Why Stephanie McMahon Is A PR Nightmare

Chyna Stephanie McMahon

Stephanie McMahon is WWE’s Chief Brand Officer, making her responsible for the public image of the company. However when she responded to the death of Chyna on Twitter, she proved once and for all that she’s the last person equipped for the job. She just doesn’t get it!

The ‘Steph problem’ as we’ll call it henceforth, is not so much that she isn’t qualified for the position. She’s probably studied every PR and marketing book on the shelves. It’s that she doesn’t have the common sense and real world awareness to apply the text-book concepts and theories effectively. In fact having grown up in the WWE bubble, she’s too text-book and completely out of touch with the everyday person.

The problem begins with her bad guy character on television. The vast majority of time she’s in the public eye, is spent portraying herself as an entitled, arrogant, corrupt and controlling bitch. While that is just a persona, the fact that she really is the Chairman’s daughter and really did get a leg up in the company, doesn’t help. Neither does numerous WWE alumni questioning her creative and leadership skills over the years. If she wants to be the positive public face of the brand, then there’s no point making that more difficult by being a ‘heel’ on air.

The fact that she had to recently hire a team of experts to help promote her image outside of the show, is a sign that she has a likeability problem. The fact that she doesn’t understand why is more troubling.

Stephanie’s Diva’s Revolution?

Remember when former talent AJ Lee called her out on Twitter? Steph was being a good little PR person by Tweeting about Patricia Arquette’s feminist Oscars speech. AJ brought her back down to earth by pointing out WWE’s own inequality.

AJ had the courage to speak truth to power, and Stephanie was embarrassed enough to slowly morph the situation in to WWE’s ‘Diva’s Revolution,’ which has seen the women get more TV time and respect for being good wrestlers. However Stephanie felt the need to position herself at the helm of the movement on TV, a confusing contrast to her heel character. She’s also obviously been the one yammering about it to the press. This was her bold initiative. It feels self-serving and insincere, because it is! And that’s not good PR.

Sure, it might fool the corporate suits and sound-bite media who don’t follow WWE closely. But those of us paying attention are left with a sour taste in our mouths. Perhaps her character isn’t so different from real life?

Charity Is Just About PR

The Steph problem also reared its ugly head when she spearheaded the Warrior Award, a yearly award presented at the Hall of Fame that toots WWE’s own charitable horn. It grew out of the ashes of the Ultimate Warrior’s death. The first year the award went to Connor The Crusher, a young fan who died of cancer. This year it went to Joan Lunden for her breast cancer awareness efforts.

Putting to one side the atrocious things Warrior said in his lifetime about homosexuals and “cripples,” he himself wanted WWE to introduce an award that recognized backstage employees and office staff for their unsung hard work. Despite the support of his Widow Dana, WWE is not using Warrior’s image in the way he had intended. And they’ve also re-written history about the kind of person Warrior himself was.

Secondly and perhaps the single most cringe-worthy thing Stephanie has ever done, is her Tweet about charity being a good form of PR:

Whether she truly believes this or not, we don’t know for sure. The point is she was clueless and careless enough to Tweet such a statement in the first place. Charity is about selflessly doing something good, not doing something good to look good.

Former WWE ring announcer Justin Roberts, who was deeply involved in the Connor story, had the following reaction to the Tweet:

I felt like I was punched in the gut. Despite rewriting the story and using it to pat themselves on the back for being a standup organization, I wish Connor’s Cure and Connor’s induction into the Hall of Fame were driven by sincerity and not strategy. But sadly, it looks like they are just part of the “philanthropic” future of marketing.

Chyna Passes Away

Stephanie so unabashedly pursues positive PR, that the pursuit itself becomes negative PR to those outside of the bubble. She comes across as disingenuous. A politician delivering a carefully crafted speech, instead of talking to the people like a real human being from an honest place. This brings us to Chyna, who was sadly found dead on Wednesday.

It’s no secret that during the height of her popularity Triple H had an affair with Stephanie McMahon and this ultimately resulted in Chyna leaving the company. She spiralled in to drug abuse and never really got over it. Despite a Hall of Fame worthy career, Triple H said they couldn’t induct her because of her appearances in porn. This ignoring the fact that her first film was with his own buddy Xpac who has been welcomed back with open arms, and will almost certainly be inducted with the rest of DX at some point.

Like the Diva’s Revolution Stephanie inserted herself where she doesn’t belong.

WWE is a giant company, and as a company they had a relationship with Chyna. The right thing to do was to make a statement about her death as a company, which they did. The moment Stephanie made her Tweet, she made it personal. Given her role in Chyna’s life, she has no business making it personal.

I’m not going to suggest that Stephanie is heartless and feels no real sympathy towards Chyna, but as the Chief Brand Officer, she had to realize that the Tweet would cause a backlash. Once again she’s demonstrated a complete lack of common sense.

Some might argue that she was going for the “oh wasn’t that classy of her” response, a cynical attempt to own the narrative and close the chapter on the Chyna debacle with her head held high. I personally think she’s just an idiot that shouldn’t be anywhere near the public relations department.

I hope that WWE never inducts Chyna in to the Hall of Fame, because if they didn’t have the balls to do it while she was alive, they have no right to do it when she is dead!