Executive Wants To Ensure Hotel Guests Get Social Cachet For Their Cash

Mike Weaver wants to know what makes you tick.

“I am fascinated with people and how they make decisions,” the 47-year-old casino marketing veteran for Harrah’s Entertainment said. “How, when confronted with different options, they chose different options.”

In other words, Weaver wants to figure out what will get you to visit the Rio, Bally’s or Paris Las Vegas instead of going next door to the other company’s property.

Weaver, who entered marketing out of college, moved to Las Vegas in 2000 to take over marketing at the Rio, which Harrah’s had acquired the previous year from developer Tony Marnell.

To offset the economic downturn, Weaver has focused on cultivating new markets for his three casinos; he has marketed the Rio to Hispanics and Paris Las Vegas to gay and lesbian travelers.

No matter who visits, whether it’s a repeat customer or a new visitor, Weaver said the experience needs to remain strong despite the economy.

“People are still saving all year for that trip to Las Vegas,” he said. “Although there may be an economic crunch on, when they get here they want the full experience they would have had if they’d come three years ago, or that they remember from three years ago.”

But Weaver is not some obsessive marketing suit tied to his desk, overabsorbed with his work. He plays the French horn in the Henderson Symphony and owns a pair of jumping horses stabled in North Las Vegas.

Weaver is also an advocate in the gay and lesbian community, working with EQUAL, the gay and lesbian resource group at Harrah’s, and the Human Rights Campaign.

He donated money through the Human Rights Campaign for the failed attempt to defeat Proposition 8 in California, a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Question: What are the challenges overseeing the marketing of three properties: the Rio, Bally’s and Paris Las Vegas?

Answer: My goal has always been to ensure that those three properties are very different from one another. When people come to Las Vegas, one of the elements tied up in that visit is their desire to acquire social currency. When they go back home and when their friends ask, “Where did you go,” they need to be able to have this social currency of what their experiences were. I don’t ever want people to, from an experience standpoint, say any of these three casinos are the same. Oftentimes when I’m undertaking a marketing program, if it feels as if Rio customers will love this and Paris Las Vegas customers will not at all like it, that is oftentimes a good decision.

Question: What were the biggest challenges marketing the Rio when you arrived?

Answer: The change in culture. The transition between Marnell’s ownership, which had been very successful, and Harrah’s ownership had been a struggle. We needed to change the mentality to operating as a Strip casino from one reliant on locals. We had an asset that has extremely high overhead because it is such a huge asset. You could see the recipe that had been very successful in the past was not going to be successful in the future. It’s a magnificent property and it turned out to be a very wise decision. When we brought in the database capabilities Harrah’s has, it was astonishing and a learning experience of what a significant change can happen in 90 days in a business that size.

Question: What about marketing do you enjoy?

Answer: In my career, I’ve had the chance to do all elements of marketing — advertising, direct mail, public relations and entertainment — I have fallen in love with all of those elements. One of the frustrations I had when I became a director and a vice president is that I had less and less opportunity to actually do the hands-on pieces of it. I look at the people who work with me and I think, “I would do any one of their jobs in a heartbeat.” They’re all jobs I think are fun.

Question: What was your transition into casino marketing?

Answer: I was running marketing for a larger nonprofit arts organization in Louisiana. I decided after three years it was time to get serious and pursue a career that would be more financially beneficial. In 1993, gaming was first introduced into Louisiana. I researched the companies coming to Shreveport (where Weaver worked) because I thought this would be a terrific opportunity. It was clearly a new wave of development in the city I lived. That I had never been in a casino seemed to me a minor detail. I decided Harrah’s was the company I wanted to work for. I became marketing director for the Harrah’s riverboat.

Question: How did you get into marketing?

Answer: Shortly after I graduated and was fishing around trying to decide where I was going to go to grad school. A friend of mine said there was a job available doing marketing and public relations for this independently owned restaurant company, Oakley’s. I didn’t know anything about marketing and PR, and she said, “I do and I’ll make sure you don’t fail.” I was fortunate to get the job and, since that time, that is all I’ve ever done. I love it.

Question: What was your first job in marketing?

Answer: I first went to work for the independent restaurant chain owned by a couple. The company was more focused on quality experiences than anything else.

The owners afforded us the opportunity to be entrepreneurial. If a group of us saw a restaurant we thought could be a credit to the company, they would pursue the purchase of that restaurant. If I thought I wanted to develop a series of festivals, they allowed me to do that. It was a terrific environment in which to experiment and find out what you could do to find new markets.

Question: Where did you first learn the French horn?

Answer: My grandmother, who was a dancer in vaudeville who owned a dance studio, used to take me to symphony concerts when I was a kid, which I found very appealing. When they offered music instruction in the public school, I was asking which instrument was the most difficult. The teacher told me the French horn, and I said, “That’s the one I want to play.” It was the challenge. I was very active through college because it was a way to make money. I played in operas and musicals, so while my friends were flipping hamburgers at McDonald’s, I would put on a tux and go do that. After I graduated, I gave it up cold turkey because I didn’t have time.

Question: What drew you back to playing and led to playing for the Henderson Symphony?

Answer: When I turned 40, I decided I needed to have a midlife crisis. Tattoos looked painful, so I thought I’d take up the French horn again. I have received lessons, off and on, from Bill Bernatis, the horn professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He has a group of amateur adults that get together once a week at UNLV, and I did that. Through that I started playing in the Henderson Symphony.

Contact reporter Arnold M. Knightly at aknightly@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893.

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