Content Distribution: How to Create an ‘A-Team’

Laura Leyland 7 years ago

The challenge of marketing delivery has never been greater or more complex than it is right now. As audiences fragment further and competitors become stronger, faster and fitter there is no second place.

Delivering a brilliant, winning strategy now requires a host of skill sets where it used to require one and an absolute requirement for that plan to blend all channels into a single, cohesive story and experience.

Content always sits at the very heart of that plan and we've spent the past eight years working to perfect the right structure to deliver precisely that. This post is designed to share those findings and paint a picture of what we find is the perfect set up for the critical distribution part of the content marketing process and how to lead a team in this direction too.

Let's dig into that picture, starting with the most important aspect of all; structural organisation...


This often depends on the size of your team. A small team often works best when the individuals involved can multi task and are multi skilled. For example, when we were much smaller, the Zazzle Media content distribution team would all carry out several roles including content writing, outreaching and ideas strategy.

We needed everyone to muck in and contribute regardless of the task in hand. It is also worth noting that everyone had a very similar job title and was considered on a similar level with minimal management structure.


From that, we began to introduce specialisms and more clarity around job role including individual performance KPIs to ensure each team member had a focus.

As we grew, this became crucial as we were managing more and more projects with different objectives and so we needed a system where we could assign responsibilities and accountability for delivery.


Today, following many tweaks and tests around what works for us, we are somewhere in the middle. We have a much clearer management structure and therefore, clearer progression pathway.

We have gone slightly back on the specialism focus in that we actively encourage our team members to be multi skilled and therefore many of them work on a wide variety of projects at any one time.

Although many team members share a job title, their job descriptions and personal development plans clearly state their individual specialisms and focuses for the year ahead. At top level our current structure looks like this -


But a more detailed breakdown and more accurate reflection actually looks like this -


While we actively encourage cross skilling and team members to work across several projects, it is still vitally important that at the end of the day, everyone knows what they are accountable for and therefore what their priorities are day to day. We believe that without this, things can become muddy and then balls get dropped.

For example, within our Distribution team we work on projects that require a variety of skills and techniques. These include PR, Media Relations, Blogger Engagement, Web Mentions, Aggregator Seeding, Strategy, Influencer Marketing and Paid/Organic Social.

All 12 of our PR trained team members could handle a project requiring any one of the above skill sets. However, we find it works better if each person has a more specific focus and an area to specialise in.

There are several reasons for this but the main three are:

  • Accountability
  • Personal Development
  • Clarity

Without the above, we’re all just shooting around in the dark hoping we hit the target and impress our seniors. But with specific focus in our roles, we can be sure we are meeting expectations and utilising our personal strengths in order to work towards our career development goals.

So how does this work in practice?

Let us consider a campaign involving reaching out to household name bloggers to see if they would be interested in attending a client fashion event and then blogging about it afterwards before sharing on their social pages to their million+ followers aka Influencer Engagement.

We have several Digital PR Consultants and Execs who could handle this, each of them has the same job title and each one is experienced with bloggers, events and networking to achieve coverage. However, where possible, this project would fall to Tami Briesies. Why? Because of the following:

  • Experience – She is our Influencer Engagement Specialist. As one of our ‘original’ blogger experts Tami has spent many years learning about and engaging with popular bloggers making her existing relationships invaluable in quickly building trust and interest around this event.
  • Interest – Tami is a blogger herself - specifically fashion - and so constantly has her finger on the pulse of the blogger stratosphere and would know exactly how other bloggers would prefer to be approached.
  • Desire – Tami would enjoy attending the event herself and therefore the passion and enthusiasm she has for the subject would drive her to achieve.

Roles & Responsibilities

For this, let’s refer back to my football analogy. I want to create a league winning team and so I'm on the hunt for award winning athletes. According to my wish list they should be:

  • Strong and Fit
  • Have a positive winning attitude
  • Intelligent (able to recall the right tactics)
  • Team players who are obedient to the manager’s requests

The good news is, I found 11 that tick all my boxes but guess what? My team would fail miserably. Why? Because I haven’t checked which positions they usually play and I’ve since found out they’re all stronger in defence. We’d never concede a goal but we’d never win either. Therefore, I need to go back out and look for some attacking players to compliment the defenders.

