Convention authority extends contract with R&R Partners

R&R Partners spent 90 minutes dazzling members of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority board of directors on Thursday en route to winning a multimillion-dollar, three-year advertising and marketing communications agreement.

The board voted unanimously to direct Convention and Visitors Authority President and CEO Rossi Ralenkotter to negotiate to extend the agreement that ends June 30. Ralenkotter asked the board to consider the extension eight months before its expiration because he wanted to have enough lead time to work with a new agency if the board chose to switch at a time when the agency will be busy planning the Las Vegas Global Business District.

Ralenkotter was directed to negotiate a three-year deal with a two-year option. He said the current contract is valued at more than $93 million.

The final agreement is expected to be brought back for approval at a future meeting.

To most tourism industry observers, the contract extension was never in doubt. R&R has had a stranglehold on the LVCVA contract since 1980.

But board members kicked around the idea of putting the contract out to bid before agreeing that a disruption in the current plan could be disastrous as Las Vegas gains momentum in pulling out of the recession.

Board member John Caparella, president and chief operating officer of The Venetian, suggested taking the contract to a competitive bid process, but several other board members said they opposed the idea. Caparella ended up abstaining on the vote.

The last time the advertising and marketing contract went to a competitive bid was in 1999. Because R&R holds a professional services contract, it’s not required to be bid competitively.

The R&R presentation was a departure for CEO Billy Vassiliadis, who spent more time with back-of-the-house looks at how the 80-member R&R team dedicated to the Las Vegas account works rather than showing video clips from ad campaigns that have made R&R famous. In addition to the 80 employees working exclusively on the Las Vegas campaign, 50 others contribute to the work.

“There aren’t going to be a ton of bells and whistles in this,” Vassiliadis told the board before the presentation.

He emphasized the company’s “passion, commitment and excellence.”

Through the presentation, Vassiliadis touched on the Las Vegas campaign’s 50 percent return on investment in paid media — news stories and media mentions generated by PR contacts and publicity stunts. He said the company has documented $701 million in domestic earned media exposure generated through public relations. By comparison, No. 2 Orlando earned $67 million.

Vassiliadis also discussed the company’s community involvement, its extensive research to determine where it can get the most bang for its media buck, its growing Hispanic marketing campaign to draw visitors from Latin America and the attention it pays to technology and reaching consumers through various channels.

Vassiliadis also noted the company’s work on the renowned “What happens here, stays here” ad campaign. The company has chronicled the tagline’s rise to a cultural phenomenon, and Vassiliadis said he was surprised to learn that a new college marketing textbook has a chapter dedicated to the slogan.

R&R Executive Vice President Rob Dondero told the board that the company is looking to find what new technological advancements and smartphone apps can be used to move the city’s marketing message to the millennial generation, one of the strategies the Convention and Visitors Authority will use in the months ahead to grow visitation to a younger crowd.

Dondero said the company is exploring the use of FireChat, a mobile app that connects users “off the grid” without an Internet connection.

He said an app called Snapchat may be perfect for “What happens here, stays here” moments in Las Vegas because the app can send text, photos or video images that disappear and delete themselves after being viewed for 10 seconds.

Contact reporter Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Find him on Twitter: @RickVelotta