AS I SEE IT – The Art of Promotion
Pro Wrestling: Between the Sheets
As most of you know, PWBTS.com, the flagship site of this column, focuses on coverage and promotion of independent wrestling. As someone who happily shills independent wrestling promotions whenever possible, one of the things that pisses me off is the way independent promotions seems to have no sense about the basic sorts of things that they need to do to promote their product. I’d like to offer some observations as to some of those things I think that promotions need to do to publicize their product online. I realize that some people may find some of the suggestions listed below to be painfully obvious, but trust me…they aren’t. All too many independent promoters don’t use some or all of these ideas. I’ve seen all too many cases where promoters don’t…well…promote… and crowds suffer accordingly. But that’s not all.
If you want something even more amazing…consider that Devin Cutting, who submits a ton of independent wrestling news to PWBTS and many other websites…has actually been told by a handful of independent promoters to remove the items he’s placed online….with the comment by the promoters that “they can do it by themselves”. That misguided handful of promoters should consider going to their locker rooms at the end of the night, and ask their workers if they enjoy working in front of 50 people, and not getting paid… all because their promoter decided he could “do it all by himself”.
You don’t need to attend the Wharton School of Business to know that the most important thing, no matter whether you’re running wrestling shows or selling cars… is to advertise, advertise, advertise. If marks like me who run wrestling websites are ready to help you do so…you’ve lost nothing, spent nothing…and quite possibly gained a lot. Better yet, you can promote your own company online as well. Along with the usual (and necessary) grunt work of getting up posters, handing out flyers, as well as getting sponsors to defer the cost of your show, and help sell tickets for you… all of which are necessary no matter what kind of fan base you have, the most cost-effective way to promote your shows is online.
Here’s some of the things that can be done…that don’t cost much, and can potentially help a lot.
First, does your company have a website? If not, why not? it’s one of the easiest ways to promote your product to fans. A website doesn’t require technical genius to put up and keep current. Basic ones also aren’t expensive. Hell, just do a Facebook page for your promotion or each individual event. If you want to spend a bit more money, you can also buy a domain name like mine at PWBTS.com, and pay a basic monthly fee to have it hosted. What should that website consist of? If nothing else, it should use intelligible English. Use spell check. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE use spell check, and ask someone to check it for grammar and spelling mistakes before you send it out. While website owners know you want to push your show…lay off releases sent in all caps and with a dozen asterisks and exclamation points. Every match is a great one (or you’d like potential fans to think so…we get the point).
After you do all that, just write it simply with items such as these:
Tell fans when your upcoming shows are…far enough in advance to let them make plans, so they don’t attend a nearby competitor’s show instead. Tell fans where the shows are, and how to get to the shows. The locations of your shows should be listed on your website, with directions from nearby areas, using local landmarks and major highways. You can also use Google maps (my favorite), Expedia or Mapquest to illustrate where you’re running a show.
It also would be nice to include mass transit directions if you live in an area where mass transit connections exist to your venue. You can find these directions easily enough on your local transit agency’s website, then post them in your shills. Google Transit is useful in large markets to tell people where transit connections are to specific addresses.. You can also cheat a bit and use nearby landmarks or an existing map, which typically have websites and /or maps that you can use.
Other things to do are: Tell fans WHO is on the show and tell fans your current storyline behind key matches, so fans feel there’s a reason to come to see them. Do it AHEAD OF TIME…not just days before the show. Tell the fans WHAT your tickets cost, and where they can get them. If you have standard ticket costs, list them. If you have remote ticket locations (local merchants that sell tickets for you), list them and where the merchants are located. If you have an e-mail address, hotline, or ticket phone line, list those as well. If possible, have a part of your website devoted to online ticket orders. Some promotions, depending on which venues they run, may have to utilize Ticketmaster.com, Tickets.com, Brown Paper Tickets, or regional ticket brokers. If that’s the case, you obviously have no problem. Let them do the work. But be sure to post a direct order link for your show, as opposed to just a generic link to the websites.
Then, sell your merchandise. Southern wrestling survived on it, and still does through gimmick sales…
Let’s face it, if you’re an independent promoter, you need every revenue stream that there is….or in English, you need any way you can to make a dime. Some promotions are small enough that the wrestlers just sell gimmicks at the shows. But others can also do so on their website. Promotions can also use tape dealers like Smart Mark Video to sell and tape their shows; or use Highspots.com to sell tapes and a variety of other merchandise.
Those are just some very basic suggestions for what you can include on a basic website, and some examples of how some independent promotions do those very things.
Now, does your promotion send out press releases before a show, or results afterwards to websites like PWBTS…or the Wrestling Observer…or a hundred others? If not, why not?
First, press releases. They don’t have to look like something out of Northwestern University’s School of Journalism. But let me suggest a few dos and don’ts. Again, it’s not necessary to capitalize everything…or use exclamation points and asterisks throughout the release you send to a website. We know you want people to come to the show, so write an intelligent sounding release that makes both your company and the show you’re promoting look good….in something approaching English, please.
You might even learn a bit of basic HTML so people can just cut and paste the items into our posting script and get it up on our websites. It makes things LOTS easier when posting your releases. Some promotions do…and it makes life a LOT easier for us. Second, as I’ve said above…PLEASE use spellcheck.
The things you need to include are largely the things we’ve discussed above… namely to: Tell fans WHEN the show is, WHERE the show is, how to get to the show, WHO is on the show, how much tickets cost, and where they can get them. Again, any basic business course would tell you that a business must make it as easy as possible for a customer to give you their money.
