The World Wrestling Federation (WWF) and its owners, World Wrestling Federation Entertainment Inc. (WWFE), have become one of the great entertainment success stories of the past decade. The growth of WWF programming and the company have been impressive with the company now trading publicly on NASDAQ and the launch of the XFL. While the popularity of the WWF has skyrocketed, the program has not been without its detractors. Also, while WWF as a program is known by millions, WWFE is known by few and has invested little time in building political capital.
APCO Worldwide (APCO) was retained to create greater understanding among media and policy leaders of the nature of WWF and the commitment of WWFE to consumer choice in programming. Our goal was to boost the image of both the WWF and the WWFE as responsible organizations by raising awareness of the WWFE as a participant in the political process.
Methods: To fully understand the client and its challenges, we first monitored WWF programming and studied its demographics. With this foundation in place, we then researched criticisms of WWF by self-styled "watchdog" organizations; the media’s treatment of WWF and WWFE and ancillary issues affecting WWF and WWFE.
We also conducted research specific to our main target audiences. We analyzed attitudes among key staff and members of Congress. We also closely examined resources for parents regarding entertainment choices, specifically parent-child information Web sites. We then held focus group sessions with parents on what resources they found most useful.
Based on our research, we identified the need to mobilize the power of the WWF fan base to encourage voter registration and to provide greater resources to parents on children's television viewing.
- Demonstrate that WWFE is a responsible and active participant in the political process;
- Establish that WWFE is committed to providing parents with appropriate resources to help them make informed choices about their children's television viewing;
- Prove that WWFE is a good corporate citizen in the many communities where it performs
Target Audience: Legislative and regulatory opinion leaders, media (especially national media), eligible voters and WWF sponsors and potential sponsors.
- Use the political campaign/convention season as a hook to garner national attention and engage WWFE with the political leadership;
- Leverage the "bad boy" image of WWF to appeal to and engage younger voters;
- Partner WWF with other credible youth-oriented organizations to lend greater reach and credibility to the effort;
- Utilize the power of the WWF Web presence to engage voters and communicate with parents
Smackdown Your Vote: Partnered with reputable organizations, including MTV's Choose or Lose, Youth Vote 2000, Project Vote Smart, and the National Association of Secretaries of State to launch "Smackdown Your Vote," a non-partisan voter registration program.
Earned Media: Gained media attention at multiple press conferences and at both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. Coverage included Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, all national broadcast networks, CNN, MSNBC and others.
Political Action: Began a dialogue with policy makers to educate them about the actions WWFE has taken (support for v-chip, voluntary ratings of all programming, parents Web site, etc.) to be a responsible programmer.
Web site Development: Developed new Web site, www.wwfparents.com, that provides parents with information and methods of how to discuss the show and its controversial content with children. The site also contains links to other recognized sources on parent-child communication.
APCO drafted content for WWFparents.com based on their research findings and advised WWF Web site editors on the design.
Challenges: Another obstacle was the brevity of time in which APCO was enlisted to achieve the goals. WWFE first approached APCO regarding this project in July 2000. Because one of the tactics used was a voter registration drive, APCO had to quickly mobilize, gather election information materials and coordinate partner organizations so as to attract as much attention as possible in the four months prior to the November 2000 elections. Simultaneously, APCO had to focus on other important tactics such as development of the parent's Web site, establishment of dialogue on choice in entertainment with decision-makers and planning for the 2001 philanthropic program.
APCO and WWFE scheduled numerous talent appearances, press conferences and interviews in promotion of the "Smackdown Your Vote!" voter registration program, which at last count, had helped register over 120,000 new voters in 12 states.
Through media coverage of these events, WWFE executives and talent communicated a message that the company was devoted to educating youth about the importance of exercising their right to vote. WWFE has been commended for their efforts to promote voter registration by the news media, members of Congress and various youth vote organizations.
In addition, WWFE attendance at both the Republican and Democratic national conventions allowed company executives and talent an opportunity to meet with key policymakers to drive home the message that WWFE has a serious interest in politics.
The WWFparents.com Web site was officially launched in late October of this year. The WWFparents.com site contains links to many of the most highly respected resources for parents on the Web for parent-child communications regarding entertainment and electronic media. The site serves as an invaluable resource to parents of WWF fans who seek to learn more about how to talk about WWF programs with their children.