Las Vegas looks to capitalize on cachet

Las Vegans are used to extra doses of advertising. This is a place, after all, that has lingerie models on double-decker buses and an Attack of the 50-Foot Woman-sized picture of Toni Braxton (that dress!) towering over the Strip.

Now the city of Las Vegas is considering bringing messages from corporate sponsors to city properties, parks and vehicles, though probably not on the same scale, and, it is hoped, with a bit more modesty.

The idea is to capitalize on Las Vegas’ cachet — the phrase “raising revenue without raising taxes” was on everyone’s lips — and bring in millions of dollars to city coffers at a time when revenues are tightening.

“The city of Las Vegas is a destination point, with international appeal, so you’ve got a lot more activity,” said Don Schulte, director of business development for The Active Network, which the city hired to build a marketing plan. “Which is wonderful, because the assets are more valuable.”

Schulte’s company has jump-started similar programs in many cities, and the marketing and advertising take many different forms.

A pet food maker might build or maintain a dog park in return for exclusive rights to market products there, or simply have its name associated with a community amenity.

In Costa Mesa, Calif., a skateboard maker designed a skate park for the city and has its logo displayed on a sunshade there. In Huntington Beach, Calif., Chevrolet provided custom trucks for lifeguards and in return is featured as a “city partner” at events and gets special access for shooting commercials.

Las Vegas could also have an “official” or “preferred” airline or rental car company.

“Large-brand marketers are interested in working with government entities,” Schulte said. “The city has to cause business for the entity. They can’t just take a donation.”

No specific advertisers or joint ventures have been proposed. Schulte’s company is still working on the guidelines for the program, which he expects to present to the Las Vegas City Council in three or four months.

But revenue estimates were available when he spoke to the council Wednesday based on the company’s experience elsewhere. He said revenues and cost savings from the program would generate about $2 million in its first year and as much as $6 million in the third year.

That would be welcome, whether the city added the revenue to the general fund or set it aside for a special purpose, such as parks or roads.

“I think this is long overdue,” Councilman Larry Brown said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for the city.”

“We have a wonderful asset,” said Mayor Oscar Goodman. “Our name is very important to us. It’s very valuable.”

The city has considered marketing deals before, said city spokesman Jace Radke.

But “they kind of decided that it shouldn’t be something that’s in-house. They wanted to get a consultant on board. That’s where we are now,” he said.

Governmental entities are in a unique position when it comes to marketing and advertising, said Andrea Hollingshead, a professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communication.

“Having some kind of social responsibility can benefit advertisers,” she said. “If advertisers are actually doing something to help the city in addition to advertising, I think that could help their image.”

There are pitfalls as well.

“Especially in a place like Las Vegas, where you’re bombarded with lights and advertising maybe more than any other place in the world, you want your public spaces to be places of rest and respect,” Hollingshead said.

“If advertisers invade that space in a loud way, that could create a big backlash.”

Everyone’s aware of that, Schulte said.

“They’re not going to spend money on a program that the public’s going to be angry with,” he said. “They want to make sure that what they do is accepted and appreciated.”

When asked if there’s been a discussion of what would go too far, Goodman, through a spokesman, said, “I’d know it when I see it.”

Contact reporter Alan Choate at achoate or 702-229-6435.

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