Building Your Dreams and Being Practical – A Leadership Talk with Craig Tello
Craig Tello, the Head of Marcom Creative and Content Strategy for competitive gaming at EA, sat down with FUTURE NOW CEO and Founder Peggy Kim in July to discuss his storied career, from his earning his journalism degree from NYU to coming up through the ranks at the WWE to jumping into his new role at EA.
Tello was an aspiring graphic novelist and a pro wrestling geek, and dreamed of one day becoming a writer for the WWE, whose stories had sparked his imagination as a child.
“I feel passionate about stories… and putting [words] together in a narrative,” he said, but he also wanted to have a more practical skillset should the stars not immediately align for him, hence the journalism degree (what he calls a “parallel pathway”).
However, as luck would have it, the stars did align. His roommate knew Marie Svet, the director of sales operations at WWE at the time, and Tello became her intern. Svet became an invaluable mentor and sponsor, and helped him to transition into a job, writing creative storylines for the WWE.
The experience was not what he expected. Tello spoke of how he “started in there, assuming it was my dream job, [but] it was not the role for me.” The travel was grueling and the culture was not what he expected. So, he transitioned over to the digital, multi-media side of the company, and it was a move that would set him up for long-term growth and success.
“From that point on,” Tello said, “it was really the start of my journey at WWE”—a journey which would last 15 years. Tello would go on to become Senior Vice President for Programming and Media Operations, utilizing his love of stories and storytelling to usher along content for WWE’s various platforms with the goal of “[creating] a greater fandom for the overall brand and [bringing] people in” to the world of WWE.
Even with a self-professed “pretty nice career” at WWE, Tello remained very aware of his goals. He recalled what Svet once told him: “You know, you should be mindful of your 15 year mark. There’s a moment in your career where you reflect and you say, are you going to commit long-term to a place?”
Tello committed to 15 years at WWE, but didn’t “want to create golden handcuffs and stick [myself] to a specific brand. I was always focused on longevity and marketability beyond WWE.” This practical mindset, the one which began in college with that journalism degree, has been a very important driver for Tello and has prepared him for unexpected opportunities...like the one at EA.
During the pandemic, EA approached Tello through LinkedIn. Having seen his successful expansion of WWE and wishing to apply that success to their e-sports division, they offered him the top job in creative content and strategy. Tello, despite having no gaming experience, took the plunge: “There’s so much white space to build upon and to paint in terms of the canvas, and it was exciting.”
So, what exactly does Tello do as the Head of Marcom Creative and Content Strategy in Competitive Gaming? Marcom stands for “marketing and communications,” and is all about creatively marketing content and communicating it to audiences. Content strategy entails leveraging and deploying content, “strategically looking at content as a thing [and] as a commodity to meet your goals,” as Tello tells it, and working with the production companies necessary to achieve those goals.
Tello emphasized the importance of data when it comes to his role. “Good data and insights should be at the root of a new idea,” he told audience members; while there should be a balance between numbers and instincts, data ultimately forms the backbone of most decisions made.
But while Tello credits an eye for data for some of his successes, much of his career has been built upon having a solid moral character to which he credits his mother. Where others might approach their job as a competition, seeking to crush anyone who stands in their way, Tello prefers to operate and lead with integrity and empathy.
The way to build relationships, he said, is “to win over their trust and respect and admiration.” Humility and empathy ultimately bring out more in people than an iron fist, giving you a “return of your investment on caring.”
Tello imparted some last words of wisdom on the audience. It’s important to aim high, he said, but always “have a backup plan to your backup plan.” Tello thought writing for WWE would be his dream job, but he ended up in a role he never would have thought of for himself, something only possible because he was flexible enough to adapt.
Just as there is a work-life balance, you must be able to balance your dreams and build them with a wider vision in mind: “Don’t be rigid and so focused that you maybe miss adjacent or attainable opportunities in the meantime,” he said, a policy that has served him well from his college days to now. “There’s no reason you can’t dual build.”