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Chris Jones

Hero Worship

18 May 2006

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Hollywood studios are lining up to cash in on the anticipated popularity of summer films featuring comic book heroes such as the X-Men mutants and Superman.

Far away from Krypton, local travel leaders are counting on a few lesser-known heroes to steer some big bucks in Las Vegas' direction.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority this month unveiled its latest business travel promotional campaign. Known as "Hero," the ads primarily target event planners whose decisions could bring tens to tens of thousands of travelers here for corporate meetings and conferences.

Some ads are intended for trade show producers and exhibitors, a sector Las Vegas has long dominated. But most are aiming for smaller gatherings of executives, sales teams and board members -- groups that prefer the kind of top-tier amenities Las Vegas only recently started offering widely.

"The corporate meeting market segment has a huge growth potential," Terry Jicinsky, the authority's senior vice president of marketing, said Wednesday. "We now have a style of restaurants, meeting facilities, entertainment options and golf courses that bring us into head-to-head competition with some of the traditional corporate meeting destinations."

Competitors for such gatherings historically include Chicago, New York, San Francisco and various beach destinations.

Five different hero-themed print ads were produced to reflect the diverse genders and ethnic backgrounds of those in the industry. Each ad shows a person in an office environment striking a heroic pose. Headlines include "Glory is on line one" and "From cubicle to cubicle they will praise your name."

The ads will appear in more than a dozen travel industry publications, as well as newsletters and daily magazines distributed at events in which the authority participates. Pop-up ads are also appearing on industry Web sites including Tradeshow Week magazine's online page.

The Hero ads replaced a 3-year-old business marketing campaign known for the tag line, "We work as hard as we play." Customer feedback showed business traveler planners enjoy the city's "What happens here, stays here" ads, which target leisure travelers. The authority hopes the Hero spots will strike a similar chord.

"Dropping 'We work as hard as we play' takes the formal business message out of it ... and says, 'This is more about you,'" said Rob Dondero, an executive vice president with R&R Partners, the authority's contracted advertising agency.

Added Jicinsky: "(The new ads) put the emphasis on the individual meeting planner's experience" when dealing with Las Vegas.

A guerrilla marketing push is accompanying the Hero launch. At next week's Springtime expo in Washington, D.C., for example, street teams will ride scooters and pedicabs near the Washington Convention Center. They'll pass out brochures and fliers highlighting Las Vegas' meeting and exhibition services.

"There's nobody else doing this," Dondero said. "(Attendees and exhibitors) will see the message and say, 'I've got to go by the Las Vegas booth and meet these guys because they've got something new going on.'"

A direct mail campaign also could raise interest by allowing meeting planners to enter a drawing for a high-end Las Vegas vacation for six, Jicinsky said.

Las Vegas' developing relationship with the National Basketball Association could lure more corporate business here, Dondero said.

The NBA routinely hosts executives from big businesses in cities where it has franchises. In anticipation of next year's NBA All-Star events in Las Vegas, the league is allowing local sales representatives to attend those gatherings during the current NBA playoffs. Similar events could take place when the 2006-07 season tips off in the fall.

"This is a very unique (opportunity) for us," Dondero said. "These CEOs get invited by a lot of people to a lot of special events. You really have to have something special to get them out and have some one-on-one time with them."

The authority is committed to the Hero campaign through the end of the calendar year, Jicinsky said.

The ads will cost $360,000 to distribute through June 30, though a specific expenditure for the fiscal year beginning July 1 was not yet available, Dondero said.

The current-year budget called for $980,000 in spending on similar business travel promotions.