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Arnold M. Knightly

Nevadan at work: Harrah's marketing exec bets on credit card experience

5 August 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Hiring management and executive talent from industries far removed from the casino industry has been one of the hallmarks of Chairman and CEO Gary Loveman's 10-year tenure as an executive of Harrah's Entertainment.

David Norton, who was a rising star at American Express' consumer card group in 1998, was one of those early hires.

Then in his late 20s, Norton was building cross-selling capabilities, establishing stronger relationships between the customer and the card.

Introduced to Loveman in 1998, two months after Loveman was named chief operating officer, Norton was hired away from the credit card world to help build up the casino company's Total Rewards customer loyalty card, which was then little more than a slot club card.

"My interview was at about 11 o'clock at night in the lobby of Harrah's Atlantic City," the 40-year-old father of three said. "We talked for a couple hours and it sounded like a great opportunity. Who would have predicted 10 years later all the things we've done?"

Last year, the Las Vegas-based gaming giant became the first casino company to generate $10 billion in revenue, largely off that piece of plastic.

After nearly a decade with the company, Norton became an officer in January when he was named chief marketing officer.

Today, he oversees various departments, from the branding of the company's various property names -- Caesars Palace, Harrah's, Horseshoe and Bally's -- to Internet, teleservices and media planning, direct V.I.P. marketing, revenue management, retail operations and multicultural marketing.

Of course, he still has his hand in the growth of Total Rewards and the data it captures to drive customers to Harrah's casinos.

Question: How has the Total Rewards card evolved from 1998 when you arrived?

Answer: When I started we had 15 properties. It started with one tier; it was really a slot club. The two first things we did were adding multiple tiers for differentiated service. That's where you see the diamond lines or the platinum lines. That was also the mechanism that convinced them to be more loyal. So if you go from Tunica, (Miss.), to St. Louis, and you want to go to another casino and you're already a diamond member, you're going to get better service at Harrah's than going to another casino. Adding those tiers from an operational perspective as well as a customer loyalty perspective is very important. Then we truly started using that data from a marketing perspective to build the relationships.

Question: What was the opportunity?

Answer: The analogy we use is, "the plane had been built, but we need pilots." So the exciting thing to me was a lot of the technology stuff had been built. At American Express, we were able to do a few things, then we ran into some road blocks where we had to build out new technology. The exciting thing was that, here, the infrastructure was built so we could actually start doing stuff as opposed to getting an IT project begun that might take a long period of time.

Question: What were you doing at American Express that caught Loveman's attention?

Answer: I worked in the consumer card group, which is credit cards. I ran all the teleservices pieces. We built cross-selling capabilities to convince somebody calling in -- how do you get them to buy another product? So although the (casino) industry is different, a lot of things were similar in how you convince people to be more loyal. How do you build those relationships with customers from an analytical perspective, but also with a project management, technology spin?

Question: Is there a difference in trying to draw someone to a floating card and trying to convince them to come to a casino?

Answer: The concepts are similar and we've spent time talking to a lot of great companies who want to come in and talk about our (customer relations management). What I was able to show in those meetings is that what we do is relevant for a broad set of industries. It's really about convincing people to be more loyal, to do more of their casino trips with us. In our credit card example, will you pull out the American Express card over Visa? So it's making sure you capture as much of their spending that they intended to do. I think the spirit of it all is very similar. I think the great news about our business is that you walk around the casino and see the customers and see what kind of fun they're having. With a credit card, certainly as a corporate person, you don't tend to see the customer very often.

Question: What is your background, and how did you get into analyzing data?

Answer: I grew up in Baltimore, and went to Boston College where I was a finance major. I worked two summers during college at MBNA, the credit card company that was just bought by Bank of America. My dad had been in banking so that was part of it. Then I started there in management development. It was a yearlong program where there were 30 of us or so who started, and who got cross-functional training. Then coming out of that program, I helped build up the loyalty group. They had focused so much on acquisition that they had all these cards nobody was using. We put together a case of, how do we actually get people to use their card? So I started in loyalty space, based in analytics but also in technology.

Question: What was the reaction of your friends and family when you told them you were going to work in casinos?

Answer: Now it's evolved into a pretty cool job. It's fun with great properties, great entertainers, great restaurants. Especially on the East Coast, I think at that time in particular, and it is something I work on a lot, the perception of Atlantic City. If you live in that New York-Washington (D.C.) corridor you think about Atlantic City. Certainly at that time it didn't have the best perception. Nobody said I was crazy. It's all worked out pretty well.

Question: After 10 years, what keeps you motivated and interested in this industry?

Answer: I spend a lot more time thinking about where we need to go, especially now with the economy. How do we get a broader set of customers to think about us? How do we get a broader set of people to come visit our properties who may have not thought about it previously? There is still a lot we want to do. We do a lot of things well, but there are some things I would like us to continue to do better. How do we do cool things both domestically and internationally? How do we take what we've done and bring that to the London Clubs, or South Africa or Uruguay and other places going forward?

Nevadan at work: Harrah's marketing exec bets on credit card experience is republished from