The marketing push behind World Wrestling Entertainment's 25th anniversary of WrestleMania was well underway when Michelle Wilson came on board in February as executive VP of marketing, but that didn't stop her from putting her stamp on the event.
Wilson directed an array of WrestleMania-themed social initiatives like the WrestleMania Reading Challenge and the WrestleManiArt Show & Auction. The push paid off. WrestleMania XXV was the highest-grossing pay-per-view event in WWE history, surpassing one million buys.
“In my short time here, I felt very proud about what we were able to accomplish,” Wilson says. “In an economy where sponsors are being challenged, we were able to bring on sponsors that we hadn't worked with in the past.”
Wilson managed an aggressive Road to WrestleMania campaign with Kmart that featured promotional material, DVDs and WWE apparel in the retail chain's stores. Customers who bought $50 worth of merchandise received a discount on their purchase of WrestleMania on pay-per-view. The campaign was complemented by in-store appearances from WWE wrestlers.
Wilson arrived at the WWE after eight years as chief marketing officer for the U.S. Tennis Association. At the USTA, she developed a number of successful promotional campaigns and was behind innovations like blue courts and in-stadium video screens. Wilson says her greatest challenge at the USTA was infusing new ideas into a traditionally staid sport.
It's her second go-round with the WWE; Wilson oversaw marketing for the short-lived XFL football league. While the XFL lasted only one season, it popularized fan-experience innovations like in-game interviews and the Skycam, and gave Wilson an appreciation for the WWE's passion in trying new things. “The XFL was one of my best job experiences ever,” she says. “You learn a lot from failure.”
Her return comes when the WWE is moving away from the racier edge of the so-called “Attitude Era” and working to move toward a more PG product. “[The repositioning] is allowing us to go out and have new partners take a look at us,” she says.
For Wilson, leadership is about working hard, presenting a vision to her team and having faith in them to execute it: “I allow my group to understand my vision for where we want to go and then for them to see how I work and be inspired by that, but to take their own lead.”—David Tanklefsky