also blatantly lied in public-facing PR initiatives about the internal state and health of the business. The CEO recently made an appearance on a popular marketing podcast touting how the success of the business came down to having “process” for everything. Meanwhile, internally, there wasn’t even an Animalz standard operating procedure for, for example, building a content calendar or conducting ideation for said content calendar. The reality is that what success the business has had has come from the ingenuity, creativity, and existing skills of the individual contributors it hires. But leadership continues to deny this -- and those individual contributors continue to leave for greener pastures. The company has also claimed publicly that all client work is completed by full-time Animalz employees when the truth is that the company has routinely outsourced significant amounts of work to freelancers. Leadership is, by all appearances, intensely unconcerned with all of this. The CEO has explicitly stated that the business is there to make great content, not to make employees’ lives easier. They have recently pivoted their messaging around the employer brand from being the “best place for content marketers to work” to being a “content marketing bootcamp,” in an obvious attempt to justify hiring and exploiting inexperienced people rather than experienced professionals that can produce work at the level customers expect. And again, if you ask tough questions about *any* of this, you will be blamed, shamed, and gaslit to high heaven.

Advice to Management

Stop with the "blitzscaling" mentality, slow down long enough to ensure that you're actually delivering a consistent product and that you're not breaking your employees in the process. Pay whatever you have to to get some fresh blood in-house with proven success and an investment in mentorship and leading a team. (But make sure you do it *equitably and transparently* and that you promote those doing equivalent work already accordingly.) All the online courses in the world can’t replace genuine, in-person mentorship from real, experienced people. Figure out a way for employees to stick with subject matter long enough to build actual subject matter expertise. Much as you’d like them to be, human beings aren’t modular, and neither is agency work - you can’t just plug any human into any account, collect your check and walk away. Stop with the PR spin. Your employees are smart. They can smell it a mile away.

Women, people of color, LBTQIA+ employees and people with disabilities are routinely paid lower salaries for equivalent (and in some cases, more) work and responsibility than their male, white, straight, “abled” counterparts. Read More

August 5, 2021

Reviewed by: Content Marketing Manager (Former Employee)

August 6, 2021

Pros

Animalz hires helpful, thoughtful, intelligent content marketers. Everyone is willing to lend a hand with whatever you need - all you have to do is ask in Slack. If you are early in your career and want to improve your writing, work with an editor, or get exposure to some of the biggest names in B2B and SaaS, this is a good place to do it. Unfortunately, it’s not a good place to do much of anything else.

Cons

You will burn out here. Pay is below market value. Leadership takes months to make and act on decisions. They claim to be acting cautiously and intentionally, but while they delay action, employees are struggling with unmanageable workloads and team sizes. Process on this decision-making is no longer shared beyond a few opaque slides in the company All-Hands. The company once prided itself on transparency, but this transparency is being removed. Employees can no longer see salaries and role “levels,” which was a way to ensure fairness. The “replacement” for this is - of course - delayed. Everyone has too much to do. Leadership waits until someone is all but dead in their chair to make a hire. Leadership will tell you, publicly and privately, to “assume positive intent” or not to vent. When you have a valid concern, depending on who it’s brought to, you may be accused of venting, helped, or redirected. It’s a shot in the dark. Non-white, disabled, and neurodivergent candidates are treated differently by leadership team members who interview them. If you have access to Greenhouse or Slack, you will inevitably find at least one inappropriate comment about the candidates’ speech patterns, ability to do the role, or abilities in general. Tools are held together with tape and toothpicks. No one is in charge of fixing anything or given the time and money to do so, even if they have a solution in mind. Clearscope regularly runs out of credits, Ahrefs is unusable unless you work at midnight, and I’m still not sure what the right way to pay for transcriptions is. You will not know a fellow team member is leaving until roughly 48 hours before they leave. Or maybe after they have already left! It all depends on how leadership felt about them and whether or not they were “poached.” Please imagine me rolling my eyes very hard here. Devin cannot and will not answer questions directly.

Advice to Management

Listen. To be clear: you have apparently received the same advice over and over in exit interviews. You have been told to raise salaries, implement custom workloads, reduce the emphasis on “toxic positivity,” stop taking on customers that don’t fit, and keep the transparency in place for the sake of fairness. Stop discounting these opinions and listen to your employees. When eight people quit in a single month - most of them tenured employees - you cannot blame it on an “industry trend” or a “bad fit.” Listen to what you are being told. Do something about it. Do something urgently. Spend your time and money on functional tools, team infrastructure, and the problems that your employees have identified. People are already talking in back channels. Unless you want these poor opinions of you as an employer to reach your future customers - and they will - do something, now. Also, please stop holding office hours if the CEO will not actually answer questions. People don’t come to these to hear funny stories. She’s supposed to be leading the company, not doing standup.

white, disabled, and neurodivergent candidates are treated differently by leadership team members who interview them. Read More

August 6, 2021

Reviewed by: Anonymous (Anonymous Employee)