Kristen Laffler once worked in a hard-core corporate setting. Ever hear of Coca-Cola Co.? The 25-year-old Laffler worked on digital marketing projects for the soda giant in Atlanta.
When she moved to Las Vegas last summer, she was still working for Coca-Cola but made a big switch. In February, she joined Aurelian Marketing Group to help market the Life is Beautiful music, arts and food festival in downtown Las Vegas.
She left the conventional corporate digital marketing scene for a new grass roots-style marketing approach: Targeting your demographic through personalizing the event experiences in hopes of growing the Life is Beautiful festival.
“It’s all about the personalized experience and we want to let the experience drive the word-of-mouth” promotion, Laffler said at Aurelian’s humble office at the Emergency Arts building in downtown Las Vegas.
Aurelian Marketing is one of the new niche players on Las Vegas’s marketing, advertising and public relations landscape that has grown from the city’s entertainment- and event-driven economy and is gathering speed as the economy recovers.
Marketing and advertising companies such as R&R Partners, which has generated millions of dollars in revenue from its contracts with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, and SK+G are the local marketing industry’s big players.
And boutique and midsize firms are joining the industry, too.
“We’re starting to see the marketing industry in Las Vegas come alive as the economy has gotten better,” R&R Chief Executive Billy Vassiliadis said.
His Las Vegas-based 340-employee firm has offices in seven other cities. One of R&R’s biggest recent jobs for the authority was launching a new advertising campaign to drive traffic to a one-stop shopping website that will let Las Vegas visitors book air flights, hotel reservations and shows at a single point of purchase.
“Las Vegas does create a lot of opportunities, especially for the boutique firms, because of the special projects that come out of the casino industry,” Vassiliadis said.
Las Vegas’ fast-moving, 24-7 culture is fertile ground for marketing firms, others said.
“Las Vegas has been a city that operated at hyperspeed and that has a lot to do with the nature of the place,” said John Schadler, one of two principals who founded SK+G in 1999.
“There’s an interest in the city as a destination and all the amenities associated with the Strip. There is a high energy level and competitiveness to gain market share,” Schadler said.
SK+G has 130 employees and has carved out a niche of high-end leisure resort clients around the globe, from the $3.5 billion Baha Mar resort development scheduled to open in the Bahamas in 2014 to the multimedia campaign for the Galaxy Macau resort.
Companies such as R&R Partners and SK+G offer one-stop marketing and communications services on building brand identity, graphic design, Web-based initiatives, digital media, public relations and interactive and media strategies.
In some ways, the marketing departments at big Strip casino companies such as Las Vegas Sands Corp., which owns the Venetian and Palazzo brands, function as midsize firms.
At Las Vegas Sands, for example, marketing is a complex operation designed to attract customers from Southern California to Brazil and beyond, said Robert Rippee, Las Vegas Sands’ senior vice president of marketing.
“It’s not as simple as product marketing,” said Rippee, a former University of Georgia marketing professor who runs a marketing staff of 40. “There are many components and we have experts under one roof.”
While the big casino companies have marketing departments with many skills, there has been a growth of specialty marketing firms with narrower focuses.
One example is Aurelian, which was started by Chief Executive Rehan Choudhry about a year ago and specializes in experiential/event marketing. Choudhry served as director of entertainment and special events for The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas before launching Aurelian Marketing.
Vassiliadis said Las Vegas’ casino industry serves as a “training ground” for marketers who aspire to open their own firms.
“Those properties are like little cities,” he said.
Kurt Ouchida worked as head of communications for Las Vegas Sands before joining forces with another ex-casino marketing executive — Michael Coldwell, formerly of Caesars Entertainment Corp. — to launch BRAINtrust Marketing & Communications in Las Vegas. It’s a midsize firm of 22 employees founded in 2006.
“Las Vegas is founded on an entrepreneurial spirit that really provides for a rich community of creative people,” Ouchida said.
He recalled meeting with Coldwell over coffee with laptops at a Starbucks and coming up with the marketing firm idea.
“When I look at the Las Vegas market, I see it as a vibrant community for marketers. This was the last frontier and so many people have come from all points on the planet to settle here with an influx from feeder markets,” Ouchida said. “There’s a good foundation to bring world views and fight for their ideas that they’re passionate about.”
Schadler at SK+G also has hotel-casino roots, arriving in Las Vegas in 1989 and building an in-house advertising operation for Steve Wynn. He left Mirage Resorts 14 years ago to start SK+G.
Another driver of marketing in Las Vegas is the industry’s focus on return on investment, or ROI, and the related topics of analytics and metrics, said Jen Wilfong, a former corporate marketing executive who visits Las Vegas from her home in the Indianapolis area.
“With the importance of ROI in marketing now, analytics is critical. There isn’t a better industry than the gaming industry that uses analytics for client experience, gaming trends, food and beverage desires, et cetera,” Wilfong said.
Marketing firms can also find business from the products and services that are launched in Las Vegas, Wilfong said.
Ouchida agreed: “Today, it’s all about the science of marketing — key performance indicators, metrics and analytics. In this day and age, one dollar spent and invested in this fast-moving, online realm should have a multiplier affect and that is the way we can measure the success for our clients.”
Wilfong said Las Vegas is ideal for marketing because companies like to choose its venues to unveil new products.
“Lots of new products, services and people get launched and marketed in Vegas due to all the conference and hotel facilities, reasonable weather, energy and excitement for nearly any idea,” she said.
Steve Flynn, co-owner of the public relations firm, Langdon + Flynn Communications in Las Vegas, noted the proliferation of new restaurants and celebrity chef concepts in Las Vegas has also cultivated more business for marketing and public relations firms.
Langdon + Flynn is a little more than three years old and has 10 full-time employees.
The marketing scene includes digital marketers, too. The Las Vegas Interactive Marketing Association claims 1,200 members, said Shawn Rorick, the group founder who used to work for MGM Resorts on interactive and digital media projects.
“Because a lot of brands rely on special deals and visual displays, you see a lot of that advertising along the tourist corridor,” Rorick said.
Las Vegas is also fertile ground for marketers because many industries come here for conventions where sales and marketing are top priorities, said Jim Brown, business development director for Indianapolis-based Compendium, a company that advises businesses on ways to raise their profiles through blogging.
“You have access to world-class events and facilities,” Brown said. “If you’re at a trade show, you can entertain clients with entertainment and hotels.”
Bear witness to the industries that hold Las Vegas conventions, which attract thousands of marketers each year.
Examples of national organizations staging recent and planned conventions with marketing themes include the Computerized Airline Sales and Marketing Association, Association for Accounting Marketing, Webmasterworld’s Search & Internet Marketing Conference, Photo Marketing Association, Intel Corp. - International Sales and Marketing Conference, Diving Equipment and Marketing Association.
R&R’s Vassiliadis said he expects Las Vegas to continue to be a marketing center and has been impressed with the creative work of the new wave of boutique and niche firms.
“In the last four to five years there’s been a lot of good work coming out of these firms,” he said.
Contact reporter Alan Snel at email@example.com or 702-387-5273.