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Interview with Ashley Farkas 150 150 unlvdeca

Interview with Ashley Farkas



Ms. Ashley Farkas is the Executive Director of Public Relations at MGM Resorts International.

My role is responsible for leading all external communication strategies and plans that promote key initiatives and drive MGM Resort International’s reputation on a global scale. I’m responsible for building, advancing, and protecting the company’s position as a global hospitality leader as well as driving visibility, engagement, and awareness through targeted domestic and international media efforts across all mediums: online, print and broadcast. I work alongside our PR department colleagues to obtain media coverage for all of our resort brands including programming, attractions, food and beverage, nightlife, entertainment, gaming, art and culture, spas, wedding chapels, pools, new amenities, and any type of corporate-wide consumer programs. I also support our regional properties domestically for any new openings or initiatives. MGM Resorts has an amazing portfolio here in Las Vegas and around the world.

Within our department, there are three Executive Directors who each oversee one of the following verticals: Food and Beverage, Entertainment and Nightlife and Resorts. We are all responsible for mentoring a team of high performing PR professionals in a work environment that is positive, collaborative and inclusive. I oversee the Food and Beverage team, which focuses on media support and coverage for restaurants, bars, lounges, chefs, mixologists, sommeliers, new restaurant openings, food and beverage executives speaking on behalf of Las Vegas and domestic culinary trends; and more. The Entertainment and Nightlife team manages media requests that focus on T-Mobile Arena, MGM Grand Garden Arena, Park Theater, Mandalay Bay Events Center, dayclubs, nightclubs, music award shows, UFC, boxing and many other projects in that realm. Next, our Resorts team focuses on rooms, spas, wedding chapels, art and culture, pools, attractions, international media requests and corporate initiatives. Even though each team has a focus area, we regularly collaborate across teams on a variety of projects. Teamwork is what makes achieving results possible.

I learned about Public Relations through a college internship. I studied at Michigan State University and received my B.A. degree in Journalism. During my junior year, my counselor came to me and said, “You have to get an internship in order to graduate with your degree.” I started looking at different news stations to intern at in East Lansing, as my career focus was to be a broadcast journalist. Well, there was a change of plans in store for me. Very randomly, it’s almost like it was meant to be, my neighbor that lived across the street from my mom came home to visit his parents as I was looking in to internship possibilities. My mom said, “Why don’t you go talk to him? [his name is Paul, he lives in Las Vegas]. He’s in the entertainment world. Ask him what is out there. You love entertainment, you love sports, you love celebrity news – it seems like all that stuff is happening in Vegas, just go talk to him. Get another perspective.” So, I went across the street, we chatted for a while, and he said, “All of these great events that are coming out of Vegas are put on by our Public Relations team. Whether you’re seeing something on TV or reading it through the news, it is all managed within that department.” I was very interested after our conversation so I started doing my own research, looking at internship programs not just in Vegas, but also around the country. What he said really intrigued me and I thought maybe I should try something different. I had been so focused on journalism at Michigan State, I felt I should expand my skillset- experience a new career field.

I looked at internship programs at MGM Resorts International, Wynn and every other casino operator on The Strip. The Venetian was the one that worked out and I did a three-month internship at the resort. I enjoyed it so much that when I returned home I told my mom that I loved the PR world and that this was what I wanted to do as a career. It opened me up to so many different people and experiences, and the fast-paced lifestyle of always doing something new. What I loved most about my internship is that, at the time, there were only three of us in PR department – a Director, a Manager, and me. The internship allowed me to receive a lot of hands-on experience. I was making phone calls, staffing photo shoots, attending meetings, providing property scouts, writing media alerts, pulling together press reports and so much more. It really opened my eyes to what a career in Public Relations could offer and that is what fueled my passion to want to further advance in to that field.

