AS I SEE IT 8/9: Using the Internet to help promote your indy
by: Bob Magee
Here we go again...
As most of you know, PWBTS (the flagship site of AS I SEE IT) features considerable coverage of independent wrestling. In doing so, one of the things that's the most maddening to me 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.
As I've done before, I'd like to offer some ideas about things I think that promotions need to do to publicize their product online.
Some of the suggestions listed below may seem painfully obvious to you each time you read this column (as I've repeated it periodically every few months), but trust me...they aren't. All too many independent promoters don't use some, most, 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 this: 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 about their shows that 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 Penn's Wharton School of Business to know that the most important thing, no matter whether you're running wrestling shows or selling hamburgers... is to advertise, advertise, advertise. If wrestling websites are ready to help you do so...you've lost nothing, spent nothing...and quite possibly gained a lot.
Better yet, if a promoter doesn't like what we online types do, they can promote their own company online by themselves 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. Geocities, Tripod, and others allow you to create and host websites free. So do many internet service providers. Many ISP's will let you post a personal/hobby page, which could serve as your promotion's page.
If you want to spend a bit more money, you can also buy a domain name (e.g. http://www.mywrestlingpromotion.com) and pay a basic monthly fee to have it hosted.
What should that website consist of?
If nothing else, whatever you post should use intelligible English. Use spell check. PLEASE use spell check. PLEASE ask someone to check it for grammar and spelling mistakes before you FTP it for the public to see. After you do that, just put your site together simply with items such as these:
Tell fans when your upcoming shows are...far enough in advance to let them make plans and 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 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.
California's Revolution Pro is one example of how is done, by listing a show at their regular venue, Frank and Sons Collectibles in City Of Industry, CA, and telling fans to click for a map of the show's location here.
You can use an existing map, especially if the venue has one available, such as this map, which was used to help fans find their way to a major JAPW show/Sports and Memorabilia Convention in Secaucus, NJ back on November 8 of last year that featured Mick Foley, John Cena, Matt Hardy, Jerry "The King" Lawler, Al Snow, Raven and others.
The show was just off Exit 16E of the New Jersey Turnpike, and could have caused a problem for fans not having proper directions. As someone who went there with a friend, trust me...one could have easily gotten lost within the office/business complex it was located in. The map was a great help.
You can also use one like this of a nearby landmark...namely, a large IKEA which is directly across the street from the Rex Plex, venue for Ring of Honor's New York area shows.
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. Be sure that any fly-ins (if your promotion is big enough) or local legends are talked about as early as possible. Be sure that your title matches are listed as early as possible.
Tell the fans what your tickets cost, where they can get them and HOW 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 those locations, and where the merchants are located.
If you have an e-mail address, hotline, or ticket phone line (local numbers or tollfree 800/877/888 numbers are preferable), list those as well.
If possible, have a part of your website devoted to online ticket orders. Let fans know if you use Paypal for them to buy tickets. If you don't, consider starting to do so.
Some promotions, depending on which venues they run, may have to utilize Ticketmaster.com, Tickets.com, or other regional ticket brokers. If that's the case, you obviously have no problem. Let Ticketmaster do the work. But be sure to post a direct order link for your show, as opposed to just a generic link to Ticketmaster.com. Trust me, Ticketmaster has made it hard sometimes to find an independent show if you're just looking blindly. Remember: it's YOUR job as promoter to make it as easy as possible for someone to give you their money, not Ticketmaster's.
For the rest of you, check out the examples of the CZW's Online Ticket Reservations System or Ring of Honor's online ticket reservations site as ways that you can use your website to sell tickets to your show.
Both allow ticket orders online. Some sites will accept credit/debit cards.
As states earlier, others use PayPal or similar systems. Find out which works best for your promotion's needs and your budget.
Sell your merchandise.
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.
Here are some examples from promotions of varied sizes:
Ohio Valley Wrestling uses their Shop OVW page to sell videos of OVW TV shows and major shows at such venues as Louisville Gardens, programs, t-shirts, and other gimmicks.
CWF/Mid-Atlantic Wrestling uses their online Store to sell videos, autographed photos and other wrestling items.
NWA-Wildside uses their online Merchandise Section to sell videos, CDs, t-shirts, and baseball caps.
Promotions can also use tape dealers like Smart Mark Video, or TC Tapes.net 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.
Finally, PLEASE keep your website updated. There are promotions that, for whatever reason, are very casual about this. If fans can't find out about the information I've mentioned above, they can't and won't give you their money...bottom line.
