REGIONAL FOCUS <strong>Mountain States: </strong>A marketing oasis

Las Vegas stands out among its neighbors as a global icon.

Las Vegas stands out among its neighbors as a global icon.

Many visitors come to Las Vegas with dreams of striking it rich, but perhaps no residents of Sin City are on a better roll than its PR pros. As Vegas enjoys a continuing economic boom across a variety of sectors, an unprecedented breadth of opportunities is being presented to the local PR community.

Of course, with opportunity comes challenge, as each industry demands specific attention from a PR standpoint. And it's not just all cards-and-dice vendors that are reaping the benefits of a behemoth economy. Everything from construction to retail is experiencing the heat placed upon the Vegas economy that sees no halt in its continued surge to unprecedented economic numbers.

Vegas' effects are far-reaching, adding to an economic impact of $5.9 billion and more than 39,000 jobs for the whole Southern Nevada region. Cities such as Reno and Carson City have also seen major drops in unemployment and a climbing annual job-growth rate. According to the Nevada Department of Employment, the state's economy added over 13,000 jobs in March alone and had a yearly growth rate of 6.8% - four times the national average.

The gaming industry alone attracts over 37 million people who contribute as much as $33.7 billion to the economy of Las Vegas. In fact, the city's gaming revenue alone tops $6.8 billion. With the exception of 2001, which gave Las Vegas a temporary hiccup in its continued growth due to the tourism-damaging events of 9/11, the amount of visitors has increased between 1 million to 2 million people yearly.

The agency scene

With an increasing population and workforce that already exceeds 1.5 million in and around Las Vegas, the PR industry is in huge demand. In turn, the amount of PR agencies to populate the area has also grown.

"There are a ton of firms here," says Steve Stern, founder of PR firm Stern & Company. "The larger ones are really public affairs firms, with the rest more or less acting like news-release mills."

And where they really can capitalize is with the gaming companies that know the money is not just in the gambling, but in where the gamblers stay, what they do, and what they eat.

"We have very smart people that own these gaming properties," says Mark Brown, president of R&R Partners, a PR firm that handles various accounts, such as the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. "They continue to reinvent this town. Gaming used to be the only main driving force. Now we have room, food, and retail surpassing that."

For PR firms in Vegas, it's not all about making money and spreading the word, but also about hiring and attracting quality professionals to the area.

"The market has tightened," says Brown. "We have hired search consultants to find top-notch talent. Vegas has always been affordable, but it has gone up a bit and we've had to adjust. It's an ongoing challenge."

And it's not just gaming that attracts PR attention. "The hottest thing is real estate and retail," says Brown. "It's a fantastic market to work in. Las Vegas is currently undergoing a high-rise and condo boom."

Because of the city's increase in opportunity and public attention, corporate PR pros are not only in a position to soak up all of what Vegas has to offer, but also carry the burden of continuing such lofty expectations of success.

"The '90s probably saw the most growth in just about over a century," says Rob Stillwell, VP of corporate communications at Boyd Gaming, one of the top-five casino companies, with 18 properties in six different states. "The PR industry has benefited greatly from all this. There are more PR pros here now than at any other time."

Stillwell adds that a large part of the region's growth is down to Vegas evolving into a family destination. "Casinos are more about entertainment now," he says. "As a whole, Nevada has a better understanding of the casino entertainment business and what it has to offer."

Obviously, an increase in business means a rise in work. "The main challenges I deal with is the amount of traffic in and out of the office," says Valerie DeMatties, corporate communications head at Harrah's. "With the amount of media requests and inquiries, it has been important to prioritize."

But despite the boom, there have been some bumps in the road - chiefly, like a child outgrowing his clothes, Vegas has outgrown some of its existing PR capabilities.

"Because Vegas has grown so much, there will be growing pains," says Stillwell. "Because of that growth, the industry is dependent on drawing new talent from out of the area. With the unique nature of Vegas and Nevada, those with experience have become very valuable to us."

Navigating the media

Mirroring the city's expansion, the media in and around Las Vegas has also had a steady and increased growth in not only circulation and size, but also in a comprehension of just what kind of impact casinos and surrounding industries offer to the community as a whole.

"The media here have been great," says Stillwell. "Reporters are staying longer and, with that, we have been able to build longer, more substantial relationships."

DeMatties agrees with this positive outlook. "The media have been very accommodating to us," he says.

The same kind of overall feeling toward the media can also be found in non-casino business relationships.

"Las Vegas is booming," says Peter O'Neil, VP of public and investor relations at Sierra Health Services, Nevada's largest insurance provider and one of the state's largest healthcare providers.

"As the town has grown," O'Neil adds, "so has the sophistication of the media."

Of course, because of Vegas' size and reputation, it still can serve as a transition for some reporters, especially in the TV market.

"It seems that there is constant turnover in the television market," says Brown. "The challenge is that you won't always be dealing with the same reporter. This is all balanced by the news editors who do tend to stick around. But, from a reporter standpoint, it's almost like starting from page one every time."

Vegas is larger and maybe more grown-up now, but it has not always been that way. Getting a point of view across in a sector, such as healthcare, wasn't always so easy.

"In the beginning, because of the size of the media market, the reporters who understand the healthcare industry just weren't there," O'Neil says.

"We had our work cut out for us to educate the public on what was happening. Over time, that has changed. Now reporters are coming into Las Vegas who represent a much broader understanding."

And just what kind of future is in store for this lit-up metropolis? Likely more of the same with no sign of stopping, all of which can pay dividends to the PR industry in and around the city.

"The PR community is still in its adolescence," says O'Neil. "There are a lot more professionals coming here to open up their own practices. When they arrive, they bring with them savvy and expertise that adds to the overall success of the area. They all become quite active in their professional chapters. I think this all adds to the professional needs and effects on the area."

On May 15, Las Vegas will celebrate 100 years of an existence that has gone through a major renaissance. Once a hub for ill-repute and organized crime, the city has transformed itself into an entertainment capital that not only caters to the inner gambler in all of us, but also to the family and needs of a growing community that depends on all the services needed to make an area thrive.

With more 37 million coming and going out of the city every year, Vegas is clearly headed in a direction that sees no sign of slowing down and is proving to be a fertile area for PR to truly grow and blossom.

"The expansion of gaming has actually helped the city," said Brown. "People want to go where it all began."

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