Thursday, November 28, 2002

Just a little something I'm doing for my PR class... hope you jabronis like it!

Company: World Wrestling Entertainment SOURCE

What? World Wrestling Entertainment? Do you smell what it's cooking, jabroni?

Identity: The World Leader of Sports Entertainment.

This identity was established by the WWE through four decades of professional wrestling. In these four decades, the WWE has faced innumerable obstacles and challenges, yet remained steadfast despite them all. Until the 1980's, wrestling was regional, meaning that each wrestling organization focused on a particular part of the country. A typical wrestler would spend a year or two in one territory; when his character started to get stale in that area, he packed up and headed for another territory. Only a handful of wrestlers, such as Gorgeous George, were nationally known.

The AWA (American Wrestling Association) was run out of Minneapolis. Run by Verne Gagne and family, the AWA once held stars like Sergeant Slaughter, Curt Hennig, Nick Bockwinkel and even Hulk Hogan. The Von Erich family ran World Class Championship Wrestling in Dallas, Texas, and other organizations were based out of Memphis, Tennessee (where current WWF announcer Jerry "the King" Lawler first found fame), Hawaii (a territory run by relatives of the Rock) Florida, Georgia and more. The NWA (National Wrestling Alliance, the major part of which became WCW) was a loose alliance of the regional organizations that ran "supercards" where hometown heroes would square off for larger championships.

And then there was the World Wrestling Federation- or, as it was originally known, the World Wide Wrestling Federation. It operated out of the Northeast and its main venue was Madison Square Garden. (Even today in "wrestling industry-speak" a wrestler can refer to "New York" meaning the WWF organization, though the company is technically based out of Connecticut). Vince McMahon, Sr., father of the now-infamous "Mr. McMahon," was the promoter, and his main star from the very beginning of the organization was Bruno Sammartino.

Sammartino was a former bodybuilder from Pittsburgh who, in his time, was unquestionably the king of the WWWF. Bruno headlined over 150 sold out WWWF cards at Madison Square Garden and holds a record for longest WWF title reign, holding the title for over eight years without losing it! In today's wrestling world of quick title changes, it's hard to imagine a full-year title reign, much less an eight-year run.

Bruno had a solid array of power moves, such as the bear hug and the backbreaker, an impressive physique, and most importantly, a strong connection with his fans. In an interview Bruno remarked that after losing the WWWF title for the first time (to Stan Stasiak), there were fans actually crying because he had lost the title. His charisma, though perhaps understated in today's terms, was undeniable.

Another WWWF wrestler who had massive star power was Andre the Giant, though of course anything involved with Andre would involve the word "massive." The French-born Andre was an impressive sight at over seven feet tall and over four hundred pounds. Yet Andre could carry himself like a much smaller man, performing some acrobatic moves that surprised and dazzled fans. But Andre's charm belied his fearsome size and strength, and his popularity made him at one time the highest-paid pro athlete in the world, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

Vince McMahon Sr. died in 1982, and left his company to his son Vince Jr., who had been in charge of one of the smaller parts of the WWWF territory, and he dropped the "W" to rename it WWF, or World Wrestling Federation. This would mean huge changes for the industry. Vince Sr. believed in cooperation between the various regional wrestling organizations. There were times, in fact, when WWF champion Bob Backlund, who reigned in the late 1970's and early 1980's, fought NWA world champion Ric Flair. Both fought AWA champions as well. Each group loaned out talent to the others from time to time when business wasn't up to par. Vince Jr., on the other hand, saw the AWA and NWA as competitors, and decided to run his cards in their parts of the country. Vince Jr.'s WWF was poised to become the first truly national wrestling organization. But one piece of the puzzle was needed, and that was a name so nationally recognizable that the company could actually sustain a national following. The name was Hulk Hogan... and the rest was history.

Hogan at the time was part of the AWA, and a part in one of Sylvester Stallone's Rocky sequels got his name known in a big way. While the Hulk was extraordinarily popular, promoter Verne Gagne refused to put the AWA title on him. (There was a famous match where Hogan apparently beat Nick Bockwinkel for the title; when the referee announced that the decision was reversed, the crowd literally almost rioted.) Gagne's rationale was that Hogan was a lot of charisma, a lot of muscles, but not much wrestling. Gagne was absolutely on the mark about Hogan's strengths and weaknesses, but he misunderstood the public's stance on the issue: if it was between Hogan and pure, technical wrestling, they wanted Hogan, and they wanted him in a big way. After being told in no uncertain terms by Gagne that the AWA belt was out of his range, the Hulk came to the WWF and almost immediately became their champion.