Since I've seen this in more than one case, I'll mention this as well...it's important for an independent promoter to be in control of their website, and have it under their company's name, instead of having it registered under the webmaster's name. Remember... legally, if the website is registered under that person's name, they can do whatever they want with their website. Thus, if the promoter has a falling out with, or mistreats (or whatever) that person...they shouldn't be surprised if the website gets pulled by the webmaster (usually at the worst possible time for their company) to get back at them. Short of threats and intimidation, there's not much such a promotion can do in such a situation.
Now, does your promotion send out press releases before a show, or results afterwards to websites like PWBTS...or the Wrestling Observer...or to online wrestling newsgroups? 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. It's NOT necessary to capitalize everything...or use exclamation points and asterisks throughout the release you send to a website. Remember that typing everything in caps online is the equivalent of shouting. We know you want people to come to the show, so just write an intelligent sounding release that makes both your company and the show you're promoting look good.
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.
Second, as I've said above...PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE use spellcheck. Learn what words to capitalize and what words not to capitalize.
The things you need to include are largely the things we've discussed above... namely to:
Tell fans when the show is
Tell fans where the show is
Tell fans how to get to the show
Tell fans who is on the show
Tell the fans what 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. I've gotten promotional shills for shows that I had to 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 releasel is how a new fan sees you. If your press release is professionally written (or at least literate), that new fan is more likely to read it, and their money is more likely to come your way.
A good example of press releases that accomplished this (whatever their other problems as a company) were the releases done by the Florida-based MLW. They pushed the shows regularly...listed the ways that fans can buy tickets...what talent is on the shows...and repeated the information to get it into a fan's head that their show is worth coming to...then described why the show was worth attending, with each update they sent.
Another good example are the releases from IWA Mid-South Wrestling. They don't come with bells and whistles, but they give you all of the above information...doing just what they need to do.
Now where you do send those press releases?
To wrestling websites such as PWBTS (feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org); Jess McGrath and Mike Johnson of PWInsider.com, the new e-mail address for 1wrestling.com, to email@example.com for the Pro Wrestling Torch; Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer.
Widely distributed mailing lists of upcoming shows supplied to websites such as Devon Cutting or Nate Stein.
Newsgroups such as the Yahoo Indy Wrestling Groups, which is both mailed to many fans as well as an interactive group on which you can promote your shows.
Post them on any one of the million wrestling related message boards that are out there.
To regional wrestling websites, such as Socaluncensored.com, or Chicagowrestling.comthat cover a variety of independent promotions in their area.
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.
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.
Get your fans to put together an e-Street Team....that is, provided they know how to write in the way outlined above, or provide them with the information to send yourself. Have them talk you up on message boards, websites, and newsgroups.
Make being a fan of your company not just a fun evening, but a responsibility. ECW was the best-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.
Ring of Honor is now beginning to approach the same sort of status, with fans feeling they need to actively let everyone in on how good they feel the shows to be.
As a promoter, consider yourself lucky if your local or regional promotion ever achieves such a status.
Now, let's talk about sending out results for your shows, including accurate crowd counts.
Let me use an example of a particular promotion I report on frequently. In the eyes of their fans they often receive what they believe to be unfair treatment and/or lack of coverage by online sources, the Wrestling Observer, and newsstand publications about their major shows. In one example, 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 counts, and you'll get called on it.
I know there have been times in the past when the above promotion's fans and staff were upset at certain major websites for reviews of shows that were posted. I've seen where their fans and staff basically said "f#&@ them". They said pretty much the same thing in this case above regarding what they feel the Observer report said.
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 sites like PWinsider.com get more hits in an hour then PWBTS does in a week. A newsletter like The Wrestling Observer gets at least as many readers on a weekend than I get page views in 2-3 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.
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 PWinsider.com, the Observer, 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, to be blunt, idiotic. You're taking money out of your own pocket and those of your workers...just for spite.
Instead, you'd 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 Vince McMahon/Brock Lesnar 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, Jess McGraths, 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 to wrestling websites such as PWBTS to me at firstname.lastname@example.org); Jess McGrath and Mike Johnson at PWInsider.com, the new e-mail address for 1wrestling.com, to email@example.com for the Pro Wrestling Torch; Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer....to name just a few.
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...
If you have comments/questions, or if you'd like to add the AS I SEE IT
column to your website, I can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org)