‘What Happens in Vegas ...’1 Jun, 2016 By: Thomas Haire Response
When it comes to the secrets of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitor Authority’s performance-based marketing success, Cathy Tull doesn’t think everything should stay in Vegas.
“Performance-based marketing allows us to be able to react in real time to consumers’ needs,” says Cathy Tull, senior vice president of marketing for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA), the official destination marketing organization of Las Vegas and operator of LasVegas.com. “During the ‘great recession,’ we needed that flexibility because consumer needs were changing all the time. Especially during that timeframe, it was all about giving people an excuse to visit. People needed a reason to come. With digital techniques coming into play, it allowed us to evolve, remain competitive, diversify our message, and build brand awareness.”
While most consumers know the LVCVA through its renowned “What Happens Here, Stays Here” TV campaign, the 61-year-old group’s work goes far beyond the scope of those successful ads. Unlike most convention and visitors bureaus, the LVCVA is not a membership-based organization, but rather a governmental agency that is funded mainly by a room tax levied on hotel and motel properties in Clark County, Nev.
Tull joined the LVCVA in 2005 in a strategic planning role before assuming her current position in 2009 — during one of Las Vegas’ most challenging eras, the “great recession.” She says, in a bit of an understatement, “It was an interesting time.”
Tull and her team not only helped Las Vegas’ tourism business dig out of that hole, but also have been crucial in the region’s ever-growing success, perhaps best signified by Las Vegas’ 42.3 million visitors in 2015. The LVCVA’s mix of online and offline marketing efforts — all performance-based and seeking to drive consumer response and interaction — have played a major role, along with the destination’s ever-growing entertainment, gaming, and housing options.
“Tracking and measuring our efforts allow us to be more responsive,” Tull says. “There’s no bad idea, because you test each one. If they don’t work, you can move on. And, as technology grows, people want more content from each outlet. One thing Vegas never lacks is content.”
A History of Bright Lights and Big Success
Content and communication have not been foreign concepts to Tull, who earned an associate degree in journalism and a bachelor’s in communications. In fact, she started her career in upstate New York as a journalist at a daily newspaper.
“After that, I moved into public relations,” she says. “I did a lot of writing in those first jobs, which helped me set a nice base around having all my facts straight — which has served me well to this day — and being able to communicate my desired message.”
Twenty years ago, though, Tull made the move from east to west, landing in Las Vegas, where she took on a PR and marketing role at MedicWest Ambulance, one of the city’s two largest ambulance service companies at the time. “I learned the power of relationships in that role,” says Tull, who eventually served as vice president of administration during a time of consolidation in the ambulance industry. “The transition from being a ‘hometown’ ambulance company to part of a larger business made relationships crucial. My first boss there was a major proponent of that power. Relationships are incredibly important, especially in Las Vegas — which is a big city, but also a very small town.”
And, while the health industry is rather different than travel and tourism, Tull says she took many key experiences from that role when she joined the LVCVA in 2005. “When I started here, I truly looked at the world differently than most of the team,” she says. “I knew that I needed to be able to ask people why we were doing things a certain way, while managing functions and staying above the day-to-day fray. In the ambulance industry, anything can happen at any minute — everyone seems to have a five-second attention span. That taught me to stay on my toes, and be ready to pivot and move on. In this role — where we are measuring our success every day — that’s been invaluable.”
Tull came to the LVCVA as its vice president of strategic planning — “I was focused on the things affecting tourism, not on advertising or marketing,” she recalls — before taking on her current title and role in 2009.
“One of the things I brought to the role from my time on the strategy side was being able to look at all things that might affect tourism to Las Vegas,” Tull says. “How do we get a consumer to take that next trip — whether it’s a business trip that becomes a leisure trip, or it’s just a vacation from the start?”
She adds, “I oversee the strategic direction of all marketing and sales functions — business and leisure, transportation, customer experience, research, brand strategy, public affairs, and public relations. No two days are alike, which makes it a fun place to be.”