A fun memory I recall is right before I came home to Michigan, TAO Nightclub was getting ready to open at The Venetian, and I thought “wow, this is so cool.” I wanted to stay and be part of the opening but alas, I had to return to finish my senior year! Anyway, I’ll never forget that when I was back at Michigan State, I got a mailed invitation to attend TAO’s grand opening and all I could think about was how bad I wanted to be there to see the entire event unfold. It really solidified my decision that I wanted to go back to Vegas. After getting that invite, I emailed my manager at The Venetian to ask if there was an opportunity to come back for a winter internship. I wanted to show The Venetian how serious I was about working there after graduation. She said yes, I could come back over winter break, and I did. After that internship was complete, I asked if there were any opportunities to come on board as an official employee at The Venetian. After two and a half to three months, my manager called me to say they created a PR Coordinator position for me. Right before graduation, I accepted the position and the rest is history. I graduated from MSU in May of 2006, my mom and I drove out together and she helped me move into my first apartment, which was right on Flamingo – very central Las Vegas. I started my career from there.

I didn’t know enough about PR to know this was for sure what I wanted to do until I took that internship. Truly, it changed my life. Here I am now, going on 14 years of working in Las Vegas and it is because of that amazing opportunity.

Being in this role, the volume of requests that come in is unbelievable because media from all over the world are inquiring about Vegas, which as a PR professional is a dream. You are speaking to media from all different destinations about what is happening in your own backyard. The media interest and the amount of people coming in to the destination are incredible. It brings such a fun energy. Vegas is always reinventing itself with new hotel products, new rooms, new restaurants, new attractions, new entertainment and so much more. We have the NHL with the Vegas Golden Knights and WNBA with the Las Vegas Aces and this year we’ll have the NFL with the Raiders. The city is action-packed and it is fun to be part of sharing that story with the world.

In addition, working with all of the partners and clients at the resorts is an important responsibility and requires clear communication and serious organizational skills. You’re meeting with dozens and dozens of resort professionals regularly, across various brands, to talk through priorities along with strategy and execution. There can be a lot happening at once so making sure you are managing all of the projects concurrently is a requirement.

Excellent verbal and written communication skills would be key to success in the Public Relations field. Verbal communication is important when you are speaking at a meeting or giving a presentation – you want to be able to clearly communicate your vision to stakeholders in the room. Also, making sure agendas, press releases, fact sheets, decks – whatever it is that’s coming from you – your written communication must be flawless. You always want to be known as a communications professional and that comes down to having excellent communication skills on a consistent basis.

Organization is another critical skill to have in this role. After every meeting, I take the agenda we reviewed and email it out to the attendees listing action items for each person, along with deadlines and dates. This way everyone is on the same page with regards to next steps. If a team member has questions about anything in my email, they can respond to the entire group so that everyone can see, in real time, any updates or additional communication surrounding the topic. Other platforms I use include Google Drive, One Drive, Excel and Teams – you just have to pick the platform that works best for you. As long as it is consistent and everyone you are working with can access it and work in it, you are setting yourself up for success.

Creativity is another highly valued and important skill. As we’re coming up with resort plans and programs the first thing we think about is, how can we do this differently? How do we set ourselves apart from another brand? From another resort property? For example, when Bruno Mars approached us about his 24K Magic music video, we thought about how we could implement a resort feature to receive brand recognition. Everyone knows the fountains; it is one of the world’s most iconic attractions. When you see the fountains go up in the music video, you instantly know Bruno is at Bellagio. Thinking of cool ways we can have an impact, when we’re initiating these different experiences or media requests or partnerships is so important. Creativity is not just for big stunts but also for media pitches media too. Whether we’re talking about a new spa product or restaurant menu, we again think about how we can tell the story in an impactful way. Joel Robuchon at MGM Grand is the only restaurant in the world to carry all of the bottles of an exclusive spirits collection – that’s a unique story and we’re talking to media about it. We always are thinking of creative ways to generate exposure for our brands so being able to think outside of the box is a great skill to have in this field.

