November 8, 2012
While attempting to reach Mary Cracchiolo Spain, Hurricane Isaac was approaching the Gulf Coast and she was moving into crisis mode as the regional director of public relations for MGM Resorts International’s Mississippi operations.
Luckily, for the local community and for Cracchiolo Spain — who has been an active board member of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Chapter of the American Red Cross for more than 10 years — the storm was not as devastating to the area as Hurricane Katrina had been just seven years earlier.
A 16-year veteran of the Mississippi tourism industry, Cracchiolo Spain oversees external and internal communications for two of the company’s three regional properties outside Las Vegas, including the 1,740-room Beau Rivage Resort & Casino on the beach in Biloxi, Miss., and the 1,200-room Gold Strike Casino Resort in Tunica, Miss. She has also served on the board of PRSA’s Travel & Tourism Section for six years.
After graduating from Park University, Cracchiolo Spain worked for the Mississippi Development Authority South Mississippi Tourism Office and the Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau before coming to MGM Resorts more than 11 years ago, where she has since received several career accolades in business leadership.
How did you get your start in public relations?
It has been an interesting evolution. My dad started in the airline business, so I grew up traveling. My passion for writing and communications also came about at a young age when I got involved with journalism and the school newspaper.
My college major started as mass communications and I worked as a disc jockey on a couple of radio stations. I realized that there wasn’t going to be a lucrative career in radio, so I switched my focus to business with a degree in marketing and spent several years in advertising and direct marketing agencies before being hired in communications at the Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau.
It wasn’t until I got the position in travel and tourism that I started honing my PR skills. I started as the media relations manager and then, moved up to become the CVB’s Director of Communications.That position led to my job as the South Mississippi Bureau Manager for the state of Mississippi Tourism Division before coming to work for MGM Resorts.
What does your day-to-day job entail?
As we know all too well, a typical day for communications professionals is atypical. We’ve got a small team and support every facet of MGM’s two Mississippi properties — everything from communications strategies, media relations, and message and content development to publicizing events, promotions and entertainment, to speech writing and daily employee communications.
Public relations also plays an invaluable role during times of crisis. We recently had to temporarily close Beau Rivage for Hurricane Isaac on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina — which destroyed the resort and devastated the community.
This time, however, we experienced a record-setting closure and reopening of the Gulf Coast gaming market, which needed to be communicated to employees, guests and the public.
Mother Nature has not only affected the Biloxi casino market, but the 2011 Mississippi River flood also forced the temporary closure of Gold Strike and other resorts in Tunica, which the PR team took the lead role in communicating. We’ve communicated through the economic downturn, the unprecedented BP oil spill and numerous individual crises.
What role does public relations play in building the MGM brand?
MGM Resorts International is one of the world’s leaders in entertainment and hospitality with a portfolio of some of the most respected and recognized brands in the industry.
But we know brands are about experiences and relationships. The MGM logo may get people to our properties, but it is the experience and relationships that define the brand. Public relations plays a vital role in building the brand by articulating the breadth of experiences we have to offer. It also has an ability to elevate the brand and build trust and credibility that our company needs to be successful.
We embrace an integrated approach with public relations working hand-in-hand with other marketing disciplines to reach the consumer and create memorable experiences that bring them through our doors and keep them coming back. Our brands engage before, during and after the visit.
How have social media and real-time news changed how you do your job?
The new media landscape has had a dramatic impact on the way we communicate both internally and externally, as well as how we work with the media.
MGM embraces social media and we know the ability to engage directly with customers in real-time has tremendous benefits and will only continue to grow.
The next big thing for the gaming industry is convergence, and there will be much more collaboration. MGM recently launched myVegas, a new social media game on Facebook, similar to Farmville, and has gotten great reception.
With social media, what happens locally can reach globally within a matter of minutes. This process needs to be managed effectively.
While the power of social media has become increasingly evident during times of crisis, it also holds true in the everyday course of media relations. It is important to reach the media where they are — and these days, they are online.
Social media hasn’t completely replaced traditional forms of media yet — PR professionals just have many more channels and outlets with which to engage.
When you think about social from a customer perspective, remember to treat every guest like they’re the media, because now, they are. Every person has the ability to influence audiences like never before.
What trends do you foresee for the PR profession?
Technology and the Internet have forever changed our business. The decline of mainstream media and the growth of the Web provide many new opportunities for PR professionals. Content marketing, mobile marketing, search and SEO and measurement are big trends.
There is more integration among the different forms of communication — public relations, advertising, marketing, social media, interactive. It doesn’t matter where you got your start. Today, we are all generating online content, and this is a growth opportunity for the profession.
Managing Editor Amy Jacques interviewed Mary Cracchiolo Spain for this month’s member profile.
Any three dinner guests?
Albert Einstein, John F. Kennedy and Jimmy Buffett
Favorite leisure time activity?
Boating on the Gulf of Mexico, particularly the Gulf Islands National Seashore, and scuba diving
“Gone with the Wind,” “Bonnie & Clyde,” “Splendor in the Grass,” “Forrest Gump,” “The Godfather” and “Almost Famous”