But you’d be surprised at the e-mails I receive that don’t provide each of those items. You’d also be surprised at the way some of those e-mails are written. To be blunt, I get some press releases that look like a pre-schooler wrote them. Again, press releases don’t need to look like something out of Northwestern University’s School of Journalism…but it would be nice if they had correct spelling and at least reasonably good grammar. That’s why Bill Gates created spell check and grammar check. I’ve gotten promotional shills for shows that I had to literally spend 15 minutes re-writing in order to post them at PWBTS. I’ve refused to run shills for certain independents, because I’d asked the promotions time after time to check them before sending them to me, because they were written so poorly that the companies should have been embarrassed to send them out in public. Remember that your press release/shill is how a new fan sees you. If your press release is professionally written (or at least semi-literate), that new fan is more likely to read it, and their money is more likely to come your way.
Send it to widely distributed mailing lists of upcoming shows supplied to websites. Post them on any one of the million wrestling related message boards that are out there, and to regional wrestling websites.
Send releases to the mainstream press, such as your local daily or weekly newspaper. See if that newspaper has a weekly wrestling column. Newspapers like the Chicago Sun-Times, Miami Herald, New York Daily News, the Dallas News, and Charleston Post and Courier (just to name a few) have such columns. They’ll often run shills for your show. Mainstream coverage is a Godsend for your promotion. Again, remember the rules I listed above….use spell check and provide basic information. If your local newspaper is a smaller weekly or daily, send it to whoever runs a section for community events, particularly if the event is to benefit a local charity, church, or community group. That’s always a good hook.
Send them to your local TV station or cable system, especially if the event is to benefit a local charity or community group. Put together a e-mailing list of regular contacts and send it out to them to plug each and every show you run. Consider paid advertising on certain sites. Use the major websites or those that cover either your region in particular or independent wrestling in general to advertise your product.
Get your fans to put together an e-Street Team….fans that know how to write fairly well, or provide them with the information to send yourself. Have them talk you up on social media (yes, I mean really versus WWE-style), and anything else out there. Make being a fan of your company not just a fun evening, but a responsibility. ECW was the first known example of a company that understood this. Fans all but MADE mainstream wrestling publications pay attention to ECW. Those fans were ECW’s best asset, because they felt obligated to let people know about the product.
Now, let’s talk about sending out results, including accurate crowd counts.
Let me use an example of a particular promotion I report on frequently. The previous owner and many of their fans believed that they often received what they believe to be unfair treatment and/or lack of coverage by online sources, the Wrestling Observer, and even newsstand publications about their major shows. In one example some years back, the promotion believed that the Observer report low-counted their crowd by a good 25-30% (thus ignoring the fact that they drew their second highest crowd ever).
It’s important to realize that most online news sources based crowd counts on what they receive via e-mail, and don’t have staff to send on to your show. Thus, if someone sending results to a newsletter or website didn’t like the show, or has a grudge against your promotion, they may low-ball you with a ridiculously low crowd count, and make you look bad. Send out your own information…and, as strange as this may sound for wrestling… tell the truth. Provide websites and newsletters with ridiculously high crowd count, and you’ll be called on it. I know there have been times in the past when the above promotion’s fans and staff were upset at a major website for reviews of shows that were posted. I’ve seen where their fans and staff basically said “screw [insert name of site]”. They said pretty much the same thing in this case regarding what they felt about the Observer report.
Let me say this. This particular promotion is friendly to me, as I’ve gone to their shows since the very beginning. I’ve generally liked their product, and feel I’ve given them fair reviews. That’s all well and good.
But the fact of the matter is that major sites like WrestlingObserver.com or PWinsider.com get more hits in an hour then PWBTS does in a week or maybe a month. A newsletter like The Wrestling Observer gets at least as many readers on a weekend than I get page views in 2 weeks. The Observer’s reputation is also far more well-known and respected by wrestling fans than PWBTS or this column will ever be in my wildest dreams or fantasies.
Therefore, giving me information to publicize their product is a good thing, but it’d be far better if they also did the same for 1wrestling.com, PWinsider.com, the Observer, Prowrestling.net, or the Torch.
Let me use an example from a different field of entertainment. If you wrote a Broadway play, and had a previous play you’d written panned by the New York Times; does that mean that you’d stay pissed off at them and wouldn’t try to use them to promote your next play, and would just send your releases to the Staten Island Advance? Not if you have any sense, you wouldn’t. Letting your ego get in the way of using an online source or newsletter is idiotic. You’re taking money out of your own pocket and those of your workers…just for spite. Instead, spend some time talking to the reviewer (yes, promoters, that means kissing up to those who run or report for websites with such things as press passes, or interviews with your talent) and try to get them on your side.
Unfortunately, some promoters seem to subscribe to the Old School of Wrestling Website Interaction…namely, that online reporters and sheetwriters are better off dead, or are “parasites” and “scum” and ignore them. Call me stupid…but if someone’s going to help me advertise my product for free…I’d kiss up to them in a New York minute.
Independent promotions that are able to do so should spend some time with the Dave Meltzers, Wade Kellers, and Mike Johnsons of the world, and develop relationships with them so as to get fair reviews for their product and encourage new people to come to shows. Again, send your results….that night or the next morning (not a week, or two or three later) or to wrestling websites. Give a basic outline of who went over, major storylines that were advanced, how well you drew (especially if the crowd was good for your promotion), and a reminder of when your next show is happening. If you had a good show and drew a good crowd, make a point to get the word out…that’s advertising, too.
I’m not a graduate of the Wharton School of Business. I’m just one more mark sitting in the seats, who just wants to see independent wrestling succeed….at a time when wrestling fans need alternatives….badly.
Until next time….
— Bob Magee