PROFILE: Promoting fun is serious business for McMackin

From dressing like Elvis to championing local involvement, Les McMackin, VP of marcomms at Isle of Capri Casinos, knows the best way to sell fun and camaraderie is to embody it.

From dressing like Elvis to championing local involvement, Les McMackin, VP of marcomms at Isle of Capri Casinos, knows the best way to sell fun and camaraderie is to embody it.

Les McMackin can be excused for liking big events. The Isle of Capri Casinos' VP of marketing is 6' 7" tall, after all. "There's not a lot of things I like small, from my cars to my six kids," he jokes. "If we're going to do something, we might as well go for the gusto." McMackin has been doing just that since joining Isle in 1996. Over the past seven years, his bold approach to marketing, PR, and media relations have helped establish Isle as a solid corporate citizen in its home state of Mississippi, and turned McMackin himself into something of a media darling to gaming-industry journalists. "Isle of Capri is by far the easiest casino to work with," says Janet Plume, now associate editor with Gulf Shipper magazine, but also a long-time freelancer for gaming titles. "A lot of casinos act like you need a freedom of information request to talk to their people. Not Isle." Lori Beth Susman, GM and executive editor for Jackpot, a magazine that covers gambling in Southern states, agrees: "You can call Les anytime. He's friendly, open, and takes all calls." McMackin says maintaining a high visibility for the company can only help. "The isolationist approach is not a viable PR strategy at all," he contends. Big events, such as a recent party at New York nightspot Copacabana featuring one of the stars of Joe Millionaire, are routine for McMackin. "He has incredible vision," says Isle's communications director Lori Hutzler, who has worked with McMackin since 1996. "He never wants to think small." Heady praise for a man who long thought he'd make his career in the comparatively staid world of banking. McMackin followed his father and a sister into banking after graduating from Temple University in 1986 with a Bachelors of Business Administration in finance. But he quickly grew bored with his chosen field's slow pace. He decided to answer an ad for a casino job in Atlantic City. McMackin was attracted to marketing because he felt it was more creative than finance. "In marketing communications, there are no rules, so you can try almost anything," he says. "I have a lot of fun every day." Having fun has meant dressing up like a giant chicken and as Elvis, among other costumes, for McMackin. Recently, it meant staging a scavenger hunt involving about 100 senior company managers, an exercise in team-building and working together that Hutzler and McMackin agree was a major success. While his antics might seem extreme, McMackin says they all fit into the company's overall mission. "We sell fun," he says. "You want to sell escapism, and give people the best feeling you can." McMackin believes that selling fun to potential gamblers starts by selling it to Isle staffers. His costumed appearances have come in videos done to drum staff morale and support. During Isle's quarterly employee meetings, McMackin wants them to "see senior management having fun. We must make sure our people have fun out there so they can make sure customers have fun," he explains. Without formal PR training, McMackin has learned by doing and by observing others, he says. He joined Isle to work with a noted consumer marketing veteran only to have that person leave two weeks after he was hired. He did get an MBA in finance with a concentration in marketing from LaSalle University in Philadelphia in 1995. McMackin began with Isle by running its database marketing program, a mainstay for any casino operation. But he's also been GM of one of its properties, giving him a ground-level view of the need for local managers to do their own PR and community relations. "It's a different challenge than other industries, but it's also fun," he says. Isle encourages its casinos to become involved in their local communities, and it does a better job than many companies at local involvement, says Plume. McMackin attributes that to the company's roots as a one-time small, local company in Mississippi. It now has properties in seven states. "There's not a lot of political crap in this company," he says matter-of-factly. The company reported revenues of $789.9 million for the first nine months of fiscal 2003 ending in January, and net income of $27.4 million in that period. It is now the largest public company in Mississippi. It works with Hill & Knowlton on PR. "We get better press than most because our people do things in their communities," he says. "And they're doing them for the right reasons, not just to get their pictures in the paper." McMackin coordinates and encourages local involvement from his corporate office. When a new property opens, "we establish our credibility in the beginning," he says. "We make sure to establish a rapport with the local press. Our top rule is to cultivate a relationship with the people in that town." Each of the company's 13 properties has someone overseeing PR. Those people report to the local GM, with dotted lines to McMackin. His job is to get them all thinking about the same overall messages. "You build consensus by showing you do the right thing," he says. And also by listening, adds Hutzler. "He always hears me," she says. "I don't always win, but I know he hears me. It's great to have a boss you can respect personally and professionally." McMackin credits his six children, ages three to 13, for making him a better listener. He and his wife have been encouraging them to learn tennis so the family has a sport in common. McMackin says he considered golf, but "buying eight sets of golf clubs was too much." ----- Les McMackin 1996-present VP of marketing and communications, Isle of Capri Casinos 1995-1996 Director of telemarketing, Koen Book Distributors 1995 MBA at LaSalle University, Philadelphia 1994 Direct marketing manager, Trump's Castle, Atlantic City, NJ 1989-1994 Telemarketing manager, Caesars, Atlantic City, NJ 1986-1989 Senior financial analyst, First Fidelity Bank, N.A., Burlington, NJ 1986 BBA in finance at Temple University, Philadelphia

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