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Gaming Guru

Chris Jones
 

What Happens Here Turns Off Executives

27 August 2003

LAS VEGAS -- The convention authority's new ad campaign is proving to be too risqué for some business people.

A Henderson business owner says the stigma from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitor Authority's "Vegas Stories" advertising campaign is hindering his ability to recruit new executives to Southern Nevada, a claim a local tourism spokesman dismissed Tuesday as "silly."

The visitor's authority and its contracted advertising agency, R&R Partners, in January debuted several provocative ads as part of a $58 million U.S. marketing effort. Since then, six different television spots have touted, "What happens here, stays here" on both English- and Spanish-language stations across the nation.

The ads' themes, which supposedly depict visitors' more-outlandish experiences in Las Vegas, have included a woman who gets aroused while riding in a limousine as well as a May-December romance that leads to a quickly regretted wedding. A third depicted several conventioneers recapping the previous evening's escapades, which apparently resulted in the disappearance of one reveler and led another to worry aloud, "What are we going to tell his wife?"

Backers hope the ads' titillating themes will draw more tourists to town through August 2004, when the campaign is set to expire. However, YellowPages.com President Dane Madsen worries local nongaming businesses could be damaged in the interim.

"In our conversations with investment bankers, strategic investors and the like, this has come up every time," Madsen said of the ads. "Sometimes it comes up as joke ... and sometimes it's them asking, `How does that affect your ability to attract top talent from other cities in the United States?'

"I tell them it affects us significantly and will affect our decision-making process going forward."

YellowPages.com is a privately held online information provider with approximately 90 employees, most based in Southern Nevada. The company had experimented with allowing its workers to "telecommute," or work outside a traditional central office, but those efforts did not work out as planned, Madsen said. As a result, YellowPages.com recently began requiring its executives to work from its corporate headquarters at 2501 N. Green Valley Parkway near Sunset Road.

Problems arose when Madsen recently tried to fill two "top-tier" executive positions, as well as two more upper-level management slots. Madsen said his four preferred candidates balked at moving to Southern Nevada, with two specifically citing concerns about the area's living environment as highlighted by the ads.

"We know what's going on here; it's a valley whose economics are primarily based on gaming and everything that goes with that," said Madsen, who added the positions pay between $100,000 to $150,000 per year. "I won't suggest this (ad campaign) is the only reason people would decline a position here. But it has been, if you will, the (last) straw on two really serious recruits we were working on, and had an impact on two others."

In January, R&R Chief Executive Officer Billy Vassiliadis said he hoped the campaign would "take things to the edge." The company declined comment on Madsen's claims Tuesday and referred questions to convention authority spokesman Rob Powers, who said his organization is pleased with the ads' results.

"This has created more buzz than any ad campaign we've ever done, and the bottom line is a strong resort industry means a strong economy for Clark County," said Powers, who also cited an August USA Today survey that showed 27 percent of respondents said they liked the ads a lot.

Still, Madsen said his company's hiring problems have become so severe he's now considering moving YellowPages.com's headquarters to Arizona or Utah. The company's Los Angeles-based bankers have forbid him from relocating from Henderson to a Las Vegas address, he added.

Madsen's concerns aren't unfamiliar to Somer Hollingsworth, president of the Nevada Development Authority. He said the "Vegas Stories" spots have not seriously hampered his efforts to lure new businesses here, but he said his organization's clients outside Nevada have commented on how the ads depict the local business community.

"We had never, ever had any comments on any kind of ads from the convention authority" prior to this campaign, said Hollingsworth, who added an unnamed Florida company now considering a move to Las Vegas was one of several clients that recently mentioned the ads' potentially negative portrayal of this area.

"They had no idea there was anything else here except for what they were seeing on the ads, which obviously are very provocative," Hollingsworth said. "A few of them have said they don't think the ads are in the best of taste."

Hollingsworth added he's sympathetic to Madsen's struggles in attempting to overcome the area's "Sin City" image.

"Diversification is an uphill battle because you're so outmanned by the resort image and the resort industry," Hollingsworth said.