The ability to create relationships also is a critical skill to hone in the PR world. If you’re constantly speaking to media and you want to be that trusted source that they always go to, having really great communication with them and being that person that they can rely on is very important. When media are calling on deadline and need information ASAP, they need to know that you’re going to pick up the phone or respond to their email and help them. This also includes building relationships with your clients and partners so that as you are in meetings together and working through projects, they trust that you are gathering the information, pitching it, securing coverage and sending results of what you accomplished. Clients want to know: What media outlets picked it up? What conversations are you having? What new pitch ideas can we continue to foster with this story moving forward? Even if we are just in this moment right now in the launch, what can we continue to do? Always, one thing that we’ll do is distribute PR reports so our property clients and partners can see results. That way it is clear on who we’re speaking to, what media stories we’re looking to secure in specific outlets, what clips have placed and what future plans will be once the initial launch stage has been implemented.

My next recommended skill would be being a team player. In this role, you work with many people, personalities and communication styles and it is important to be able to collaborate. You need to be able to jump into a project and know in advance that you’ll have to adapt and change based on the team you are working with, so that you can move forward efficiently.

Initiative also is an important skill to have in PR. You have to think fast and be accurate. There’s moments based on the news cycle where you do not have time to sit and plan, you have to execute quickly and effectively. Taking initiative, whether a journalist calls or someone at the property calls and needs something, and coming up with a solution to make it happen is key. Working with your clients and being that trusted, reliable source that they know is going to get the job done comes after time in your role and multiple examples of executing a task with great results. I’ve really appreciated building strong relationships with media and property clients. We have built a great bond of trust and that is very important to me. I feel that if you don’t have trust, it is very hard to continue forward in any relationship.

My final skill recommendation would be, and I actually say this one a lot when interviewing candidates, is being able to adapt to change. You need to be able to pivot your direction and change the course multiple times while staying calm and collected. Many careers allow for the same exact tasks to happen every day with little to no change, which is great. In the PR world, we do not live in the black and white. We live in the gray. There may be times where we’re executing a project or we’re working on a certain plan, and we have to shift gears because something new came up, there’s a new development that happened or we need to change gears due to a new development. For example, you could be working on a project that needs to get completed by end of day but then all of a sudden a major national TV show calls and wants to come down to your property in the next hour to do a filming. You need to keep working on the initial project but also start setting up all of the logistics for the filming. A lot of multitasking comes in to play in those moments. It gets your adrenal going, that’s for sure! But it is those types of experiences that make the job so fun and rewarding.

I loved my experience in the Executive MBA Program! To answer the first question, I do miss being on campus and being in the academic environment. I love to learn new concepts or ideas, so being a part of UNLV really allowed me to grow new skills; new skill sets, and in turn put those skills immediately into use in the real world.

What I enjoyed most about the EMBA Program was being part of a Cohort. Learning form people with different backgrounds and careers was an amazing gift and a major highlight of that experience. We all approached solutions to problems from different perspectives so it was very interesting to learn how someone came to their conclusion. I would think, ‘wow, I never thought of that” because I wouldn’t have had the background knowledge they did having had professional experience in their roles. For example, finance and accounting – two subjects that were definitely not my strong suit. We had to give a presentation in our accounting class and there were two professionals in my group for that class who had careers in that field. I learned a lot from them as they explained the context of the financial concept in “real world” terms, which further allowed me to learn how our presentation concept would be applied in a business setting. Now, when I’m in a meeting and financial concepts are brought up, I have background knowledge and understanding so I can be following right along in the conversation. This aligns with my purpose in wanting to take part in the UNLV EMBA program – it was important for me to be able to understand skills and principles of the business world that I may not be privy to in my everyday career. The EMBA program allowed me to position myself as a well-rounded business professional and for that I am truly grateful.

For those beginning their college careers, don’t be afraid to switch your major. Many students come in to college thinking they know exactly what they want to do and as they learn more about a particular field of study, they decide it isn’t what they thought it would be or they find they don’t have any interest in pursuing that topic. Don’t feel that just because you signed up for a particular major that you absolutely have to stick with it. You don’t. Explore other topics and career fields and find something you’re passionate about. Also, get an internship. This also will tell you if you do or do not like a particular job field. It would be better to know early on during an internship than to take a job and decide then that you would prefer to do something else. And if you don’t enjoy the internship, that is ok too. Look at every experience as an opportunity to learn something new.

