ANA Annual Meeting 2017

MGM Pulled its New Campaign After Vegas Shooting to Focus on Internal Morale

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Cirque du Soleil at ANA
Cirque du Soleil at ANA Credit: E.J. Schultz

MGM Resorts International pulled "Welcome to the Show," a two-week-old campaign, in the immediate aftermath of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, which occurred at one of its hotels.

The chain is still open for business, though, and its chief experience and marketing officer says the recent internal rebranding is now more critical than ever for its employees, even though the consumer-facing spots have been pulled.

Speaking at the annual ANA Masters of Marketing conference in Orlando, Florida on Friday morning, Lili Tomovich immediately voiced her gratitude for the support she's received from the ANA audience, the Vegas community and the country itself, and also added the disclaimer that her presentation—"From the Inside Out: How MGM Resorts Transformed Itself"—had been prepared before Sunday's horrific events.

"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," said Tomovich. "I do want to share a bit of the joy that Las Vegas brings to the world," she added.

In communicating the new campaign, Tomovich touched on the history of Las Vegas—how it transformed from a site for Hoover Dam construction workers in the 1930s to a resort destination of entertainment, casinos and cuisine. After building up its empire from one hotel in 1973 to 15 brands spread across 27 properties, MGM fell victim to the recession, nearing dangerously close to bankruptcy seven years ago.

The new campaign, which took some 18 months to produce and was created with McCann New York, was meant to crystallize MGM's brand identity on a global scale, and reinforce its role as an entertainment player at a time when casinos represent just 30 percent of its revenue, down from 70 percent more than a decade ago, according to Tomovich. As part of the campaign, MGM had also reorganized its staff training programs and internal branding message to empower its employees. Now, in the wake of the shooting, the outward facing rebranding has been scrapped and concentrated internally as a galvanizing morale booster for the MGM family.

"MGM exists to entertain the human race," she said. "We needed to move from this perception, this reality, that we all lived in that we were just hotels and casinos and shift to a global entertainment brand."

On September 18, MGM debuted "Welcome to the Show," running a national TV spot that highlighted a plethora of entertainment including acrobatic performances, art, dancing and music. "Mankind was not born to be bored," text on the spot read. "We are not in the hotel business, we are in the Holy Sh*t business." One of the properties featured in the commercial was the Mandalay Bay hotel, the site of Sunday's mass shooting.

Focusing on the employee-facing aspects of the rebranding helped staffers carry on in the wake of Sunday's shooting, Tomovich said

"I can't tell you how many people told me this helped them get through it," said Tomovich to attendee applause. "It was a powerful tool for us over the last four days."

Usually when a brand suffers a crisis, a previously planned conference presentation is often canceled. Last year, Samsung's expected ANA speech was called off at the eleventh hour following numerous product recalls of exploding washing machines and cellphone batteries catching on fire. Friday's audience, and ANA CEO Bob Liodice, gave Tomovich credit for continuing with her presentation despite the tragedy. Still, the six-minute Cirque du Soleil acrobatic performance, featuring clowns and dancers, to introduce Tomovich's presentation may have been slightly off-sentiment, given her opening remarks referencing Mandalay Bay, though attendees still seemed appreciative.

Credit: E.J. Schultz

"Thank you for coming at this difficult time for Las Vegas and America (and Canada). We stand with you!!" wrote one attendee on the ANA conference question system, a sentiment supported by 66 other attendees. Others asked about the right time for relaunching the consumer-facing campaign, a query that was not vocalized by Liodice.

MGM has already taken a hit after Sunday. As of Friday morning, the brand's stock was trading at $30.57, down from a 52-week high of $34.65.

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