Q&A with Jef Bauer, General Manager, MontBleu Resort Casino & Spa at Lake Tahoe
Q: What is your current position?
I’m the general manager of MontBleu Resort Casino & Spa in Lake Tahoe.
Q: How did you get started in marketing and what kind of preparation is needed?
I started out back in the 80s before gaming expanded across the country, when it was really just Nevada and New Jersey. I happened to be going to college at the University of Nevada in Reno. I needed a job pretty badly, so I took a job off the job board to become a sports writer. That was my first job in the casino business back in early 1987. As I got more into casino gaming, and began to understand the business, I realized that my schooling was going to come in handy. I finished my degree in journalism – public relations being my emphasis – and gained a business administration minor through the University of Nevada in Reno.
Q: How did your education impact your career?
I got into the business as a way to pay for college and to pay my bills. But, once I realized that I loved gaming, and I was learning things at work, I started to tailor my studies to help me understand my career better. Learning to communicate effectively and understanding the psychology of a customer are things that come from my educational background and now are used on a daily basis. My writing skills have come in handy every day of my career for the last 24 years. Certainly, a college degree, even an MBA, is something that is highly valued in our business today. Maybe when I started it wasn’t, but today – definitely.
Q: What is an average day of marketing for a casino like?
Marketing the casino is different on a daily basis on so many levels. Sometimes we’re really focused on the here and now. What can we do right now to drive some incremental business and get people excited about our casino? We might get into the entertainment aspect of that, which means we put on a show in the showroom, and we try to drive business 30 days from now.
Another typical day might be about how do we drive business now that it’s ski season in Tahoe? How do we get the ski clientele to come into our casino and perhaps spend food and beverage dollars as well as a few bucks on a blackjack table? [We put] together packages that make that trip more attractive for an impulse buyer.
Q: In general, are there any specific traits that work well in this career?
I think if you’re looking to get into casino marketing in a big way, say director or VP of marketing, even a marketing manager or promotions manager, you need a lot of energy. You need to really enjoy people because you’re going to be dealing with a lot of people every day. On the one hand, you have to be very friendly and outgoing, and, on the other, you have to be tough as nails to talk to vendors and get the best prices. You’re catering to a lot of different audiences and a lot of different types of people in the business. That’s what makes marketing in casino gaming exciting. It’s not the same thing every day; you’re not working on an assembly line; you’re not doing the same old slot tournament every day. You’re going to have a lot on your plate as a marketer in this business, but it’s all very exciting, and no two days are alike.
Q: What do you wish someone had told you about marketing?
When I was first getting into it, it would have been nice to have had a marketing mentor that kind of explained what was important. I think if you prioritize in today’s gaming environment, you’re going to talk about things like direct mail, direct marketing, e-marketing, e-commerce, and then public relations, advertising, and promotions – almost in that order. If someone had spent the time to explain the value of each to me, I might have not beaten my head against the wall so often trying to figure out which is most important, and what’s actually going to drive business.
Q: What are some of the challenges in the field?
I think because the gaming customer has so many choices, and the competition is fierce across the country, we’re no longer just competing with the next-door neighbor; we’re competing with casinos within a hundred miles of us. We’re competing with casinos in other markets like Las Vegas, and even overseas markets. Figuring out how to get that customer to decide to visit you is a challenge.
The other challenge is in realizing the change that occurs in our business. In a resort market like Lake Tahoe, we are not so much a casino market as we are a resort, tourist destination. You have to be a lot smarter, savvier, and more flexible. Being willing to change and accept change is a big trait to have in this business.
Q: What kind of changes have there been in marketing in the last few years?
I think the biggest marketing change in the last few years is really the technology aspect of e-commerce and e-marketing, really being able to talk to customers in cost-effective ways without overburdening their email boxes and Twitter and Facebook pages. Every day, you have to be thinking of new ways to get people’s attention while not spending a ton of money to do it. People in school today obviously have an advantage over someone like me – as young as I may look, I’m a dinosaur in our business. There was no such thing as email when I went to school. Anyone who’s been doing that since birth has a leg up [on the competition] because technology is advancing [quickly].
Q: What do you see for the future of marketing?
The sky is the limit. I think with personal, direct marketing, the faster you can get to customers and make them excited about your product, the better off you’re going to be. I just think that being able to market directly to the consumer in a personal way – even though sometimes it feels impersonal because it’s technology – is where gaming is headed.
Q: Any other particular recommendations for aspiring marketing professionals?
If you know while you’re going to school what you hope to do when you get out, start working in that field while you’re in college, even if it’s on a voluntary basis. If you’re aspiring to be a chef, you need to go learn everything you can about cooking different entrees. The same is true of marketing – go do internships. I can tell you that I would take an intern anytime I could because that’s invaluable on both ends. The student certainly learns the trade. It doesn’t even matter if you’re just getting coffee and filing for someone. You’re in that business learning what’s going on around you. Keep your eyes open, watch what’s happening, ask a lot of questions and find people with energy who are willing to answer them. And I think that is probably the best advice I can give you. Do it while you’re in school, while you’re learning and studying.