“It was 10:17 p.m., when social media strategists first sent a text to the group account director about a possible incident at the Route 91 Harvest Festival,” Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority President and CEO Rossi Ralenkotter says at the beginning of a video produced by the LVCVA and its advertising consultant, R&R Partners.
“Obviously, the priority was to verify that information which, unfortunately, turned out to be true.”
It was the first action taken by the city’s destination marketing organization, setting a course designed to provide the right message to the right people at the right time and prevent visitation from dropping as it did following the 9/11 attacks in 2001.
Experts say that in the long term they don’t expect travel to Southern Nevada to fall as a result of the mass shooting that killed 58 people. Some say there could be a short-term blip, maybe enough to prevent Las Vegas from surpassing its record 42.9 million tourists in 2016.
But evidence from similar occurrences, most notably Orlando, Florida, shows that a random act, even something as horrible as mass casualties by a rampaging gunman, don’t result in many trip and convention cancellations.
Orlando tourism record
Orlando, in fact, had a record 68 million visitors in 2016 despite 49 deaths at the Pulse nightclub on June 12.
For Ralenkotter and R&R, the mission is to prevent a downturn, project an image of strength in the face of adversity and to gradually return to the imagery of Las Vegas being a place to have fun.
The video describing the LVCVA’s actions includes still images and video clips of the trail of communications on smartphones, pictures of what was happening on the Strip and shots of the teams discussing strategy as well as the to-do lists they compiled.
The video was shown at Tuesday’s LVCVA board meeting and attended by LVCVA and R&R staff members wearing #VegasStrong T-shirts.
In the video, Ralenkotter explained what happened after police verified the extent of the carnage on the Strip.
“More than a dozen crisis team members arrived at R&R Partners by 11:15 p.m. and began to monitor all news, from social media to broadcast and everything in between and began to develop a communications strategy,” he said.
Leaders requested a mandatory check-in to account for all employees and developed social media messages, statements and talking points for call-center representatives. The word was put out to U.S. time zones east of Las Vegas where people were waking up to the news.
Ralenkotter issued a statement to the 14 members of the board of directors, resort partners and the media and later in the morning ordered the South Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center to be opened to people affected by the tragedy.
“Our team began contacting resort partners to gauge the extent of the impact and to see what assistance we could provide,” Ralenkotter said.
Later in the day, the advertising creative team met and began working on the first post-shooting advertising.
That first ad had a simple message: “We’ve been there for you during the good times. Thanks for being there for us now.”
Information was posted on the LVCVA’s various websites on special offers from airlines and resorts to accommodate victims and their families.
Video for TV spot
The advertising creative team, meanwhile, went to work on a video that eventually would become a television spot.
“The creative team at R&R went into production on our first video in response to the tragedy,” Ralenkotter said. “The #VegasStrong messaging had already begun to take hold within the community and we encouraged all of our resort partners to rally behind that message on all their channels.”
But when R&R and LVCVA officials reviewed the first cut, they decided it wasn’t strong enough and needed a more personal Las Vegas edge to it.
A retired Las Vegas tennis professional, an eight-time Grand Slam winner and Olympic gold medalist, was called.
“Las Vegas resident Andre Agassi didn’t hesitate when we asked him to narrate the compelling message,” Ralenkotter said.
On the afternoon of Oct. 3, the LVCVA unveiled a gold-colored, heart-shaped #VegasStrong logo, reminiscent of the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign.
Ads for NFL games
On Oct. 4, the Agassi-narrated video was distributed and Las Vegas scored one of its most unexpected victories: The National Football League agreed to allow the city to air the ad on its Thursday-night game as well as the following Sunday game broadcasts.
In previous years, the NFL has forbidden Las Vegas ads, even if they had no casino or resort imagery.
The National Hockey League, NASCAR and UFC also used the ad and some media outlets ran it at no charge.
A new ad message playing off R&R’s famed “What happens here, stays here” theme was called “What happened here” and recounted the senselessness of the event and applauded acts of compassion, inspiration and strength with a tagline of “What happened here is not going to stop us.”
With the first batch of ads out, the creative team met again on the afternoon of Oct. 5 to discuss new messages involving Las Vegas entertainers.
The week closed out with more advertising brainstorming, a “CBS Evening News” interview of Ralenkotter and R&R Principal Billy Vassiliadis on protecting the Las Vegas brand and a visit to Mandalay Bay as a show of support by LVCVA employees.
On Sunday, when the Oakland Raiders took the field, they sported an extra detail on their uniforms — a “Vegas Strong” decal. The team also conducted a pre-game ceremony to honor victims in a tribute to their home beginning in 2020.
— OAKLAND RAIDERS (@RAIDERS) October 8, 2017
That night, Strip resorts paid tribute to the victims by dimming their lights and marquees for 11 minutes — the duration of the shooting incident.
“The lights returned with our new message of hope,” Ralenkotter said. “‘When things get dark, Las Vegas shines.’”
Another ad released Wednesday was quickly produced showing social media posts from devoted visitors who vowed to support the city. Messages were interspersed with images of people in the community stepping up and helping people in need.
Ralenkotter, a longtime Las Vegan who attended Bishop Gorman High School and has worked for the LVCVA for more than 40 years, said he has been proud of the community.
“Throughout this tragedy, I’ve been so proud to be a Las Vegan,” Ralenkotter said. “I’ve seen the compassion from our community, the outreach, the care, the concern, both for our visitors as well as for all of us who live here.”
Celebrities pay tribute
Here’s the list of entertainment and sports celebrities the LVCVA cited for paying tribute to the victims of the Oct. 1 shootings:
Britney Spears, Brittany and Jason Aldean, DJ Marshmello, Jennifer Lopez, Ellen Degeneres, Mariah Carey, Luke Bryan, Reba McEntire, Penn & Teller, Steve Aoki, Dave and Mahoney, DJ Diplo, Jimmy Kimmel, the National Hockey League, the Vegas Golden Knights, the San Jose Sharks, the Washington Capitals, Kurt Busch, Brendan Gaughan, the Los Angeles Lakers, Bryce Harper, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Oakland Raiders, Virginia Tech, UNLV and UFC.
Institutions and their managers also paid tribute: the New York’s Empire State Building and World Trade Center, the Human Rights Campaign, Israel, the Rise Festival and the Eiffel Tower.
The video also saluted law enforcement, community hospitals, fire and rescue teams, community businesses, local government, skywriters, local billboards and marquees, McCarran International Airport, food, water and blood donors.