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July 29, 2014

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Buying talent: Lisa Marchese, the Cosmopolitan

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John Gurzinski

The Cosmopolitan’s arrival has made Las Vegas concert booking even more competitive.

The Cosmopolitan’s chief marketing officer is part of a booking team comprising folks at the Cosmopolitan and at Austin-based concert promotion agency C3 Presents.

Musically speaking, how has the Cosmopolitan’s Year 1 experience informed its Year 2 strategies?

What’s interesting about our property is the way the music programming and experience is woven into the overall experience. Because our footprint is so vertical, I think you encounter music in entirely different ways here. Whether it’s out at Boulevard Pool or looking down from your window onto Thursdays Live or walking through the casino and seeing the entertainment at Chandelier, it’s just much more woven into the totality of the experience. And I think that was something we anticipated. Our commitment to a more eclectic, independent programming approach, I think, has also helped us solidify our reputation, both as a brand and as a venue. And that’s something I think we’re gonna stay true to. That doesn’t mean we can’t explore genres, from country to rock to indie to house, but there’s something in the curation of all the styles and venues that I think is really working.

Music is intended to be part of the overall Cosmo experience. Does that give you more freedom in choosing acts and deciding how much you can spend, since your bookings don’t need to pencil out show by show?

You’re exactly right—with 4,000 seats in the Chelsea [Ballroom], there are gonna be some acts that just don’t pencil, and we’re still going to invest in them, because we think it’s the right thing to do for the brand and for the customer. Then there are things we do where there’s much lower risk, and we know they’ll pencil, and we do those, too. So I think it’s finding the right blend of those.

How does booking an act typically work, logistically speaking? Does C3 come to you with acts that will be in the area and together you decide which are right for the Cosmo?

It certainly can work that way, and then we often ask them about things, if there are artists that we think would be accretive to our programming that maybe aren’t on a tour schedule that brings them near Las Vegas, that we want to pursue. So it’s a combination. There’s a lot of dialogue back and forth. It’s been one of our most successful relationships. They bring so much expertise to the table and insight around the music industry, in trends as well as booking. And we have such a strong sense of what we want the experience to be for our guests, that I think it works very well.

We’re also, probably, willing more than most to take some informed risks on artists that are up-and-coming. We’ve been very fortunate in that regard, with bands like Mumford and Sons or Foster the People or Florence [and the Machine]. We had all those folks last year, before they were quite as mainstream as they are now.

It’s not always dependent on the touring. Sometimes we try to get folks we know aren’t touring. For us that’s a home run, if we can get somebody who’s not playing LA. Obviously it’s much harder and more expensive, but it’s certainly more interesting.

How much does the loss leader concept—that folks will come for shows and spend money elsewhere—play into your booking? Or is it more about brand building?

It’s both. If we can book talent that we know will appeal to a gaming-centric customer, that’s fantastic. So it’s certainly a consideration. It’s finding the right mix—it can’t simply be an either/or.

Certain free Book & Stage shows might mostly draw locals, who won’t spend much money on property. Do you remain committed to that type of act?

There’s no downside in bringing people to the property. [And] I think the programming that we’ve done in those kinds of venues, where it’s not ticketed, has really earned us a lot of credibility from a brand perspective. It’s earned us a lot of goodwill with the local community, which we value immensely. And it’s created a fantastic story with the artist community.

So not everything is about revenue, but that’s certainly a core factor in deciding. We will continue to tweak the volume and find the right mix of Book & Stage, Chandelier, Thursdays Live, the Chelsea ... And we stay committed to that concept. It’s core to our identity.

The Book & Stage residencies have slimmed down a bit since the start, when they were four-night, twice-a-night.

I think it’s just continued refinement. On a Saturday night that’s a really congested pivot-point in the property, so I think we continue to learn how guests move through the resort and where the experience feels best. A lot of the bigger Book & Stage acts have moved to Boulevard Pool because it’s a more compelling venue. The acoustics are better, the view’s stunning. It’s just a better experience for the guests. So we’ll continue to do that, on all levels.

And that’s kind of the fascinating part about Las Vegas—these properties continue to reinvent themselves, and I think we’re kind of learning what works best. But at the same time Book & Stage is a fantastic venue, artists love it, and when you get the right performer in there, it’s a home run.

Last summer you had a free small-stage pool series. This summer you have a $20 series over by the main pool.

It allows us to do two things. It allows us to explore bigger acts. I remember that second stage that was over by the yard, and it wasn’t the best experience for the artist or the guest. We’ve upgraded those this summer, and in order to do that we needed to charge something without being price prohibitive on any level. But because we’re charging, we can book bands like fun. We can provide an intimate experience on the side of the Strip with a band that you’re hearing on the radio. And no one else can do that at that price point.

And the other thing we’ve learned is that the Boulevard Pool experience is phenomenal. I think when you live in Las Vegas you sort of write the summer off as too hot. But in the evening, it’s a beautiful experience. And it’s a space we’re going to try to leverage more and more. It’s distinct from everything else in the market.

In our last interview before he left the Cosmopolitan, entertainment director Rehan Choudhry expressed an interest in lining up more local acts there. Is that still a goal?

Yeah, absolutely, and you see that play out in the property. The next P3 [fine art] artist is a local artist, and we had Jerry Misko in there. There are some very talented residents in Las Vegas, and we try to tap into that.

[Local acts interested in contacting the Cosmo can email [email protected]]

And lastly, in that interview with Choudhry, when I asked about rumors of a new, dedicated-music venue, he said the hotel was working on a “pretty killer concept.” Can you give us an update?

We are getting closer to the killer concept. It has progressed and we’re excited about it, but there’s nothing I can share quite yet.

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