This title change, in January of 1984, made Hogan the focus of the WWF and gave the company the national star power they needed. Almost immediately the WWF took off on the strength of Hulkamania. Not that it was Hogan's stardom and McMahon's marketing savvy alone: as the company began to grow, other talented stars began to head to "New York" and try their hand in the WWF. Rowdy Roddy Piper, who had previously been known for brutal, bloody feuds with Ric Flair and Greg Valentine, came to town and with his clever wisecracks and brawling style, he quickly became Hogan's nemesis. Colorful managers like "Captain" Lou Albano and "Classy" Freddie Blassie brought color to otherwise humorless teams like the Hart Foundation (featuring Bret "Hitman" Hart before he became a superstar in his own right) and the Killer Bees.

This was the first time in wrestling history where "gimmicks," or the addition of nicknames and personas in addition to wrestling skills, became paramount to each athlete. While this disappointed longtime wrestling fans (Bruno Sammartino, the company's top star in the 60's, still refuses to watch modern pro wrestling because of its "sports entertainment" focus), the Hollywoodization of the WWF continued on. Vince McMahon continued to expand in new directions, harnessing the power of pay-per-view television by creating Wrestlemania, now regarded as the focal point of the WWF calendar.

Hogan's popularity was unmatched for the rest of the 80's, despite other big names like Randy "Macho Man" Savage and the Ultimate Warrior. But as the 1990's rolled around, the WWF was showing signs of stagnation. Hogan almost never lost, which meant his matches were becoming predictable. Plus, he was getting restless and began looking to Hollywood for movie roles, eventually leaving the WWF in 1993. However, no one was big enough to replace Hulk Hogan, and so business began to decline. Heroes like "American Made" Lex Luger, Diesel and Bret Hart gave it a good shot, but the WWF's "huge hero vs. evil villain" model no longer worked.

At the same time, McMahon and several other WWF employees were indicted by the federal government for various charges of distributing and selling illegal steroids. During the trial, Hulk Hogan and other wrestlers testified against McMahon and the WWF, admitting they had used steroids. The negative publicity was damaging, and combined with the large threat from Ted Turner's WCW organization, they led to the company struggling to keep from folding.

How did the WWF survive? By changing course once again, casting off "last year's model" and trying a new format. Gimmicks remained an essential part of each wrestler, but now their roles were less cartoonish. Characters like the half-human Mantaur and plumber TL Hopper were discarded, while more focus was placed on the personality of each individual wrestler. Shawn Michaels stopped brown-nosing fans and played up his wisecracking, sneaky persona to create Degeneration X. His partner, Hunter Hearst Helmsley, went from a snobby socialite to the irreverent punk known as Triple H. Athletic, fan-friendly Rocky Miavia became the self-obsessed Rock, and silent Stone Cold Steve Austin turned into the rugged, beer-drinking, cursing "toughest SOB in the WWF." Plus, the company abandoned the traditional good guy-always-fights-bad guy format, pitting everybody against everybody else, leading to some unique feuds.

And of course, this has led to the rebirth of the WWF, which, in its current form, is undoubtedly the most popular wrestling organization of all time. On March 21, 2001, the WWF managed to purchase its sole national competitor, the WCW. As far as it goes, the WWF was now a monopoly in the national scene. But this didn't happen overnight. Just as its current format will play a role in its future, the history of the WWF is part of what it has become. In a recent legal battle with the World Wildlife Fund (Also WWF.), the WWF had to give up its rights to the acronym and change its name. Hence, it is now officially known as World Wrestling Entertainment, or WWE.

Image (Corporate): The ONLY leader in Sports Entertainment.

Image (Product): Anything can happen in the WWE.

