Managing People

The Path: Bringing Taylor Swift and Billie Eilish to Tumblr

October 23, 2019
November 7, 2023
Ludmila Leiva
Lattice Team

The Path profiles people who are working in what we think of as "dream jobs," living their best professional life, and looks at the people and practices that helped get them there. We talk to these amazing folks about how goal setting, great managers, tough conversations, and key moments of praise helped set them straight or lifted them up at instrumental moments to get them to where they are now — running the show.

If you were an avid digiphile during the early 2000s, chances are you had a Tumblr account. Maybe you spent hours going down a virtual rabbit hole of reblogs, or stumbled upon the microblogging site after clicking a cool, artsy photo elsewhere on the Internet. Either way, Tumblr has left a lasting impression on the world of blogging and social media, and continues to play a role in the evolution of the digital world. 

We recently chatted with Tatiana Oliveira Simonian who has helped create a new frontier in the world of media and entertainment at Tumblr, aligning the platform with some of the biggest artists in the world — Billie Eilish, Taylor Swift, and the Jonas Brothers, to name a few. As the Head of Global Entertainment Partnerships at Tumblr, she leads a bi-coastal team aimed at innovative story-telling and community-building through events and activations in the media and entertainment space.

Previously, Tatiana worked with global brands like Twitter, Nielsen, and Disney. In addition to her day job, she also works as a life coach and runs Womentorship, a platform designed to inspire and educate those who hustle. Here, Tatiana opens up about her career journey, how she approaches difficult conversations with her team, and what she believes makes a good leader.

Lattice: What did you go to school for? And what did you want to do at that time in your life?

Tatiana Oliveira Simonian: Like many creatives, I have a checkered educational past. I went to school off and on for 11 years—to five different universities for a wide array of subjects—while I pursued a music career. I competed in speech in college and my desire to win a national championship was the only reason I bothered to finish my degree in Communications with an emphasis in Rhetorical Theory. 

While at university, my goal was to continue on to postgrad and become a professor. I graduated fully expecting to pursue a Ph.D. and teach. But I got a job that turned into a career and I’m very thankful for that. I’m also very thankful that, despite being torn over the value of the traditional educational path, I actually completed my degree. Not everyone is going to be the next Steve Jobs or famous rock star artist college dropout, I sure wasn’t. 

L: Tell us about someone who’s made a significant impact on your career trajectory.

TOS: I’ll name two people I know and one person I don’t: Nanea Reeves, who is the CEO and co-founder of Tripp VR was my first business mentor early on in my career. I didn’t grow up in a family with business people or college graduates; my parents were a refugee and a former undocumented immigrant and I had a very blue collar upbringing. Things like how you ask for what you’re worth, not sending long emails to senior executives, learning how to develop a solid strategy and measurable KPIs were not a part of my upbringing. Nanea took me under her wing and help me greatly.

Shae Miller is a friend of mine who is not in business at all and is a professor of sociology with an emphasis on race, class, gender, and sexuality. She taught me how to apply a more humanistic approach to my life and work, like how can we bring our whole selves to a job, observe what privileges we have or don’t have, advocate for what we need and do all of it honestly without manipulation. Lean into those friends whose professional backgrounds may be different than yours because it can round out your experience.

Lastly, Julia Cameron, the author of The Artist’s Way. My God, where would I be without this woman? The greatest gift you can give yourself is to read that book and do the work it requires for 12 weeks. A lot of us are blocked creatives taking it out on everyone because we simply don’t want to take care of ourselves. 

L: How did you end up getting to the position you’re currently in?

TOS: I was recruited. I’ve worked at the intersection of tech and entertainment with an emphasis in marketing and business development for over a decade. The upside of being an early vet having worked at social companies like Twitter and Tumblr in entertainment is there aren’t many people with my background. The downside is your experience is so wildly different than what’s the norm in business that you’re not a cookie cutter fit for most roles. The last three jobs I’ve had I was recruited for and I was the first person to hold that position.

L: Walk us through an average day at work.

TOS: I get up early, I meditate or journal first. Then, I check my email on my phone quickly to scan for any emergencies.That’s about the only thing that stays the same every single day.

Since half of my team is in New York, I like to work New York hours from Los Angeles so that I’m not behind anyone’s schedule. On Mondays, everyone on the team sends me an update of what they’re working on that week. Then I do one-on-ones with them; I tend to stack them on Mondays so that I’m aware of where folks are at, can see who needs help, and refocus the gang on goals and course correct if anyone is out of scope. 

Client-wise, I get hundreds of emails a day from various entertainment publicist and marketers, so I’ll review, respond, and route whatever needs to be addressed. I might take a client meeting or call but generally, I keep Mondays focused on internal work and the team.  That was probably the boring answer, sorry! It’s not all celebrities and getting yelled at by publicists.

