I first met Tina Walsh, the new Chief Brand Officer at Tongal, when she was at Hasbro working in sunny California. I remember walking into her office with action figures and TVs everywhere and then sitting outside enjoying a Ramsey-worthy food truck lunch, listening to her describe all the new ways she was bringing Hasbro to life. I was inspired by her innovative work then, so when I learned she was at platform Tongal – a global community of up-and-coming filmmakers developing content for brands like Macy’s, Disney, and National Geographic – I just had to find out more. Check out what Tina’s working on with this “new wave of talent for a new wave of channels.”
Why did you choose to join Tongal?
Tongal is all about connecting the world’s creative talent to the world’s creative work. The fact is, creative people live everywhere, not just in Hollywood or off Madison Avenue. 53% of creators on Tongal are female. In stark contrast, from 2007 - 2017, women directed just 4% of Hollywood’s top-grossing 1,100 films. So, while underrepresented voices are finding fewer career opportunities in Hollywood, they are winning on Tongal.
The business of content consumption and distribution has been radically disrupted and little has been done to address the content creation side of the equation. I joined because I was excited to help lead a company that is disrupting the legacy model and that’s in the business of giving up-and-coming talent a shot.
What's happening in marketing right now that excites you most and how will it affect the future?
I’m excited to see more companies choosing to lead with purpose. Whether you’re National Geographic or Nike, organizations are realizing that you need more than a good product and advertising to win over consumers. If you can authentically connect with an audience through human emotion, and focus on the things that matter to them, they’ll believe in you and become ambassadors of your message. We’re seeing more and more companies take this a step further by empowering their audience to help tell their story. When you connect your consumers to your content early in the process and give them a hand in developing it, your message is inclusive and organic in a way that can’t be manufactured and in a way that can help evolve a conversation, drive change, and build lasting affinity for your company.
The thing is, people don’t want to talk to a corporation. People want to talk to other people. And it’s great to see companies starting to understand this and using it to inspire meaningful conversation. I think you’re going to see a lot more companies aiming for greater self-awareness by getting out of the way, embracing the democratization of content creation and letting their audience help shape their narrative.
What are you working on now that is innovative?
We recently premiered a series of six short films inspired by Alien for the film’s 40th anniversary. When 20th Century Fox was planning the celebration, they wanted to do something that honored the fans that made the franchise what it is today.By tapping into our community of up-and-coming filmmakers, we found talented fan creators to extend the franchise narrative with original short films inspired by the Alien universe. The creators poured their passion into their films and other Alien fans took note. One fan loved the shorts so much, he asked, “Can you just make this an HBO series… THX in advance!” When the fans ask for more, you know you’re doing something right.
Another Tongal initiative I’m really passionate about is Macy’s Style Crew, a program we built with Macy’s to empower their employees to be influencers by giving them a platform to create shoppable content and share products they love. By partnering with our global community of filmmakers and editors, we were able to pioneer a program that has exponential reach, while maintaining authenticity. We’re about to enter year two of this program and I’m really excited to watch it continue to grow and exceed expectations.
Tell us about the big learning moments you’ve had along your career path. Do you have any notable mentors?
When I was at Hasbro, we made a bold (at the time) decision to co-create with fan-culture network Machinima on content for The Transformers franchise—one of Hasbro’s most coveted and closely guarded IPs. Through Machinima, we identified writers, artists and voice actors who were true fans of the franchise to create an original digital series. The series rolled out on digital platforms around the world and went on to become the most-viewed Hasbro series ever launched across any screen. Had we not taken that chance on a new model, we would have lost out on the unique opportunity to build and scale a special connection with fans at that moment in time.
I’m a big believer in creating an environment that encourages risk-taking. Because being bold is what moves the industry and our teams forward.
“If you’re going to try to do something and it fails, let it fail epically.”
My mentor and previous leader at Hasbro, Victor Lee, used to be relentless about this principle. He used to say “don’t overcook the fish.” He believed testing and learning was an excuse for failure. That, when something works, no one ever calls it testing and learning. If you’re going to try to do something and it fails, let it fail epically. Today’s landscape moves quick. If you wait too long to get in on the next big thing, it could be over.
How do you pick and develop the talent on your team and ensure there is collaboration?
When I’m building a team, I’m only partially interested in how someone’s past directly maps to the role for which we’re hiring. I’m more interested in hiring someone who demonstrates curiosity for life or the industry. I love working with people who have zigged and zagged, have an appetite for risk, a desire to win, and great stories and learnings from their past experiences.
I’m a big sports fan and can’t help but shout out my hometown hero, Bill Belichick, who always says, “do your job.” I see that as the ultimate call for collaboration. We all have a role to do and, without everyone collaborating and doing their part, we can’t win. I see it as my role to empower everyone on my team to “do their job,” let their voices be heard and give them the support and tools they need to contribute to our narrative.
What one thing do you need from your CMO to help you be successful?
“A CMO needs to be a student of pop culture and subculture to see and understand the nuances of human connection that can’t be found in the data.”
There is a lot of focus on tech and data in the C-suite today. And, while AI and automation may help us be smarter and more efficient, we can’t let the robots turn us into robots. A CMO needs to be a student of pop culture and subculture to see and understand the nuances of human connection that can’t be found in the data. This understanding helps us make informed decisions—from how we support our team, to the stories we tell, to the platforms where we tell them—and steer the company toward success.
What’s the best advice you’ve received that has helped you in your career?
John Frascotti, President and COO at Hasbro, was always great at reminding me to focus on the big picture. We’re programmed to chase the next promotion and paycheck, but John used to say, “it’s a long career.” He would remind me to make purposeful choices in how I mapped out my professional trajectory and that, if I stayed challenged and focused on growth and development through new experiences, versus working toward the next title, the recognition would come. This small shift in mindset allowed me to focus on the experience rather than the climb and I began choosing roles that felt fun and authentic to me. It’s helped allow each day to feel like an exciting new challenge or puzzle in need of solving, rather than a grind.
What's something that most people don't know about you? Sleep is my superpower. I can sleep anywhere, almost anytime.
If you weren’t a marketer, what would you be? The next Rick Steves or a Nat Geo Explorer. I’d love to travel the world and share my experiences to inspire others to use travel to drive a positive impact on humanity.
What book would you most recommend to fellow marketers? My free time always seems to be shrinking these days and I find myself supplementing books with podcasts. A few of my current favorites are Masters of Scale and Skimm’d from the Couch.