Geof Rochester: Marketing Heroes and Villains

As a child, Geof Rochester recalls tuning in religiously to watch pro wrestling on television. Now, several decades later he serves as the head of marketing for World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and says he is still hooked on the WWE and its throngs of dedicated fans: “I like to stand at the door when an event opens and see the crush of kids, parents, boyfriends and girlfriends. It is amazing and fulfilling to see how much people love and enjoy this brand.”

Rochester joined the wrestling entertainment business in 2006 as senior VP of marketing and, a year later, was upped to executive VP. A strong background in business and marketing in travel and entertainment, he says, has prepared him for the wrestling dynasty's fast-paced and multifaceted business.

Despite recent controversies about wrestlers' steroid use, Rochester is responsible for getting the word out about the successful business built by Vince and Linda McMahon. It's constantly launching new products and reinventing old ones—and that includes wrestlers. The WWE airs five hours of TV programming per week, along with high-profile pay-per-view events each year. It is also diving into new areas, including Internet and mobile products, a new kids' magazine and even direct-to-DVD movies.

“This is a complex and multilayered business,” Rochester says. “I have never worked with a brand with this depth of fan interest and so many points of access.”

Rochester's latest project is pushing the upcoming Wrestlemania 24, the crown jewel of WWE's pay-per-view events, on March 30 in Orlando. It is expected to generate more than $50 million in PPV revenue and another $100 million in associated revenue for the WWE and its host city. “With Wrestlemania and our other events, we constantly push the bar and challenge our teams to keep the business fresh,” he says.

WWE not only thrives in the pay-per-view world, it's also seen on USA and The CW (which it's leaving in a few months for MyNetwork TV); another WWE-owned franchise, ECW, airs on Sci Fi.

But Rochester is a marketing veteran with broad experience and other television stints at Showtime and Comcast Cable. Born in Barbados, the son of a diplomat, Rochester was raised in New York and Washington, D.C., and attended Georgetown University as an international marketing major. For his first job, he landed in Procter & Gamble's sales program and peddled Folgers Coffee to 125 accounts. “I was the guy in the suit straightening store shelves,” Rochester recalls. He pursued an M.B.A. at The Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania. “The marketing function in business isn't always viewed as quantitatively rigorous, and I wanted to have meaningful dialogues with Wall Street and financial companies,” he says. “Wharton gave me the chops to do that.”

He joined packaged-goods company Richardson-Vicks, which was soon acquired by P&G. Rochester worked on products like Oil of Olay and Bain de Soleil. While the products were foreign to him, Rochester says the experience was extremely valuable. “To be a great marketer, you have to be product-agnostic.”

From P&G, Rochester moved to the service industry, working for Marriott and then the Radisson hotel chain. In 1990, he joined Comcast Cable as senior VP of marketing.

He arrived as Comcast was launching high-speed Internet and digital cable and recalls that communicating the advantages of Comcast's high-speed Internet venture was a big challenge. “It was a bold attempt to provide speed and content,” he says. “We felt like it was going to be something that was going to change our lives with the access to information.”

He went on to head affiliate marketing for Showtime Networks, working with cable and satellite operators to boost subscriptions and launch new products, including video-on-demand. At the time, Showtime was having success with niche shows like Queer as Folk and Soul Food, but lagged behind HBO's with big-name hits like Sex and the City and The Sopranos. “We were known as the best demographic programmer out there,” he says. “But we felt if we could strengthen the programming and get our message out, we had a shot at supplanting HBO.” As the Web grew, Rochester's team pursued aggressive online marketing campaigns, particularly for the niche shows.

“Geof brought a discipline to the affiliate marketing area that was very sophisticated,” says his former boss, Showtime's executive VP of marketing Len Fogge. “It is about getting share of voice with potential subscribers and working closely with affiliates, and Geof was able to do that.”

As Showtime was beginning to hit its stride with popular new programming (helped by the fact that HBO was losing its marquee shows), Rochester moved on to his next challenge at the WWE. He says he was floored by the complexities of the pro wrestling business. Along with its U.S. TV business, the WWE is seen in about 130 countries around the world, including new deals in China and Brazil. “One of our challenges is to keep the TV presence fresh and innovative, given that we've been on since the days of Lassie and Gunsmoke,” he says.

But it is online where Rochester sees some of the biggest opportunities—and the biggest marketing challenges. The WWE's Website averages 17 million unique viewers and 20 million video downloads per month. Rochester sees room for more growth there and on mobile devices, including Web and mobile-exclusive video: “We want our fans to interact with the product wherever they want us to be.” 

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