CULT BRAND: What Happens in Vegas...


When you think of iconic brands, names like Nike, Budweiser and Apple come to mind. However, cities can become cult brands, just like products. And perhaps the most well-known city in the U.S., with the most well-known brand, is Las Vegas. Say, "What happens in Vegas ..." to anyone, and they'll likely be able to finish your sentence.

In this episode, the boys bring on Cathy Tull, former CMO of Las Vegas' Convention and Visitors Authority, who oversaw this positioning and lived to tell the tale ... and she's telling it to The Chad & Cheese Podcast.

Enjoy this Smashfly exclusive.

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Chris Kneeland: Hey everybody, this is Chris Kneeland, the CEO of Cult Collective and cofounder of the Gathering of Cult brands. Excited this week to introduce you to Cathy Tull.

Chris Kneeland: I'm excited to introduce you to Cathy, because my relationship with her began all the way back in year one of the Gathering when she came to accept the recognition for all of the wonderful things that the City of Las Vegas had done through their What Happens Here Stays Here campaign. She has been instrumental in not only encouraging us to turn the Gathering into an annual event, but also in helping all of us think about destinations as Cult-like brands.

Chris Kneeland: We've since gone on to look at the city of Austin, the Island of Manhattan, the country of Iceland, all these other wonderful destinations have gotten onto our radar because she helped us think differently about how destinations have to market themselves. Excited to hear what Cathy has to say.

Announcer: Hide your kids, lock the doors. You're listening to HR's most dangerous podcast. Chad Sowash and Joel Cheesman are here to punch the recruiting industry right where it hurts, complete with breaking news, brash opinion, and loads of snark. Buckle up, boys and girls. It's time for the Chad & Cheese Podcast.

Joel: Oh, yeah, it's a Monday. Our guest is so laid back I feel like I should turn it down a couple of notches. It's like we're turning into NPR.

Chad: She's out of Vegas, too, so we shouldn't be all laid back.

Joel: Yeah, maybe because it's Monday. Maybe if we talk to her on a Friday, she'd be all cray cray. Cathy, welcome to the show.

Cathy: Thank you. Good morning.

Chad: Cathy Tull, today.

Joel: Not related to Jethro, as far as we know.

Chad: Exactly. Cathy, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Cathy: I was formally the chief marketing officer for Las Vegas, and I joined Cult just a couple of months ago. I really believe in this whole idea of creating Cult-like movements, and I'm excited to be a part of a new team.

Chad: That's awesome. First question right out of the gate. You've got to tell me. You were the CMO ... You were with Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority for 14 years, but 10 of those years, you are the chief marketing officer when What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas was going on. Can you tell us a little bit about that? Because that is a campaign that I think everybody across the world knows.

Cathy: Yeah. The campaign was started by my former boss, Rossi Ralenkotter and R&R Partners, who is an agency here in Las Vegas. They created What Happens Here Stays Here, and then luckily for me, Rossi hired me. I was able to really take that and then help shepherd the brand and shepherd the growth, and use that whole campaign, What Happens Here Stays Here, to attract four generations of travelers. Las Vegas gets 43 million visitors a year. It's an amazing product that continues to change all the time. To be part of that is really something that you can't repeat, I don't think ever again, in my career.

Chad: Before What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas, there was this duality of Las Vegas where they weren't sure what they wanted to be. Did they want to be Sin City, or did they want your kids to come into the casino with you? Can you tell us a little bit about how it all came to be that you found your way?

Cathy: I think, as Las Vegas grew, there was product being built that was oriented to families, but really the destination itself represented adult freedom. The agency and the LVCVA did a number of research projects around, "What does a visitor want? What do they expect when they come to Las Vegas?" What they really wanted was this chance to be who they are.

Cathy: There's very few destinations and very few places you can go in the world where you feel like you're not being judged. Las Vegas is one of those, really a judgment-free zone. What Happens Here Stays Here was really meant to embrace this idea of adult freedom, and say, "You can come to Vegas, and if you want to sleep all day and stay up all night, you can. If you want to sleep all night, and go to the spa, and play golf, and go shopping, and dine, you can do that."

Cathy: What happened was the city built product to service those consumers who love Las Vegas. When you think about Las Vegas, you either love it or hate it. There's not a whole lot of people that are in the middle. It's something that we have something for everyone. Creating What Happens Here Stays Here was about those moments that people have where they can really feel like they're free.

Joel: I have a quick question. I'm trying to envision the office space for your organization. Were there roulette wheels in the lobby? Did you have a daiquiri machine in the coffee room? Or was it a cubicle farm? What was your workspace like?

Cathy: What's interesting is the LVCVA is a government organization. The organization itself is pretty buttoned up, but the agency is a free for all. When you're looking for crazy things happening, that would happen at the agency where I spent a good amount of time. Then the office itself was pretty buttoned up. What's interesting is that the resort partners in Las Vegas actually make less money off gaming and more money off everything else, shopping, dining, spas, than they do gaming itself, which is a myth. Everyone thinks that all the money comes from gaming, and that's really not true.

