One of the most exciting things about my career as a pro wrestling journalist is I literally have no idea what I’m going to write from one day to the next. I go as the news goes. My responsibility of providing the public with information is always there, however, often times, I’m unsure of what that information will be.
Sometimes, I get to cover fun pieces like John Cena doing something awesome for a child that idolizes him. Every day, I get to serve my inquisitive readers with Ask WNW. While these are some of the more fun things of my job, there’s also a more somber side.
That side includes the unfortunate responsibility of passing along the news that someone has died or, as I was tasked with on Thursday morning, the responsibility to write that someone has lost their job. For as much as I love to focus on the good things, or the insider things, I equally hate the somber.
My first major story as a full-time pro wrestling journalist was the Chris Benoit family tragedy. For weeks, I stepped out of the cartoon fun-loving world of professional wrestling and into the dark world of double homicide and suicide. It was miserable and it wasn’t what I signed up for.
Luckily for me, most days are good days and I would categorize my job as enjoyable. I get to do cool things like examine shows, answer questions and expose contrived storylines. However, sometimes there are bad days. Thursday was a bad day.
While I’ll be the first to admit none of the 10 reported WWE releases were surprising — we could even say the majority were expected — it’s never easy to talk about someone losing their ability to collect a paycheck. Losing one’s job is a serious matter and one I never like to see happen. Even if there is a logical explanation for the person getting released and even if it could be the best thing for both parties, it’s not a fun thing to write about.
WWE — especially in a post-Benoit world under a PG setting — is known for being a company that emphasizes good public relations above all else. They make very careful and calculated efforts to downplay negative publicity and overplay good publicity to set forth a good example to investors and to the world. In fact, it was this very strategy that had Triple H refusing to make mass cuts because he didn’t like the way it made the company look.
On Thursday, everything changed. Almost as if we had stepped into another world, WWE began announcing main roster releases shortly after 11 AM ET. It started with 5, went to 8, grew to 9 and concluded at 10. 10 people in total fell victim to the company’s largest round of public main roster cuts in several years.
Again, none were surprising and some were even expected. First the news, then the fallout.
One of the more respected names in the business (at least from the fans’ perspective) — Mark Henry — oddly decides to celebrate his upcoming 18th anniversary with the company that just fired 10 of his co-workers. Henry Tweeted:
Here we stand 18 years in August. Still here!!! pic.twitter.com/Ttm9CW22B8
— TheMarkHenry (@TheMarkHenry) June 12, 2014
This didn’t set well with Curt Hawkins, a victim of the releases, who lashed out at the World’s Strongest Man.
— Brian Myers (@TheCurtHawkins) June 12, 2014
I’ll admit I was surprised at the Public Relations breakdown and questioned when Adam Hopkins and Joe Villa – WWE’s in-house publicists – would be teaching the PR class.
— Richard Gray (@wnwdotcom) June 12, 2014
As I tried to move to my next task of the work day (a story that will hopefully be online shortly after this goes online), I noticed another bizarre Public Relations blunder. I saw the aforementioned WWE PR general Joe Villa Tweet this:
— Joe Villa (@JoeVilla_WWE) June 12, 2014
Sure enough, Stephanie McMahon gave a keynote speech at the 2014 Event & Arena Marketing Conference in NOLA on Thursday. A big event where Stephanie spoke about leading up WWE’s efforts to further “brand reputation among key constituencies including advertisers, media, business partners and investors.”
Stop right there. So at the same time WWE is announcing their largest round of main roster cuts in recent years, Stephanie is delivering a speech about enhancing the company’s brand reputation?
She posted the following photo on Instagram:
At around the same time WWE was announcing mass roster cuts on their official website — their Chief Brand Officer — posted a smiling photo on Instagram.
Am I missing something here?
This is WWE, right?
These are the people that would rather be accused of misleading investors than saying anything negative. Remember, they refused to even discuss the disappointing TV distribution deal with NBCUniversal with investors before it was announced after nearly a year of essentially “guaranteeing” double or triple the amount of revenue in TV licensing fees.
As some of my faithful critics have mentioned, Stephanie’s speech and appearance was planned far in advance so why would WWE announce roster cuts on the same day? Further, why would they allow for Stephanie — of all people — to post a smiling photo on Instagram when her company was announcing 10 releases?
Perhaps she wasn’t aware the cuts were going to be announced today. Maybe the wires were crossed and the people at dot com weren’t communicating with the people handling Stephanie’s appearance.
Regardless of what happened — the fact is it did happen — and it doesn’t look good.
We live in a society where perception is everything and the perception that is given is that Stephanie McMahon is apathetic to her company cutting 10 high-profile contracts. I say high profile because anyone featured on WWE TV has considerable brand awareness and that’s more than evident by examining follower count on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook.
Even a referee such as Marc Harris boasts more than 39,000 followers. That’s high-profile.
All and all, today was a bad day. The news wasn’t earth shattering or even surprising but as mentioned, it’s never easy to see someone else lose their job. However, I am absolutely astonished at the Public Relations missteps from WWE.
From one of their most respected veterans boasting about his lengthy career to Stephanie McMahon giving a Keynote about brand reputation and posting a smiling photo on Instagram – all in the midst of a somber day where 10 people lost their jobs.
At the end of the day, people get fired. This is a business. And Stephanie McMahon is one of many tasked with high profile appearances. However, for a company as protective and paranoid about their reputation to allow for such missteps is bizarre. Especially a company that elevates their image to the public above all else. No, I don’t expect this to hurt WWE or even rattle investor confidence but I don’t like the message it sends and there’s no way it doesn’t hurt locker room morale.
Timing is everything and the timing of these releases, Mark Henry’s celebratory Tweet, Stephanie’s smiling Instagram photo and high-profile Keynote address made for a bad mix on a bad day.