Within minutes of the Oct. 1 mass shooting on the south Strip, the team that promotes the Las Vegas brand was already canceling ad buys and developing a crisis communication strategy.
Employees from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and R&R Partners, which markets Las Vegas for the authority, had gathered and started to plan their messaging response within days of the attack that left nearly 60 dead and hundreds injured.
That work continued in the hours and days following the shooting, with the communication strategy echoing the #VegasStrong hashtag that organically took root on social media after the incident.
Billy Vassiliadis is CEO and a partner at R&R Partners, which for nearly 40 years has held the lucrative LVCVA ad contract. He told KNPR’s State of Nevada that the message after the shooting was more for locals than for tourists.
“It was as much to rally this community and then secondly to show the world that this is a real community that we are rallying that
we are strong that we are united that we’re taking care of our victims, our victims’ families, our first responders and kind of put Vegas in an interesting new light.” he said.
Vassiliadis said the city showed people outside of the valley a side they didn’t expect to see, which is a real community made up of people willing to race strangers to the hospital in the back of private cars and trucks, willing to show up in the middle of the night to donate blood, and willing to provide donations of clothing, money and time for people in need.
The team at the LVCA and R&R Partners has been watching the responses to the tragedy by visitors through focus groups and social media. Vassiliadis said they want to make sure they choose the right tone and message along with the right timing.
“We’re constantly monitoring this because we don’t want to insensitive or inappropriate at a time like this,” he said.
People grieve in different ways and at different times, he said, which means while people might still want to come here they’re changing their vacation times depending on where they are at in their own grieving process and what they feel is a respectful time period.
“What we’re seeing is that they’re moving their trip by two weeks, by three weeks, by a month, but that they still feel as if it’s appropriate to come here and enjoy Las Vegas,” he said.
An Associated Press story from last weekend surveyed communication experts on the city’s response and found mixed reviews. Paul A. Argenti, a Dartmouth College professor considered a pioneer in corporate communication, said a televised spot from the LVCVA was “a little too tacky” because it promoted tourism so shortly after the attack.
Vassiliadis defended the ad, saying he felt worked because it was visitors talking about coming to Las Vegas, not hotels or the LVCVA telling people to come here.
While it might seem a little strange to some that the marketing of the city must go on, Vassiliadis said thousands of jobs depend on the tourism industry.
“I think it is vital that we communicate our visitors have a certain expectation of us,” he said, “They want to be communicated with.”
He said following the attacks of September 11, 2001, visitors they talked with said they wanted the communication but it needed to be respectful of the country’s mood at the time.
As for the next big event on the city’s calendar, New Year’s Eve, Vassiliadis said he believes the event will go ahead as planned. He said security along the Strip has been very good following 9/11 and having an organized event is better than letting 400,000 visitors just mill about on the Strip.
Plus, there is intangible feeling that we can’t allow some horrific change our city.
“There is also a sense of not sending the wrong message that this crazy guy changed the face of Las Vegas,” he said, “He shouldn’t’ and he didn’t.”
He said in the wake of the shooting several major conventions have gone on without massive cancellations, so have business meetings and conferences. Vassiliadis said people do not view Las Vegas as unsafe because of the horrific actions of one person.
And the man who has been marketing our city for years said through those horrific actions some good things have emerged, including a new face to the community that some people have not seen.
“Dramatic change in the perception of Las Vegas,” he said, “I think our own perception of Las Vegas has changed… are we a community or a collection of people who came here for some economic or business or career opportunity, we would probably say the latter. This showed that we are real.”
He said the community is being praised and respected for how it reacted.
Billy Vassiliadis, CEO of R&R Partners
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