Why the WWE is a Multigenerational PR Success Story

As World Wrestling Entertainment comes off yet another successful pay per view event, Money in the Bank, there are rumblings in the media that this successful entertainment company is considering a brand consolidation. Industry watchers believe the brand can no longer support two different weekly shows, Raw and Smackdown, as well as a host of programs for subscribers to its streaming service.

Those making this assumption point to a recent announcement that the WWE will no longer host single-branded pay-per-view events. Going forward, Superstars from both the Raw and Smackdown rosters will be together in every PPV event. While this is a return to what the WWE did in its 1980s and 90s heyday, some are saying the consolidation rumors, if true, are a sign that the WWE is struggling to hold its audience.

That, based on the way the company is still able to pack in the fans and by how merchandise continues to sell in incredible numbers, seems a far-fetched prediction. Sure, the WWE may be consolidating TV programming (or they may not) but that doesn’t mean the brand as a whole is struggling.

From the very beginning of the run toward becoming an internationally known wrestling promotion, WWE (then WWF) understood how to market and communicate with three levels of fans: the true believers, the dedicated watchers and the casual fans. Better still, the company understood how to help casual fans transition to true believers.

This dedication to a targeted and multilayered PR effort has allowed the WWE to morph over the decades, to go through name changes and “eras,” and yet still continue to attract a dedicated fan base as well as media attention well outside the realm of committed wrestling fans.

WWE targets the true believer fans — those who never miss a PPV or a live event — with a network of insider only information, from magazines in past decades to a host of blogs, podcasts today as well as “leaked” information that diehard fans trade like currency. They go into the events “knowing” who will come out with the win, who might turn “face” or “heel,” and, in many cases, who’s favored to win the bigger matches and walk out of the arena with the title belt.

Another key element of building a diehard fan base is the creation and transmission of an insider language, complete with a vocabulary no one “on the outside” understands. There was a time when terms like “work,” “shoot,” and “kayfabe” were known only to the workers. These days, you can find them on Wikipedia. This is just one way that dedicated fans, and even some casual fans, can connect more closely to the brand. A shared language. That kind of transition is a key element of WWE’s success through the years. They grab attention, but also have an effective system set up to compel people to go deeper once they have their attention.

How’s that working? Well, like professional sports figures such as Michael Jordan, David Beckham, and Joe Namath, there is at least one WWE superstar from the last three generations that became household names. Consider how many people who have rarely, if ever, watched wrestling know the names Hulk Hogan, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and John Cena. And, for every Hogan or Rock or Cena, there are several other names that countless casual fans can count off.

The takeaway here is the importance of preparing and executing a multilayered PR plan meant to connect with several different levels of prospect, and including compelling messaging that entices the casual consumer to become a diehard fan.