MGM Resorts CMO discusses massive campaign that was pulled in light of Vegas shooting

Lili Tomovich speaking at the ANA Masters of Marketing conference / Credit: Clarion Pictures

The chief experience and marketing officer of the company that owns Mandalay Bay, the Las Vegas resort where mass shooter Stephen Paddock killed 58 people and injured more than 500 from his 32nd-floor hotel suite on Sunday, took a moment to address the tragedy at the ANA Masters of Marketing conference in Orlando before giving a pre-scheduled talk on how MGM Resorts has transformed itself into an entertainment-driven brand over the past few years.

Lili Tomovich, who leads marketing for MGM Resorts, began her talk by stating that she’s grateful for the support she and others in Las Vegas have received in the wake of the “horrific, inexplicable” events that unfolded on Sunday evening.

“When I was on the plane last night flying here, for the first time in four days I had a chance to think and [I was] wondering what I could say to this lovely audience here,” she said to the conference’s attendees. “My message is one of just deep, deep gratitude for all of the support that we have received, not only from the community in Las Vegas, but the city, the country and frankly the world. It’s been overwhelming and graciously accepted. It’s really what has been keeping so many of us going through these dark, dark days that we’ve had. So I wanted to say thank you and I wanted to let you know that I’m really here today representing not only MGM Resorts, but Las Vegas and the strength of that community to go on.”

Tomovich went on to explain that a massive brand campaign called ‘Welcome to the Show' that the company launched just weeks before the shooting has been pulled in light of the massacre. She did not state if or when the campaign will resume, but a long-form version of the spot is still up on MGM Resorts’ YouTube page. Created by McCann New York, the video shows off the company’s many resorts – which include The Mirage, Circus Circus and Bellagio – and the various nightclubs, restaurants and shops housed within them.

With lines like ‘Mankind Was Not Born To Be Bored’ and ‘We Are Not In The Hotel Business, We Are In The Holy Sh*t Business,’ the ad aims to show consumers that the company’s various properties offer much more than hotel rooms and casinos. The spot is part of a larger rebrand strategy that began post-recession, when MGM decided to position its 27 properties as hubs of entertainment that cater to all tastes in hopes of spurring growth.

With eight million tickets sold annually for live events and the “largest collection of Michelin-starred restaurants and master sommeliers in the country,” Tomovich said she wants consumers to become more aware of all the different forms of entertainment that MGM Resorts has to offer, especially since casinos only represent 30% of the firm's revenue.

“Our current belief is that entertainment is fundamental to human beings,” she said. “After Sunday’s horrific tragedy, it leads me to believe that the world does need more entertainment. We need moments of joyfulness where we can smile and laugh. To me, this statement has never been more true.”

During her talk, Tomovich explained that the company has spent the past few years training employees and building internal morale to ensure that staffers across all of its different properties are aligned with its new mission of providing guests with exceptional, entertaining experiences. Since MGM Resorts employs 77,000 staffers across different disciplines, Tomovich said that she’s spent much of her time over the past few years going “ballroom to ballroom” for employee training sessions.

“We wanted to make sure that we aligned our culture with our brand,” she said. “That was so incredibly important. We wanted to make sure our people understood who we were as a company and why we existed.”

The company took numerous approaches and steps to build employee pride and provide them with ways to embrace the new mission. For example, she said that it developed the acronym SHOW – which stands for ‘Smile & Greet,’ ‘Hear the Guest Story,’ ‘Own the Experience’ and 'Wow the Guest’ – to help employees with guest interactions.

“I would have never known this a year ago, but with the tragedy that took place Sunday night, I can’t tell you how many people told me that this actually helped them get through it,” she said. “Employees that were just completely at a loss and were running up to guests who were in desperate need of help actually thought back to this framework. This, in hindsight, was an incredibly powerful tool for us.”

MGM Resorts has also taken steps to ensure that its guest experience lives up to expectations. For example, Tomovich said that employees are now equipped with comp certificates that they can give to guests in the event that something goes awry, meaning guests can receive things like two free drinks or a complimentary pass to a buffet if they’re unsatisfied with some element of their experience. While Tomovich admitted her team was nervous to hand so much control over to its thousands of staffers, she said it’s turned out to be an “incredible initiative” that has “really empowered employees.”

Tomovich concluded her talk by telling attendees that MGM Resorts’ internal brand-building efforts, which took about 18 months, have allowed both leadership and employees to understand what their respective roles are and how they fit into the larger brand ethos. She advised other brands who may be preparing to embark on their own brand refresh or repositioning to make sure that they are fully prepared internally before launching anything consumer-facing.

“Before you tell your brand proposition to the world at large, you better damn well be prepared to deliver it,” she said.

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