Joel: You had the best of both worlds, if "buttoned up" could be one of the worlds you want to be in.

Cathy: You know what? It's a great opportunity to have a dual personality where you can do one thing in the office, then go to the agency, and it's a whole feel.

Joel: My real question. I'm glad that you mentioned global ... Like people from around the world come in to to see Vegas. What was the ad campaign from a global perspective? Did you target certain countries? Why did you target certain countries? What was the messaging? To, maybe, the difference between England ads, or French, or German, or Australia? Talk about the global campaign. Because Chad and I, and most of our listeners, we're aware of the ads that we saw here in America, but what was the flavor like globally?

Cathy: Canada, Mexico, and the UK are the top three international markets for Las Vegas. When you look at what works, the What Happens Here Stays Here campaign works in Canada, it works in Mexico. It's different in the UK. The British humor is different, and therefore the campaign had to be different.

Cathy: The campaign did not necessarily translate globally as far as Europe went. In Europe it was really more about what you could do here, how people could come, the ease of travel to Las Vegas, and then the variety of things we have to do.

Cathy: Then, if you looked at places like Australia, Las Vegas is part of a larger itinerary. Consumers from farther away would come and they would make the West Coast tour, and Las Vegas would be part of that stop. Making sure that we were within that itinerary and people could see that they could come and have three or four days in Vegas and really have a great time, and then continue on with the national park tour, or wherever else they were going to go ... We're situated in a place that allows them to do that. Depending on where you're sitting in the world, you're going to get a different message.

Cathy: However, in the last couple of years, if you think about how social media has really come to pass, at the end of the day, it's people encouraging one another. People are going to listen to a trusted friend or colleague before they're going to listen to a brand. Making sure that, all social media across the world, we were personable, we had a personality, was really important for the brand.

Joel: Did you target China and Russia?

Cathy: We targeted China, so there's nonstop service from Hainan, on to Beijing, to Las Vegas. That was a market that we were in. We did not target Russia. It would be really hard to get here. You'd have to go through one of the major ports, LA or New York.

Chad: Did you develop personas for all these different areas? Because it seems like you have different brands for the different geographies that you're trying to hit.

Cathy: We developed personas for visitors. We looked and we said, "Okay, who are the visitors?" For example, one time we did an exercise that said, "If you're coming from South America, what does that visitor look like?"

Cathy: What we found through the research was that visitors literally would come here with an empty suitcase, because their plan was to shop and to fill that suitcase up. That's what made them happy. They wanted to go out, they wanted to party, they wanted to have a good time, and they wanted to go shopping. Talking about those opportunities is what made that market go, "Oh, yeah, okay, Vegas is the place I'm going to go." Knowing who your visitor is, regardless of where they sit in the world, is the key.

Chad: What about purpose, though? Because we know that Cult brands, really, the foundation is heavy in purpose. What purpose were you guys really focusing on to be able to, not just for your employees, and for your organization, and for Las Vegas, but what was the purpose you were trying to push out to the individuals all over the world?

Cathy: Cult brands absolutely have to have a purpose. They have to stand for something. What Las Vegas stood for was adult freedom. If you think about it, Las Vegas has been criticized for that, but it is a place that is celebrated because of it. That's what we pushed, this idea that you could come here, and you could. If you wanted to shave your head and walk around for a week, you could. If you wanted to come here and stay up all night, you could. If you wanted to just come and relax, you could.

Cathy: It's one of these places where, and if you've ever been to Las Vegas, you've seen this, you can go to dinner and you can see everything. You can go into a show and you'll see people dressed in all kinds of clothes, and it's acceptable. That is what people want. They crave to be accepted. that's what Vegas stands for.

Chad: We'll get back to the interview in a minute. Building a brand isn't easy, which is why you need people like Thom Kenney, CEO of SmashFly, on your side.

Chad: All right, Tom. Engagement is key to becoming and maintaining Cult brand status. How are your clients actually focusing on that today?

Thom Kenney: First we need to think about engagement in general. You can engage a bunch of people a bunch of different ways. The first thing is recognizing what's a positive engagement and what's a negative engagement. You really got to be able to focus on the value proposition of what it is you're trying to communicate.

Thom Kenney: The second part of that, after you understand what's really the positive engagement, it's maximizing the brand value. It's just like if you're out and you're shopping for a car, and what you're really, really interested in is how that car feels when you drive it. You sit behind the wheel, and you're smelling that new car smell, and you feel comfortable. You ease back into that seat, and, just, you feel the power behind the wheel. That's a positive engagement. But, you don't get to the dealership unless you're really promoting the idea of what that car feels like.

Thom Kenney: In many ways, employer brands need to be thinking that way. When you're talking about scenarios where it's really, really hard to hire people, you can't create an engagement strategy that says, "Hey, we have jobs," and, "Hey, you should come work for us because we have health benefits." It's crap. It's not going to get you anywhere. You've got to create some sort of a mode of response that, when you're communicating in that level of engagement, it's a positive response that gets people excited. It gets them to want to sit in that chair behind the desk like they want to sit in a Porsche seat.

Chad: To find out more, go to smashfly.com.