ORGANIZATION CASE STUDY: LVCVA shows that Sin City is more than fun and games

As Las Vegas adds even more attractions to its bright lights and nonstop action, the media just can't seem to get enough - a challenge the Convention and Visitors Authority gladly welcomes.

As Las Vegas adds even more attractions to its bright lights and nonstop action, the media just can't seem to get enough - a challenge the Convention and Visitors Authority gladly welcomes.

Mention Las Vegas, and it conjures up a glamorous, exciting image of a 24-7 city filled with brash neon lights, high-rolling gamblers, and floor shows. For more than half a century, Las Vegas has been the place where Americans go to get away from their own lives for a few days. But for much of the past decade, the PR department of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) has been working hard to get the message out that Las Vegas still deserves its Sin City moniker, but that it has also grown into so much more. "Las Vegas is one of the singular most strong brands in the world," says Rob Powers, VP of PR for the LVCVA. "But it has changed so much in a relatively short period of time that we have to continually stay on top of communicating to the public. If you look at the growth of development in Las Vegas, two or three years here is the equivalent of 20 years in other cities." So much more than gambling It's not only that Las Vegas is changing - the rest of the country is as well, particularly on the issue of legalized gaming. "The fact is 15 years ago there were only two states where you could gamble, and now you can engage in some form of gambling in 48 of the 50 states," says Erika Brandvik, LVCVA manager of PR. "So just being a gaming destination isn't going to do it for people anymore." What's been noteworthy about Las Vegas is how effectively its resorts have risen to this challenge. "At the same time casinos have spread throughout the US, Las Vegas has responded by becoming a multifaceted resort destination," says Powers. "We have to send out the message that it is also a world-class city for dining, with an exciting nightclub scene and some of the finest golf courses in the country." The LVCVA's PR department does this with an 11-person staff and a budget of around $1 million a year, not including what it pays to its outside agencies. Included under the LVCVA is the Las Vegas News Bureau, a small group that produces and distributes photos of local events, delivers press kits to journalists, organizes media trips, and maintains a 50-year archive of photos of the city. Powers stresses that the goal is not just to hit travel and leisure reporters, but also reach into other categories. "There is $4 billion in capital improvements going on in the city, so that's a good business story," he says. "We've also noticed the surge in bachelor and bachelorette parties, and pitched that as a lifestyle story." "The beauty of being Las Vegas is that we don't have to work hard to get coverage," adds Brandvik. "We spend a lot of our time fielding calls from reporters who already have brilliant feature-story ideas." As an example, Brandvik points to The Travel Channel, which came to the LVCVA recently for help in putting together 12 new features about the city. "We didn't pitch them," she says. "They love to show Las Vegas because it's their highest-rated subject." One issue the city as a whole has had to grapple with is who exactly are its ideal visitors. Nearly a decade ago, some Las Vegas resorts added theme-park-like attractions and began marketing themselves to families. It was a story the media quickly picked up on, and has been covering off and on ever since. "When the producers of Prime Time Monday came to us recently for their upcoming one-hour special from here, it was one of the first questions they asked," says Gary Snow, VP and creative director with R&R Partners, the LVCVA's outside agency. Thus both the internal and external PR pros are forced to tread a fine line, acknowledging that the city is a great place for a vacation with the kids, while emphasizing that Las Vegas is primarily a destination for those 21 and over. Concentrating on adults "I think we've come to terms with the fact that as a city we are an adult destination," says Snow. "There's nothing wrong with that, and the 21- to 35-year-old audience, which is where we're trying to expand our appeal, likes the fact that we're an adult destination." R&R has had an integrated relationship with the LVCVA, working closely with it on both advertising and PR. Snow argues that combining the two enables R&R to "include the PR people at the earliest possible stages so they know what we're doing, and they can look for opportunities to promote the ad campaigns to the press as well." A great example of that is the LVCVA's "Only Vegas" ad campaign, with its tagline, "What happens here, stays here." "The press got all over that one," Snow says, noting that the publicity surrounding the campaign took off once the NFL vetoed one of the ads for the telecast of the most recent Super Bowl. But in many ways, the task of the LVCVA and R&R has always been fairly straightforward in that while the tone may change, the major PR themes stay the same year after year, explains Dale Erquiaga, R&R's VP in charge of brand management. "Vegas is Vegas, and you come here to get away. But I think we're all getting smarter at delivering that message, and that's why it seems to resonate more now." The LVCVA is funded by a room tax, so its primary role is to pitch the entire city as a destination. But Brandvik says her group tries to help out individual casinos when it can. When Celine Dion opened her 4,000-seat theater at Caesar's Palace earlier this year, Brandvik says, "I talked to a lot of Canadian media that week. Our view is whatever publicity Las Vegas gets, even if it's surrounding one property or attraction, is bound to benefit the entire destination." Debbie Munch, VP of PR for Park Place Entertainment, which owns Caesar's Palace, Bally's, The Flamingo, the Las Vegas Hilton, and Paris resorts, points out that the LVCVA PR team does a lot more for the resorts than traditional media outreach for the city. The convention capital of the world Above and beyond being a top vacation spot, Las Vegas is also one of the world leaders in hosting conventions. From January's Consumer Electronics Show to November's COMDEX, virtually every week finds the city packed with people from various industries who come looking to mix business with pleasure. In order to better serve that growing market, the LVCVA recently added PR specialist Marina Nicola to its staff. Nicola says her primary role is to be there if the conventions need her. "Most conventions come in with their own PR people," she says. "But if they want to reach the local press, or maybe some of the trade press that we have good relationships with, we will help. If there's a big convention coming to town, we contact them maybe a month or two in advance, and say, 'We're here, how can we help?'" Given that cities across the US are pulling out the stops to add more floor space and additional features to their convention centers to attract more business, Nicola says she also has become more proactive when it comes to getting the word out about the various Las Vegas venues. "For instance, we recently installed a new wi-fi system in the main convention center," she says. "Since it's a new feature that we can offer people, we were heavily pitching that to the local, vertical, and trade press." Much like the city itself, the LVCVA PR operation seems content to operate in perpetual overdrive, putting out the message that despite its rapidly changing landscape, Las Vegas remains a truly unique experience in an increasingly homogenous world. "There's so much that happens here all the time that there's always a lot to talk about," says Powers. "It's a wonderful challenge to have." ----- PR contacts VP of PR Rob Powers PR manager Erika Brandvik PR specialist Marina Nicola PR budget $1 million/year Outside agency R&R Partners

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