L: What do you love most about your job? Least?

TOS: Love the most? Getting to be creative. Hatching a crazy plan three and a half years ago and having receipts to show that it worked; seeing campaigns come to life and building relationships with creatives across entertainment; managing my team; watching them grow, conquer challenges, get promoted, and sometimes leave for bigger positions; seeing them hustle during good and bad times—always with a great attitude. 

I manage surprisingly chipper people. I will not be a mother in this lifetime, but watching these individuals grow and thrive in their professional and personal lives gives me a bit of that sense of reward. It can be a tricky journey but, for the most part, it’s been the most amazing. 

Like the least? Politics and mean people. 

L: Has there been a time when someone took a chance on you? Do you think it’s important to take chances on others?

TOS: I have a former boss named J Scavo who hired me at Disney. I don’t know if Jay thought he was taking a chance on me but I felt like he was. I got a $30,000 raise going into that job and it was a life-changing moment for me. I still go to him for advice today. It’s important to take chances on people, but it’s also important that they’re qualified. They don’t have to be 100% of the way there but the velocity should be there.

L: How do you integrate critical feedback and praise into your work?

TOS: Thoughtfully and swiftly. Ego is the enemy. Receive it, consider it, take what’s true and acknowledge it or change that behavior—then toss what doesn’t resonate. The inability to receive feedback correlates with an inability for advancement in your career. 
L: What’s been the biggest learning lesson in your career so far?

TOS: Don’t assume that you’re not qualified or not good enough. Don’t assume that people with fancier degrees know more than you. Don’t assume that everything will be fair. Don’t underestimate the power of relationships over connections.

L: What makes a good leader?

TOS: I want to reframe this because I think most people will read this and think, ‘Well, I’m not a leader, so this doesn’t apply to me.’ I would say, ‘How do you consider leadership in everything you do?’ because the reality is, no matter who you are or what you do, every day you are leading. 

If you work at the front desk or are a hostess, you’re leading by being the first face someone sees. Are you being kind and welcoming? If you’re an artist, are you leading client relations by being concise and providing deliverables on time or do you make excuses for bad behavior? If you’re a senior executive and something didn’t work out your way, are you considering the other person’s point of view and coming up with alternate solutions?

In my experience, most people are more concerned with getting than leading. We say we want to lead, but do we really? If you really care about leading, you can do it right now. Developing the traits of leadership that inspire people to follow you, take hustle, grit, and perseverance. It’s more than just saying the right things, it’s living the right way. It doesn’t mean you’re perfect, but the fruit will be visible in your results.

L: How do you approach difficult conversations with your team and other colleagues?

TOS: As a manager, I approach difficult conversations with compassion and preparation. I like to use the ‘Oreo approach’ which is where you praise the person, then proceed into the tough conversation, and then end with praise and reminder of their value. Depending on the situation, I may seek secondary guidance from my manager or human resources. 

I have had many tough conversations with folks; the truth can be hard to hear. However, not telling the truth creates an awful environment. Withholding feedback from people in any part of our lives create volcanoes and keeps people and relationships from advancing. If you’re not giving someone feedback and also not promoting them, you’re ultimately responsible for their lack of growth. I never want me not telling someone the truth to be the reason they don’t grow. 

L: Has goal-setting played into your career? If not, what practices have helped you get to where you are today?

TOS: Risky admission, but I’m very into the Law of Attraction and not the ‘I need to make six figures by 35’ type of goal-setting. I’ve always been focused on passion and purpose as it relates to my career. I’ve always had to be in jobs that had creativity at their core. The money has come, but I certainly didn’t chase it. I’m a very good negotiator when it comes to getting what I’m worth but I’ve also left large amounts of money on the table to pursue something else. 

I actually wrote, ‘I want to return to Partnerships’ in a journal three months before I was recruited for my current role. I wrote, ‘I want to work more directly with artists’ the morning of the day I was recruited to head up music at Twitter. There is power and magic behind writing your intentions. 

L: What advice would you give to your younger self?

TOS: I actually wrote a piece about that and you can read it here

L: What do you think managers and leaders need to be doing to create better workplaces?

TOS: I feel like everyone could do well to be a little bit less self-involved. Last year I read Ryan Holiday’s Ego is the Enemy, which is a great read. I then got passed up for a promotion I felt I deserved and got an opportunity to practice that humility a bit more in depth (don’t judge someone’s dream job by their highlight reel, kids).

Managers need to do a better job of experiencing what their subordinates are experiencing so they can manage more effectively. If you lead a team who executes experiential and you haven’t been on the ground from the start at one event you can’t understand the challenges they encounter. Leaders need to lean into honest transparency versus platitudes, actively listen, take action regarding the needs of people across an organization, and let subject matter experts lead their respective areas.