Putting on special events takes preparedness and ingenuity

Say what you will about reality television, it’s nothing if not revealing. Take, for instance, TruTV’s “Rehab: Party at the Hard Rock Hotel.” The six-episode reality show offered a bikini’s (and Speedos’) eye view of what it takes to organize one of America’s most popular pool parties.

The cameras followed managers, cocktail servers and security guards as they dealt with issues ranging from brawls, waitress catfights and a surprise performance by a top rapper to raucous crowds, drunken revelers and customers trying to skip out on their tabs.

The notoriety has boosted the Hard Rock’s well-earned reputation for hosting the biggest and brashest special events.

“The property has developed sub-brands beneath the Hard Rock brand. The Joint [performance theater] is a strong brand, as is Body English [a nightclub] and now ReHab enjoys the same recognition,” said Paul Davis, senior vice president of entertainment at the Hard Rock. “We’ve been able to maximize publicity from the show and boost our reputation for putting on events.”

Ever since the Rio converted a showroom into the city’s first large-scale nightclub, Club Rio, in 1992, gaming operators have been used showroom space to host all kinds of special events.

The mid ’90s boom in convention business generated demand for more unique events-outdoor concerts, events by the pool and massive parties encompassing entire portions of a resort.

Las Vegas-based Neu Visions Design has done large-scale parties for conventions such as the National Association of Broadcasters and the Consumer Electronics Show. The design-build firm is also behind the exotic lighting technology featured at Caesars Palace’s Pure nightclub and Luxor’s hip $20 million LAX nightclub.

“We’ve worked with Microsoft to put video promotions on the façade of Caesars Palace,” said Neu Visions’ managing director Adam Camp. “For corporate events, we’ve used strobe lights, interactive LED fixtures, animation and other technology to broadcast video and show messages. More companies are using special events and promotions to enhance brand awareness.”

At any given moment, Harrah’s Entertainment, the world’s largest gaming company, simultaneously hosts multiple special events throughout its seven Las Vegas hotel-casinos. Combined, the properties offer more than 800,000 square feet of meeting and exhibit space-an ample canvas for creative organizers.

To wit: In November 2007, the Rio hotel-casino hosted a card show in the parking lot. That same month, lucky guests at the Imperial Palace hotel-casino got to ride along with professional race-car drivers as they zipped around in Porsche Carreras. The area in back of Bally’s hotel-casino recently served as a venue for a motorcycle event sponsored by Red Bull energy drink.

“We use parking lots quite often, but we’ve also use our showrooms. We’ve turned a showroom room into a venue for a car show,” said Don Ross, vice president of catering, conventions and events for Las Vegas Meetings for Harrah’s Entertainment. “In our 86,000-square-foot Paris Ballroom, we’ve hosted championship boxing [2000’s heavyweight title fight between Evander Holyfield vs. Ruiz). John. In January [2009], Diana Ross will perform there for a convention.”

When the final curtain dropped in December 2007 on Celine Dion’s five-year run at the Colosseum-Bette Midler and Cher are in the first year of three-year deals to perform there-Harrah’s quickly moved to incorporate the 4,300-seat arena into its special events mix, Ross said.

“Celine made it difficult for us to use the Colosseum because everything was designed for her,” Ross said. “But now we’re able to woo convention customers. We can go after larger groups and larger special events because we can free up ballroom space at Caesars for meal functions.”

Case in point: The annual Comedy Festival. Ellen Degeneres, Cheech & Chong, Dane Cook and other comedic heavyhitters performed all over the property-in the Colosseum and various ballrooms.

Ross said Harrah’s benefits from having its conventions, meetings and special events business centralized into one division-Las Vegas Meetings by Harrah’s Entertainment. It allows customers to seamlessly move between properties. They can eat at Flamingo, see a show at Caesars and go to the pool at the Rio.

“We know people come to Las Vegas and to experience different hotels. We can offer that variety and they only have to deal with one catering manager, one event planner, one convention master account-one everything,” Ross said.

“A lot of groups come here and think that if they’re not 20,000 or 30,000 people, that they’re not welcome on the Strip. A lot of hotels want 300 rooms booked and $1 million food and beverage minimum. But we don’t need that many. We can customize our special events.” 

Should Harrahs and AEG move forward with plans to build a $500 million, 22,000-seat arena behind Bally’s, Ross expects Caesars to return to hosting sporting events, especially boxing. Caesars has hosted some the sport’s biggest fights including 1982’s heavyweight title fight between Larry Holmes and Jerry Cooney (the $45 million gross was a record at the time); the Marvin Hagler/Thomas Hearns epic in 1985; and the 1987 Hagler-vs.-Sugar Ray Leonard classic.

Be it a party, outdoor concert, or megafight, organizing special events can be a challenge, no matter how practiced the organizer.

James Jarrett Miller made history when he flew his paraglider into an outdoor arena at Caesars during a 1993 fight between Holyfield and Riddick Bowe.

“The nature of the event business is such that there are always unknown factors, things you don’t anticipate,” Davis said.

When organizing an event, Davis said communication and coordination are paramount: “The left and right arms have to know what each is doing.”

“You have to have a good system in place for when an event is proposed and approved. Then you create a flow chart. Because we’ve done so many special events, we have a blueprint for most of them. You make sure you’re properly staffed, that you have requisite security and that the entire property is ready to handle anything that might come up.”

Davis said Hard Rock officials purposely avoided scripting situations to show how ReHab staff works through problems. “We wanted it to be as real as possible, but to also show that we don’t let things get out of hand.”

The challenge lately has been choosing what events to accept at the Hard Rock. One failed promotion could tarnish the property’s well-honed image. The economy is another factor: fewer people are coming to Vegas and those who are visiting are spending substantially less than before.

“We do pass on a lot of events because they are off-brand for us,” Davis said. “We’re very fussy about what we allow on the property. We’ll ask: Is this us? We won’t do something simply to generate a dollar.”

But they will try things to generate interest in the Hard Rock. Thus a property-wide open bar in December, billed as the largest event ever hosted there. Guests received complimentary cocktails and hors d' oeuvres throughout the entire resort. The promotion aimed to reconnect with former patrons and generate a slew of new ones.

“With any special event, there’s the element of surprise: You don’t know how many people will show up,” Davis said. “To prepare, you have to make sure you’re staffed well, that you have enough security and bartenders and that the entire property is ready for it. So we have to prepare for everything.”