Jenn Michaels, Hall of Femme 2019

SVP of public relations, MGM Resorts International

What would you do if you weren't in PR?
In my dream world, I would like to save the world from typos in newspapers and magazines, marketing materials, ads, public signage, presentations, retail stores, on menus, and on the TV news. I would travel the world finding typos and making the world safe for good spelling and grammar.

Talk about the last time you experienced a fist-pumping victory moment.
Two moments come to mind, one personal and one professional.

Personal: When the clock struck midnight on December 31, 2016, ending a year of surgeries and treatment for breast cancer, my personal fist-pump was mixed with a serious cry of relief. I had forced all the necessary medical stuff into one year so that when 2017 arrived, we could turn the page and start anew.

Professional: I work in a very large, complex organization with significant layers and a variety of property and corporate departments. The highest honor the company distributes annually is called the Chairman’s Service Excellence Award. For the longest time, that award was limited only to property operations teams. In 2016, a decision was made to allow corporate departments to be considered for the award. Our PR team worked tirelessly on a submission, wanting to showcase the significant efforts our group contributes to the organization and clarifying just how deeply ingrained this small but mighty group is in the success of our business. We were thrilled to receive the call that we had won, becoming the first – and still the only – corporate department to be recognized. The true fist-pump moment came at the reception when the chairman of our company stood on stage to publicly recognize our team, which all too often works in the shadows.

When was the last time you endured a real "agony of defeat"? What did you learn from it?
It may not meet the criteria of an "agony of defeat" moment, but I clearly recall a moment that was incredibly influential in my development as a PR professional and leader in my organization. MGM Resorts structures public relations as a centralized service for all its properties. For many years, we did not do a good enough job of sharing results or marketing our work to internal stakeholders. We were generating terrific coverage nationally and internationally but weren’t focused on how important it was to share it with our clients.

One day, an executive at one of our hotels, someone very senior to me at the time, called me to let me know he was going to propose to senior leadership that his hotel have its own PR team because he was certain we weren’t meeting his needs and if he had his own team, it would deliver at a higher level. I was heartbroken because I knew the team was incredibly committed and delivering meaningful results. I poked a bit to understand where he was coming from. I asked if he had an opportunity to review the reports and coverage we regularly distribute. And then this executive said, "I don’t have time to read all the coverage that’s coming in." He didn’t quite get the irony of his comments.

We didn’t change our PR structure, but I did change my focus and our processes, realizing not everyone understands the world of PR as well as those of us who work in the field. I recognized I wasn’t succeeding at an important element of my role and learned how imperative it is to marketing our work to our clients. I immediately shifted my attention and started spending about 25% of my time promoting results, championing our team’s efforts, "selling, selling, selling."

It is always a challenge in a non-revenue-producing department – although I know all PR professionals will want to jump in and say we do produce revenue – to prove value, to not end up on the cutting-room floor when it’s time to cut expenses. This learning, and subsequent change in behavior, ultimately completely shifted our department’s reputation within our organization, culminating with our winning the Chairman’s Service Excellence Award.

How long ago was the last time you took the time to recharge your batteries? What did you do?
We love to go up to the mountains and be in an environment totally different from Las Vegas. And in the past few years, we have gone on a number of cruises. We look at them as small appetizers of destinations so we can identify where we would like to visit for longer stints in our next chapter.

What is it about this industry that frustrates the hell out of you sometimes?
I continue to be frustrated by the difficulty in showing concrete results and value of the efforts PR professionals work so tirelessly to deliver. The metrics are generally flawed or services are very expensive. While there is innate understanding in our organization of the value we deliver, a gut understanding, it is difficult to stand side by side with most of our sister marketing divisions that have very clear ways of showing results when we don’t have a reliable and meaningful measurement. 

When have you seen this industry or your organization really shine?
Sometimes out of the darkest times come moments that change you forever and alter the way you see the world around you. On October 1, 2017, Las Vegas was the location of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, on property owned by MGM Resorts International, with the deranged individual using one of our hotels as his base. That night was one of the longest and most difficult I’ve experienced.

The days that followed were somber, bleak, unsettling, any adjective or emotion you can imagine. But those days were also filled with the most extraordinary compassion, teamwork, unity, and commitment I’ve seen in my professional life. The lines at the blood banks were hours long. Team members from across our organization showed up to help in any way they could, regardless of title or job. Food was delivered anywhere it was needed, including to the first responders who worked so tirelessly throughout this ordeal. Our competitors across the Strip reached out to ask what they could do, how they could be aligned with us, putting us ahead of themselves when it was needed.

Therapy dogs comforted every individual they could get to. Grief counselors were on site immediately and didn’t leave until every person had been heard. I cried in rooms with people I had only seen previously in the most formal professional settings. When I think about that time, there are, of course, too many unanswered questions that will never find answers. At that moment, I had lived in Las Vegas for just over 25 years and while I love it here, love what Las Vegas means to the world, our properties, my role within them, and that I found my family here, I had always felt there was a sense of community connection missing. That changed in an instant. So when my mind lingers on the question of why, I immediately refocus to remember the positive.

Las Vegas came together in an unprecedented way and has never looked back. I now feel a bond with this place that is infinitely deeper than it had been. MGM Resorts and the city as a whole exemplified that good ultimately prevails.

Words to live by?
Laugh. Wear comfortable shoes. Be honest. Follow through. Be your own best advocate. Say yes more than you say no.

Favorite drink?
A very cold draught beer in a very cold beer mug (or perhaps the second one).

What would you tell your 20-year-old self?
Be patient, travel the world while you can, read a lot, learn about as many disciplines as you can, and take an active role in current events – don’t be a bystander. Accept all people, laugh a lot, exercise and eat healthy (it’s really hard to adopt good habits later in life), don’t take anything too seriously, appreciate your parents now and apologize for thinking you were always right as a teenager – you won’t have that chance when you are older and you will miss your mom’s influence more than you can possibly appreciate at 20.

And perhaps, most important, I can’t tell you how quickly time passes as you get older – eat up every moment, every opportunity presented to you. The ticking of the clock gets louder and louder as the years go by.

Who are the three people, living or dead, you would like to host at a dinner party and why?
I’d like to have my husband and two sons at this dinner party, where, hopefully, there is a chef cooking for us because I didn’t want to include one in my three people. Why? As careers become busy and the kids grow up and become more focused on their social lives than on family, I relish our time together. When I met my now husband and introduced him to my dad, my dad told him he would be happy if my sister and I lived at home forever. I don’t think we understood how he felt at that time, but now I desperately understand it and treasure every moment when it can be the four of us together.

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