In my last post I talked about the critical role promotion plays in any business plan — especially in the entertainment business.
I mentioned the power of advertising. The thing about it, though, is advertising walks the fine line between being your best friend and your worst enemy. Let me explain.
A few years ago I was producing a pro wrestling TV show. We had some success with the show, getting it on air in markets all over the country. We produced 85 hour-long episodes of TV in just around a year and a half. Those were some of the best — and most stressful — times of my life.
Deadlines. Deadlines. Deadlines.
The thing about a pro wrestling TV show is it involves a live audience. That is, when you film it, there has to be a crowd present. Otherwise your wrestling show looks low rent. Rinky dink. Amateurish. Small potatoes.
Make no mistake — what we were doing was small potatoes…but we were trying to make it look like it was big potatoes on a small potatoes budget. And to do that, well, you need people sitting in the seats in an arena. All sporting events know this. And all sports leagues at some point struggle with it. Even the NFL sometimes has to cover empty sections of seats with tarps to keep the emptiness from showing up on national TV.
So my partner and I in this project worked our fingers to the bone to promote the live wrestling events where we filmed the TV material. Plus, selling tickets helped pay the bills and make payroll month-to-month.
At one point I decided to go all out. We rented a Ticketmaster-class arena in Alabama and agreed to pull out all the stops in promoting a big “Wrestlemania” type event. I bought 260 30-second TV commercials on the local Fox affiliate. I bought hundreds of radio spots on the two top rated radio stations in that city. We convinced the local paper to do a cover story on our event. We wallpapered the town in event posters and handed out over 20,000 flyers for the event.
Then showtime rolled around. As the opening bell was about to sound, I went up to the box office to get the ticket count. See how we did.
Yes, the show bombed. We lost a lot of money on that show.
Afterwards, after I had licked my wounds and overcome my “I quit!” frustration, I sat down with my friend and colleague Mike to do a root cause analysis on what had gone wrong. After all, it’s not like pro wrestling isn’t popular in America. The WWE is a billion dollar industry. Ratings are sky high for cable, and people eat it up, right? Surely I was selling something people had an appetite for, right?
That’s when my colleague Mike made me realize something. I told him, “Mike, I just don’t know what wrong. I bought 260 commercials on TV, got the local paper to run a cover story about us, and bought hundreds of radio ads. What gives?”
Mike gave it to me bluntly: “It doesn’t matter how much you advertise if the people you’re advertising to don’t want what you’re selling.”
And this, although it sounds like pure common sense, is something easily forgotten. I had made the fatal mistake of assuming that I had a ready-made audience for my product. I assumed that because people love WWE so much, surely they’d buy my wrestling product, too.
But I was wrong. People didn’t want what I was selling because I had not convinced them that they wanted it.
That was the ultimate failure of my advertising plan. I told people I was selling something, but I did not make them want it.
And that’s a mistake I’ve vowed not to make again.