The origin of the word ‘role’ comes from the French ‘rôle’ referring originally to the roll of paper on which an actor's part was written. This to me backs up the need for each team member to have a very clearly defined job description which should be discussed and agreed between all parties to ensure clarity around expectation. By clearly stating what a person’s ‘role’ is within a team, you are ensuring the following:

  • That person is fully aware of expectations and what good looks like
  • Other team members know exactly what to expect from each member avoiding conflict
  • Avoid duplication of tasks/time wasting
  • Sharing of responsibility

Personality Traits

There is an awful lot of research around what mix of personalities can influence the effectiveness of a team. I quite like Belbin's nine examples of this which you can explore here - and agree that a mix of organisers, doers and finishers is essential.

What MUST our teams have?

According to Google's five key dynamics of a successful team we must ensure all our teams consider the following:

  • Psychological safety: Can we take risks on this team without feeling insecure or embarrassed?
  • Dependability: Can we count on each other to do high quality work on time?
  • Structure & clarity: Are goals, roles, and execution plans on our team clear?
  • Meaning of work: Are we working on something that is personally important for each of us?
  • Impact of work: Do we fundamentally believe that the work we’re doing matters?

According to Search Engine Watch, 'The research showed that employees who feel psychologically secure in the workplace are more likely to:

  • Stay with the company
  • Embrace new ideas from their colleagues
  • Generate more revenue
  • Be rated as ‘effective’ twice as often by their managers.'

So it’s certainly worth taking the above into consideration. Can you be sure all your staff would say yes to the above? Here are some Zazzle tips to achieving each one…

  • Psychological safety: Here at Zazzle we do a lot of creative brainstorming and idea generation. We are firmly in the 'no idea is a stupid idea' camp. I have literally just witnessed a team member demonstrating a move reminiscent of twerking in the boardroom during a brainstorm. Were people laughing? Yes! But with him, not at him!
  • Dependability: At Zazzle, we have a very effective operations team who work hard to ensure no one person or team is overloaded while another is having a relaxing time. By making sure the work split is even, we can be sure that everyone has a fair chance to deliver their work on time and to a very high standard.
  • Structure & clarity: Via clear Job Descriptions, PDPs and monthly 1-2-1s as well as weekly or even daily team catch ups, we can be sure everyone is 100% clear on what is expected of them and those around them. It is not uncommon for one team member to help out another if they are ahead and the other is behind. Either we all deliver or no one does.
  • Meaning of work: Our staff are all empowered to work with and make suggestions to their managers regards what they are working on at any one time. We carefully create client teams to ensure everyone working on the account is interested and brought into the overall goal of the project.
  • Impact of work: Every Friday we hold a whole of business meetings where we discuss client wins and all the great work we’ve witnessed this week. We also actively encourage feedback between peers via our monthly Zazzle Hero award where everyone gets to give feedback on one person they feel has made a big difference to clients or colleagues that month.

Situational leadership

What is situational leadership, I hear you ask?

Developed by Dr. Paul Hersey in the late 1960s, the Situational Leadership® Model is a powerful, yet flexible tool that enables leaders of all kinds; managers, salespeople, peer leaders, teachers or parents to more effectively influence others. Over the years, their model has been updated and revised but for the purposes of this blog, we are going to explore the ‘Will/Skill’ model.

will:skill model

Try printing this matrix and adding your team members into the boxes according to where you think they are on the skill v. will scale. It is very likely you’ll have a scattering of points right across each section and in some ways, that is a good thing - if every single person in your team was consistently in the High Will, High Skill box then choosing someone for that sought after promotion would be a nightmare!

That said, as managers it is of course our job to encourage everyone to be as close to that box if not entirely in it. To do that, refer to the words in capitals. These give you an idea as to how to manage these team members to get the most from them. If you have someone on your team who is super smart but a bit lazy, consider incentivizing them with a reward or excite them with the prospect of more responsibility or a promotion if effort levels increase.