The WWE's corporate image spawns from the fact that it has been the most dominant pro wrestling organization in the entirety of the United States. In fact, just like the NBA, the global coverage of the WWE has been a powerful force only the now-defunct WCW came close to reckoning with. By being the ONLY leader in Sports Entertainment, the people who closely follow the WWE know that Vincent K. McMahon Jr.'s business savvy is matched only by his ruthlessness in eliminating the competition. This entails numerous questionable tactics on his part, ranging from the aforementioned steroids distribution, to talent raiding of budding federations in order to prevent it from gaining ground. Most competitors view the WWE with little respect and great fear, simply because of these cutthroat practices, and while this is not a good way to connect with competitors, the WWE's sponsors are nonetheless confident that this is the best pro wrestling company they can turn to.

On the other hand, the WWE's product image can go either way. When one says anything can happen in the WWE, ANYTHING is certainly not an understatement. Events in recent history within the WWE have involved fatal accidents from a rapelling stunt, a gay wedding ceremony, and a necrophilia storyline. While the shock value of these storylines do attract a lot of media attention, and thus give a lot of exposure the WWE, a lot of backlash likewise happens. While sponsors are sure of the fact that the WWE is the best in its genre, it is however unsure of the viewership of the WWE, especially as of recent times. Sponsors, due to much bad publicity caused by the WWE's unpredictability, tend to back out.

On a positive note, the fans of the WWE enjoy its storylines because of its refreshing mix of drama and athleticism. Over the past decade, pro wrestling has been regarded as "The Man's Soap Opera", and while still considered as low-brow entertainment, pro wrestling in general has been more accepted into the mainstream than it was in the early 80's. The storylines of the WWE in particular, are very gripping to the casual fan (Although the self-proclaimed "smarts" in the business tend to find the WWE predictable.), and it's been a known fact that despite the openness, most WWE fans still think that the product is NOT scripted. The sheer power of the PR machine employed by the WWE to still exude this kind of an image despite its openness to being scripted is simply phenomenal.

Media Usage:

The WWE uses two forms of media quite heavily: Television and the Internet. Print, radio and film are secondary, but very crucial as well. Being a televised product, the WWE heavily relies on its TW coverage and syndication to get its product across, and a bulk of its advertisements come from there. It uses television very effectively, as its production quality is very high in comparison to its other competitors that are locally televised. Most of its storylines are teased in elaborate video packages aired on their respective networks, and even some of their wrestlers end up on the news, be it for an upcoming storyline, or, say, a charity event. On the flipside, these same individuals can also be there for the latest criminal offense. Their wrestlers also do guestings on other programs quite often as well.

On the internet front, is one of the most frequently-visited sites in the world, generating an average of 50,000 hits a day, much more during Pay-Per-Views and live events. Within its website, a treasure trove of information about your favorite Superstars can be found, and most of their press releases are likewise placed there as soon as they are made available elsewhere for public consumption. Its official website is usually more reliable to check than your daily newspaper if in case you want to know the WWE's stand on anything.

Print media is a necessity for the WWE. Most of its press releases are coursed through there, and not through television. Likewise, they are fond of making full-color print ads that tend to catch the eye, and thus attract people to watch their shows. Radio, through guestings by their personalities, is also used to make their product more known. They rarely rely on radio for news updates, leaving this to TV, Internet, and to a lesser extent, print. Lastly, their use of film is quite apparent in the latest blockbuster hit "The Scorpion King", where Dwayne Johnson did not drop his ring name, The Rock, and used it to instead draw moviegoers through his star power, and likewise, draw moviegoers to watch wrestling even more. Lots of other wrestlers also make cameos in different films, and their association with the WWE is made very clear. Hence, even in film, the WWE is making its product known to its publics.

The Bottomline:

The researcher has been a wrestling fan since 1989, and he can say without a doubt that despite the fact that the WWE is not the best at public relations, the bond Vince McMahon, Jr. managed to make with the fans has been so strong, as to actually surpass all obstacles that faced the company, in the form of bad publicity, upstart rivals, and disgruntled former employees who write tell-all books. The magic exuded by Mr. McMahon is simply beyond logic: how else can you explain the fact that the WWE is the ONLY national wrestling company left in North America? VInce could've done all the underhanded tactics he'd like, but if he didn't come out with a good product in the first place, nobody would've been watching his program, and no matter how small the competition, the ratings will always tell the story.

Indeed, as far as public relations, in terms of its primary public (its audience), the WWE has certainly achieved a milestone. Where else can you see a company that swears it's lying, and yet nobody believes it?

That's the bottomline. It's true! It's true!

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