It’s a big role, considering the LVCVA’s overall importance to the city’s — and the region’s — economic health since its beginnings as the Clark County Fair and Recreation Board in 1955.
Financed by Nevada’s state legislature via money acquired from room taxes levied on visitors to the county, the LVCVA’s first historic success was the construction and operation of the Las Vegas Convention Center, which opened in 1959 (today, the LVCVA owns and operates the Convention Center, as well as the Cashman Center in downtown Las Vegas, and three visitor information/welcome centers).
In its first year of operation, the LVCVA hosted eight conventions for more than 22,000 visitors. In 2015, Las Vegas’ 11 million square feet of meeting and exhibit space hosted more than 21,000 conventions, welcoming nearly 5.9 million convention delegates.
But, that’s just the “C” in LVCVA — what about that second “V” for total visitors? The LVCVA drives marketing that covers more than 149,000 hotel and motel rooms in southern Nevada — and in 2015, more than 42 million people helped fill these rooms. The city’s gaming revenue in 2015 totaled $6.3 billion (Clark County, as a whole, saw $9.6 billion in gaming revenue), while 87.7 percent of the city’s hotel rooms were occupied (93.7 percent on weekends) — far exceeding the United States’ national average for hotel occupancy, which sits at 65.6 percent.
What Happens Online … is Measured
The LVCVA’s advertising efforts promote Las Vegas and Southern Nevada through a variety of media to business and leisure travelers alike. The concept behind the LVCVA’s efforts is to protect and grow the Las Vegas brand on a global stage.
Those efforts, as most know, have garnered worldwide recognition and accolades, including the induction of the “What Happens Here, Stays Here” campaign to the Madison Avenue Walk of Fame in 2011.
Tull calls that recognition — and, more importantly, the campaign’s continuing success — a “jewel in our crown.” She adds, “We just filmed a series of new ‘What Happens Here’ spots. The campaign started 13 years ago, and we continue to test and tweak it annually. We held off on new spots more often in recent years, but we learned that our Gen-X travelers had grown up on them and missed them. So, we’re excited that three new spots will roll out in June — as usual, driving brand and driving visitors to LasVegas.com.”
One big change from the early years of creating those famous TV spots, Tull says, is the growth of video advertising across all media — most especially online and in mobile. “Now, we make sure all video assets not only work on TV, but also digitally — on our site, on YouTube, and more,” she contends. “It’s not just a TV shoot anymore.”
Digital marketing has become the LVCVA’s top priority, reflected in its role in the “Your Vegas Is Showing” campaign (which featured both digital and print efforts). Digital marketing’s reach among traditional consumers is very strong, and it’s also helping the LVCVA reach new markets and niche segments — including major international markets like Canada, Mexico, and the United Kingdom.
“Digital marketing is very prominent in our mix, and continues to take on new and different roles” Tull says. “Increasingly, it guides a lot of the strategy behind what we’re doing across all media. We find ourselves asking, ‘Can this piece adapt to digital?’”
Two departments inside the LVCVA build those digital efforts: marketing systems and digital engagement. Marketing systems is in charge of administering the LVCVA’s customer relationship management (CRM) and database programs and responding to web-related inquiries from consumers. The digital engagement team focuses on content to engage visitors via the LVCVA’s websites, oversees its social channels, and steers e-mail marketing efforts.
LasVegas.com isn’t the LVCVA’s only website. Reflecting its focus on all of southern Nevada, the group also operates LVCVA.com, VegasMeansBusiness.com, VisitLaughlin.com, VisitMesquite.com, VisitPrimm.com, and VisitBoulderCity.com.
Tull says the ability to “optimize results in real time” is the true key behind the LVCVA’s growing reliance on various digital assets. “We can build a variety of metrics, depending on the type of campaign, its execution, and its creative. Are we looking for click-thrus, views, or engagement? Each execution offers a different opportunity,” she says.
And each execution also offers the LVCVA team more opportunities to build research on consumers. “What we really want to know is how much each consumer is engaging with our content,” Tull says. “That’s the only way we can give them more of what they want.”