Also be sure to capitalise on those people in the High Will/High Skill box and don’t rest on your laurels assuming they’ll stay there forever. Instead maximize those people via mentoring and also test them by delegating some of the more crucial tasks and show them you trust them to deliver for you.

Leader v Manager

The next thing to consider is how the person directing a team can have as much, if not more, of an impact on that team’s success than the team itself. Hands up if you’ve ever worked for someone you considered to be a complete (insert insult here)?

Ask yourself, regardless of whether everything else we’ve discussed was in place, did you feel motivated and driven to achieve results for that person? The answer is of course – no.

Now ask yourself who the best person you’ve ever worked for was? I bet you achieved some of your best work during that time and probably progressed both professionally and personally in a short period of time. Right?

So what was the difference between them? Most likely, the person you thrived under was more of a leader than a 'manager'. If we refer to the best selling book, The Leadership Challenge, by Kouzes & Posner, we can explore the positive leadership traits that they felt impacting the teams within which these people worked.

They surveyed 630 people about their positive management experiences to identify these suggested key leadership traits:

  • Honest
  • Forward looking
  • Inspirational
  • Competent
  • Fair minded
  • Supportive
  • Broad minded
  • Intelligent
  • Straight forward
  • Dependable

Our top tip for making sure your team leaders display these traits is to give them time to do so. It is all too easy to fall into the trap of giving your managers lots of work to deliver while also asking them to be awesome people managers. Where possible, give your managers the time they need to lead, develop others, motivate, inspire, listen, make decisions and develop strategy.

Furthermore, consider researching and implementing MacGregors Theory Y management style. We like this approach way better than a controlled, dictatorship approach!

Team Motivation

Anyone who ever touched on a business qualification will have come across Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. It’s an old one but a good one nonetheless. Any manager or team leader would benefit from understanding where their team ‘fit’ in the hierarchy and motivating them accordingly.


Every person is capable and has the desire to reach self actualisation but sometimes, this is made difficult by missing pieces of the puzzle lower down the hierarchy. We all hope that Basic needs are in place for everyone but Psychological needs are a bit more changeable.

For example, if someone is struggling with a personal problem at home such as divorce or family stresses, they may be distracted from their work goals and are therefore unable to achieve their full potential. If we do not investigate these issues, we can mistake a struggle with an issue like this for poor performance.

Chastising someone for poor performance when it is actually a personal issue at the centre of the problem can have further negative impact so it is always worth sensitively addressing these issues where possible.

If we refer back to Google’s No.1 trait of an effective team we will find Psychological safety. This is another great example of why open communication and trust is at the heart of a highly effective team.

So to recap, in order to build effective teams, you must consider the following:

Team Structure

Roles & Responsibilities

Personality Traits

Leadership Styles


To conclude, I wanted to share with you some Top 10 Tips for motivating teams:

  1. Come to work every day with energy and enthusiasm. Not only will you get your day off to a good start but your positive vibe will rub off on those around you.
  2. Be clear in what you expect, whether that’s from your team or from your manager. No one can help you achieve your goals or overcome your hurdles if they are not clear on what they are.
  3. Empower yourself and those around you. Do you have an awesome idea for how something could be done better? Tell someone!
  4. Discover what excites you and ask for it – if you don’t ask, you don’t get.
  5. Ensure regular communication between you and your team, share freely and openly.
  6. Introduce fun into otherwise boring tasks, try making it a competition to see who can complete a project first.
  7. Give positive feedback as often as possible. If you see someone do something great, tell them! Remember that recognition costs nothing and can be valued highly
  8. Hire the right attitudes – you can always train the skills!
  9. Set realistic, yet challenging targets for yourself and others. Nothing beats a bit of healthy competition between teams!
  10. Take a break! Hard work is great but we all need a bit of downtime. Try taking a walk on your lunch break – the fresh air will refresh your body and mind.
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