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SEMrush Pro Talks with Zazzle‘s Simon Penson

Elena Terenteva
SEMrush Pro Talks with Zazzle‘s Simon Penson

Hello, dear SEMrush Blog readers!

Today, we have with us Simon Penson, the founder and MD of Zazzle Media, a content-led digital marketing agency based in the UK. Simon is an accomplished content marketing specialist with ten years of media experience, as well as a former journalist and an editor.

This interview was inspired by Simon’s new e-book Content Marketing Campaign Planning eBook – a comprehensive guide that can answer a lot of questions.

But new knowledge gives rise to new questions. Luckily we had the amazing opportunity to talk with Simon and discuss some others “behind-the-scenes” aspects of content marketing, which still have a big impact on final result: form team management to design development.

Elena Terenteva: First of all, I want to ask you about team management. How do you organize the perfect workflow? Can you please describe the roles for each team member and point out the main aspects of internal communication for large PR/content projects.

Simon Penson: We have spent a lot of time “playing” with organization at Zazzle to ensure that we are able to maximize the impact of the content we produce. As a built-from-the-ground-up content marketing agency, getting this right sits at the very heart of what we are.

I’m also not going to pretend for a moment that we got it right the first time, and while the blogger-relations element of promotion was a relatively easy nut to crack, the national PR piece and how all that ties into social and paid has been much more difficult to perfect. In fact we are still iterating today.

The key is how we center everything around a campaign plan, and before we even round off the campaign idea, we ensure that we have the brains from social, PR, blogger relations and content creation together in a room, so we can all discuss the true viability of the project and its objectives. Only once everyone feels that it is not just a good idea, but one that will actually gain traction, do we give it the green light.

From that moment on, our Head of Creative Communications and Content Director work with our strategy team to design a centralized plan based on data and insights, one that includes all relevant media – from PR and blogger relations to native advertising and even programmatic if relevant. This forms the basis of our plan. You can even download the template we use from our site if you want to give it a go yourself.

Digital PR is focused on media relations as well as building long term relationships with the biggest sites and gaining “big” coverage. Blogger relations focus on the still hugely important “blogosphere.” The social specialists ensure we maximize both our organic and paid reach, and they are supported by our paid media team who ensure we work in a smart, data-led way to target our content to the right audience to maximize engagement.

ET: We acquire knowledge by learning from mistakes. What mistakes do newbies typically make when planning and managing campaigns?

SP: The hardest part is running before you can walk. Planning in detail from the very beginning is critical to success. It sounds obvious but good ideas do not always turn into successful campaigns, so you need to inject some significant journalistic and PR experience into the mix early on to ensure that there are angles worthy of coverage.

We then also see a lot of disjointed distribution – not thinking enough about how social, paid and PR can work together to maximize reach.

ET: Speaking of PR, a lot of marketers consider building relations with journalists one of the most difficult marketing issues. You’ve been a journalist and worked on the other side of the process. From your experience, can you point out the best ways to reach journalists’ minds and hearts?  It would be great if you could provide an example of a perfect pitch!

SP: The simple answer is there is no “perfect pitch” as you are dealing with human beings. We think a lot about how we can create really valuable exclusives to “sell” in and then make sure we have done our research on who we are reaching out to. By only taking hyper-relevant ideas to the right people, we ensure we don’t waste their time, or ours. Journalists are time-poor, so make their job easier by doing that and having “ready-made” content they can simply sub-edit and publish, rather than a standard press release!

ET: Speaking of lead generation in content marketing. Can you please outline the main aspects of a proper lead generation funnel in content marketing?

SP: We are our own client when it comes to this, so we have a lot of practice! The key is not leaving the important middle part of the funnel to chance. We made that mistake for some time, and while we produced lots of good “top-of-the-funnel” content, what came through to us as “leads” was by chance.

Maximizing the flow of leads is where the Inbound Marketing methodology comes into its own, and we work closely with Hubspot to ensure we are staying close to our audience, helping to add value where relevant and building a relationship with them. Once they download some content, we will always try to point them in the right direction to other helpful guides and so on. After a while, we will pick up the phone and chat with them to see if we can help.

ET: Nowadays content is still king, but it’s no longer only about substance but appearance. How are new trends in UX/UI and design influencing content marketing?

SP: User journey is often the difference between “good” content and “bad.” Truly need-before-seen ideas don’t come along every day, but you can very easily create something of huge value by simply thinking about how you can “package” it up. Some of our best ideas have been based on simply pulling together lots of related content into a “hub” and then spending a lot of time thinking about the “journey” people go on when interacting with it. A good example of this would be a recent piece we ran for While there are thousands of recipes and tons of supporting content about vegetables, we found success by simply pulling lots of guides together into a tailor-made vegetable recipe hub.

ET: My last question is about the main difference between content marketing strategies for startups and enterprise, e-commerce and local business? Are there a lot of differences? Should your business model or the size of your business dictate your overall content strategy? 

SP: Intrinsically there should be very little difference when it comes to the fundamentals. Every business, irrespective of size, should focus firstly on understanding their audience and getting as close as possible to them. It’s their behaviors and pain points that dictate what you create and where. Obviously if you are a large brand with location in multiple countries, that picture will be more complex than if you’re a small business. But, the fundamentals are the same; audiences like variation and for a brand to understand their needs. Your focus should be on making them smarter consumers and helping them make the right decisions. If you do that, then you are on the right track.

A good content strategy also requires variation, as I explained earlier, and I have written about that previously and even created a useful tool to help you measure how your editorial calendar “flows.” People like variation – plus, it creates more content stickiness and keeps people coming back. To achieve this, you need to think about the types of content your audience may wish to consume, such as long- and short-form articles, videos, helpful tools and so on.

Thank you so much, Simon, for all your insights! SEMrush blog readers, feel free to join our interview right now and ask Simon additional questions in the comments below!

Elena Terenteva

SEMrush employee.

Elena Terenteva, Product Marketing Manager at SEMrush. Elena has eight years public relations and journalism experience, working as a broadcasting journalist, PR/Content manager for IT and finance companies.
Bookworm, poker player, good swimmer.
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