John Cena’s not exactly the first person you’d think of going to when you want advice on your marketing career. So why was he er, inbound as a keynote speaker at HubSpot’s INBOUND 2017?
Turns out there’s rather more to this WWE superstar than jorts and muscles. In fact, if the wrestling and acting ever go belly-up for him, then he definitely has a career in life coaching.
He’s also got a massive physical presence: nothing can compare to seeing Cena up close. I grew up on a farm and all I could keep thinking was that there was something almost bovine about his musculature. He has the neck muscles of a young bullock.
Okay, I expected that. But what was surprising was the depth of what Cena had to say. I went there to see a celebrity and didn’t expect much more. I knew that he’s a WWE wrestler and has acted in a few movies that I’ve either not seen, or forgotten if I have.
But the skills that have seen Cena dominate wrestling for the past decade (at least) were clearly in evidence. Masterful at holding the attention of an audience, he’s a consummate performer (indeed there was something Vaudevillian about the fact that he calls himself a ‘travelling performer’ – a reference to the fact that he wrestles five nights a week across the US).
But it’s his maniacal work ethic which shone through. He is currently learning the piano – just because. He learned Chinese because he wanted to help the WWE break into China. He’s a passionate supporter of the Make A Wish Foundation and has granted more than 500 wishes – the most granted by any celebrity ever.
He recently filmed the below video for to show that race, age, gender, religion, sexuality or disability have nothing at all to do with patriotism in the US.
It’s a genius campaign and he’s magnificent in it.
He even revealed that on the way to his keynote speech at INBOUND he listened to the other keynotes and speeches that others (including Michelle Obama) delivered during the week. He didn’t have to do that. He could have coasted through by just being John Cena. But that’s not who the 40-year-old wrestler is. Not by a long shot.
Cena put thought into his keynote – and came up with five questions everyone should ask themselves if they want to succeed.
1. Do you know what your company does?
A lot of people don’t even know what sort of company they’re working for. What they do might not be what the company is doing. He gave the example of a lot of his colleagues in wrestling.
“I’m in the entertainment business,” he stressed. “We do everything from digital media to TV subscriptions to live events. We are in the entertainment business. We put smiles on people’s faces. Many other wrestlers – even some of the superstars – think that they are in the wrestling business. They are wrong.”
2. Do you know what you do?
Cena said that people need to know exactly what’s needed from them in their jobs. And this can’t be something a boss needs to tell you – it’s something innate.
Using the example of how he has to talk when he’s in the ring as a wrestler, he said, “when we are talking, the most natural thing would be to say something like “I’m going to kick your ass.” But we have to be aware of the audience so you have to say, “I’m going to kick your butt.”
Cena knows that his job is to be the WWE superstar – he’s the frontman of wrestling. But in order to break the Chinese market, he learned the language (and broke into it on stage). “I learned Chinese and we go back every year to show Chinese people that we care about them.”
3. Know your audience
When Cena broke into the wrestling mainstream, he was the sport’s Eminem figure. He went into the ring in jorts and vests and even released his own rap album (which went platinum, selling over a million copies). Cena’s star was on the rise and he was connecting with fans and becoming wildly popular. But he took note of who his audience was, and told his boss Vince McMahon that he was going to stop rapping.
“When I started [with the rapping], wrestling had a very different audience. It was 18-35-year-old males. But I started to notice it was becoming more of a family audience. That means we are family entertainment. I couldn’t be rapping for a family audience. And my career truly took off when I became a true version of myself. My audience feels that they know me. And they do.”
4. Never be afraid to ask questions
The key to his success was asking as many questions as he could think of, Cena said. “I got here by looking stupid a whole lot in front of people with a lot bigger job titles than me.”
But that inquisitive nature is still with him to this day. “I speak with our live event merchandise team, and I got to know them because they are selling shirts with my face on them. I did the same with the TV production people and anyone else I could think of too. Why? Because if you want to go far up the ladder, you have to know a little about everything.”
5. Love what you do
This one might seem self-evident but again, Cena came equipped with an illuminating explanation. “If you do not love what you do,” he said, “then you are in the wrong business. You have to be authentic. How do you create authenticity? With passion. It has to be real every time.”
But loving it is not enough. You have to put in the graft too. “When I was young I got a break from a guy and I asked him what I should do to succeed. What he said to me has stayed with me ever since. He told me the secret was to, “show up early and outwork the other guy. Once I get into the ring, I think I’m Superman. And nobody can tell me otherwise.”
Who would even dare?