For Las Vegas Sands' Chief Marketer, Regulation Is a Fact of Life

Rom Hendler Tackles Regulation, Brand-Image Issues While Working to Develop CRM Programs

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When you're the chief marketing officer at Las Vegas Sands, your fortune depends less on Lady Luck and more on regulatory environments -- and their mercurial nature.

Rom Hendler
Rom Hendler

Rom Hendler, CMO at the gaming and entertainment company, recalls the time he was test -driving a loyalty card program for Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, which earned customers points wherever in the resort they spent money. Despite having approved it earlier, the Casino Regulatory Authority (CRA) there decided the program "enticed" people to come to the casino portion of the resort. Mr. Hendler had to trash the program and start over.

"Now, we're looking to separate it," Mr. Hendler said. "We are going to adapt it so we can have two loyalty programs, one for the non-gaming and one for gaming." The marketing dollars will be spent on the former. "Whatever the regulators throw at us, we go above and beyond to comply," he added.

Loyalty programs, and smart CRM, are a big focus for Mr. Hendler -- if the authorities would just step out of the way for a second.

He takes his cues from online retailers such as Amazon, which is a natural at tracking consumers' spending across properties -- what he believes is the key to growth for Las Vegas Sands. His biggest challenge, in the two years since ascending to the C-suite position, has been getting the company up to speed with the best data-tracking technology available, so whether a consumer spends $200 at a restaurant in Marina Bay Sands or drops $1,000 on a suite in the famed Singapore property, the company will know, and be able to target promotions better.

"I would like to understand every customer, track spending and calculate profitability," said Mr. Hendler. "The technology isn't as strong as I would like it to be."

It's surprising Mr. Hendler considers technology and CRM his biggest challenges, given the ups and downs the company has been through the past few years.

In 2008, the company almost went bankrupt, with CEO Sheldon Adelson finally loaning it $1 billion of his own money. While the years of strong Asian growth were kind to it after, with its then brand new Singapore property showing unprecedented growth, the company has remained under scrutiny.

More recently, federal authorities launched a probe against it for money laundering, while Mr. Adelson has come under fire for allegedly violating the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in the company's Macau operations.

While the risk of bankruptcy made the marketing department at Las Vegas Sands "more cautious," Mr. Hendler said that the image of the company is something he keeps a close eye on. "We know there is sensitivity around what we do," he said. "But it's part of our day-to-day functioning."

Mr. Hendler said that many companies have to deal with the same problems of image and branding. "Look at the Olympics, Coke is one of the sponsors, and it isn't exactly in the healthy category," he said. "Yes, we are in the news and yes, we do see certain things that are impacting our operations, like some of these investigations. But from a marketing perspective, we don't see that as relevant."

And in Asia, where the company makes most of its money, "it's completely irrelevant," Mr. Hendler added. About 82% of the company's revenues in the last few quarters have come from Asian properties.

The company doesn't work with any specific agency. It used to work with a handful of WPP agencies in Asia, but the company found it too expensive to keep an agency of record. "We don't do an ongoing brand campaign," Mr. Hendler said. "We just have specific tactical campaigns."

Those campaigns are rarely about the casinos, with marketing focused instead on the shopping or the restaurant available in the resort. "People know there are casinos there, I don't need to shove in their faces," Mr. Hendler said.

So instead of creative campaigns, he focuses on public-relations efforts, through partnerships or sponsorships. Or in some cases, even through architecture: Marina Bay Sands' unique building structure, which resembles a surfboard balanced on three 55-story towers, has become a focal point of Singapore's skyline and is a marketing campaign unto itself.

That's a good thing, considering Las Vegas Sands can't even advertise in many areas such as the lucrative Macau and Singapore markets. Regulation is so tight that the Singaporean government levies $100 in cover charges for any Singaporean to enter the casino, while foreigners can enter for free. "Regulation isn't a concern for us, it's a fact," said Mr. Hendler. "The challenge is that it's not consistent."

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