She is a true believer in what the LVCVA is accomplishing with its various digital efforts. “Digital allows us to pivot quickly,” she says. “Driving awareness is the No. 1 goal. Digital helps us target and retarget consumers and move them through purchase funnel. When more than 42 million people decide to come to Las Vegas, what we’ve done has worked.”
Content Inspires Connections — and Reservations
Yes, the LVCVA’s efforts are working, based on just about any measurement you want to use. But why? The hint is actually two paragraphs above: great content.
“Content is king,” Tull says. “In fact, we’re undertaking a reboot of the LasVegas.com website in our next fiscal year, which begins July 1. The goals: add more content and make it easier to find. Sales won’t be the primary driver on the site.”
It seems counterintuitive to lessen the role of sales, but hear Tull out. “Many of our sites’ visitors are taking their first look at visiting Las Vegas — or have already booked,” she says. “Both of those groups of visitors are seeking, most importantly, information and content on what to do once they’re in town. So, yes, while the sales piece and booking opportunities will still be clear and apparent, topical content is now the way to engage them with the Las Vegas brand.”
To that end, Tull says her team’s content creation efforts are more expansive than ever. “With how much Vegas has to offer, content creation will never be ‘over,’” she says. The LVCVA has several current digital and mobile campaigns happening.
“GeoVegas provides 360-degree views of the city and many different hotspots inside the city’s destinations,” Tull says. “Viva is a new content hub on the site that offers ‘to-dos’ for visitors seeking tips on food, drinks, nightlife, events, and more. The ‘Where to Vegas’ app is an in-market play, measuring social chatter when people are out and about and creating a virtual activity map. We’ve heard so many visitors say, ‘It’s so big, there’s so much to do!’ This app allows them to see what’s hot and happening — and helps guide them there.”
Tull also mentions a new content series, Nonstop Vegas. “We’ve teamed with seven international airlines, seven content providers, and Matador Network, the largest independent travel content site in the U.S., for global outreach,” she says. “Our first groups from the outreach just visited from Mexico and Brazil. We can reach potential visitors with this content — sequential messaging, from TV to online — and drive home that these consumers should come to Vegas.”
Social media is playing a role in that campaign — and across he LVCVA’s plans. YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Vine, Instagram, and Snapchat are all being leveraged with media buys and via social influencers to drive audience engagement.
“The popular DJ duo known as Krewella worked with us on a social media campaign that drove their biggest social media fans to a special show inside an elevator the MGM Grand — we called it the ‘Krewellavator,’” Tull says. “At the same time, we reached social foodies by creating a content series with some of the great chefs who’ve opened restaurants in Las Vegas.”
While Tull is proud of her team for always being on the cutting edge of performance-based marketing efforts, she also credits the LVCVA’s long-time agency of record R&R Partners for their commitment to understanding consumers and optimizing each campaign.
“What they bring to the table is an understanding of our brand, developed over years and years of working on it,” she says. “R&R is committed to optimizing those campaigns once they’re implemented. If something is working well, they’re there to ask ‘How can we make it bigger and better?’ If we launch something and it doesn’t work, they put in the work to get it where we want it, or are honest about needing to change the plan. That’s huge — the key to making sure we’re using true performance-based models is the willingness to pivot and change when the numbers show that things aren’t working well.”
Tull believes the LVCVA’s commitment to learning — from both successes and failures — has helped drive its overall success, especially in recovering from the great recession. And even that Walk of Fame-worthy TV campaign has provided both types of lessons, driving home the use of performance-based methodologies.
“Not all of the ‘What Happens Here’ spots have resonated,” she says. “Some older spots, played today, would still resonate. Of course, there are some that never did — and never would. Via research and testing of concepts for each message, we’ve learned that what the public expects from the brand is crucial. We’ve been living with the brand for so long that sometimes we don’t see it the same way as our visitors. We’ve found that when we allow research and results to guide our decisions, we’re successful. When we veer away from that, often we’re not quite so successful.” ■