For those graduating this semester, I would say take any opportunity that comes your way. It may not be exactly what you thought you wanted to do or the exact company you wanted to work for – that’s ok. In any new job, you’re going to learn. Maybe it turns out to be an incredible experience and you love it. Or, maybe you stay a little while, and you decide you need to move on. Either way, seizing opportunity along with soaking up knowledge from your new boss and teammates is just as important for your professional growth as it is for your personal development. It’s not only the professional skills you will be learning – you’re also stepping into a real-world working environment, which is different from the college experience. That transition can be new and sometimes challenging for recent graduates. It can take time to adjust and to feel comfortable in a new normal. In the long run, taking steps to embrace a new challenge will be extremely rewarding and beneficial and will make you a strong and resilient business professional.

Interview with Tim Notaro 150 150 unlvdeca

Interview with Tim Notaro




Mr. Tim Notaro is the Senior Partner for Aviano Consulting, a risk-focused, professional services consulting firm based in Las Vegas.

Just to give you a little background…My company is what my professionals are. People go to large firms, not just because of the name, but because of the folks who are actually working there. My first and primary goals was team building. I needed to be able to build a team of good professionals, because if I didn’t have good professionals, no one’s hiring us, I can’t sell. Selling is point number 2. If I do the job of point 1, it makes point 2 easier for me to do. You need to have quality talent to work on my team.

My firm is a little bit different than most companies out there. Consulting is kind of a rough gig. if you’re someone who needs a paycheck every two weeks, this isn’t your life. We make good money when we make it, and when we don’t, like in times like this, my team isn’t making anything. We can’t go to our clients. I actually just got approved for my payroll protection plan and I’m going to get that implemented. Even in these times, it goes up and down.

The next thing is selling. It’s based upon my relationships within my community and the business community. I’ve got a certain connection that would allow me to ask how things are going and offer my help, in any way they need. I know a lot of Chief Accounting Officers, CFOs, CEOs, in the valley and sometimes it leads to work and sometimes it doesn’t. Overall, I’m doing pretty good, I can’t complain. I’m definitely making more money than I was making at Deloitte. I don’t make as much money as I did when I was working at Sands, but when I worked at Sands, every month I would be flying to Asia, and I don’t miss that at all. I miss Asia, don’t get me wrong. I miss my team, when I was managing my internal audit folks, most of them were in China, most of the people who worked for me were Chinese nationals. It’s interesting to me that, that part of my life is in the past. Now, I’m building my own personal practice and my practice with those team members that I am trying to cultivate… hopefully, they are hopefully future entrepreneurs, in which they are building their own practice underneath my practice.

One of my team members came to me one day, and told me, “I really want to be good at something.” They wanted to build a market, they wanted to become a natural resource that companies would feel comfortable going to when they have a problem. That’s the exciting thing. If you don’t want a job that’s scary or exciting, go get a job at Southwest Gas, where you sit in a cube and work there for thirty years and then you retire. That’s perfectly fine for a lot of people. This is a lot more exciting, you got to hunt what you eat. This is sales.  As an accountant, this is kind of interesting because I am more of that ‘sit in a cubicle for thirty years kind of guy.’ I’m not a sales kind of person, but it’s finding team members who kind of align with that, and that makes the second part better. The final thing, as a Senior Partner, in addition to all this other stuff that I do, is administration. A lot of people don’t see that. In the movies, they only show the entrepreneur making the money, making the deals. Payroll, computers, making sure everything works, dealing with legal, I just emailed one of my insurance companies to make sure the unemployment insurance is correct. My position is dynamic, it’s constantly changing. Even though I’m an accountant, I received my accounting degree, but I haven’t been an accountant since I graduated. I’ve been an auditor, and I often say, ‘you don’t know what you’re going to be handed.’ When I was head of audit, I spent most of my time dealing with HR Managers, trying to hire people, train people. Anytime you have a bunch of people get together, they’ll have problems. There are different personalities. You have probably seen this in your group projects, right? You have your capstone project and you have 5 or 6 people, who are supposed to work together to create a product. Sometimes, it’s not easy getting everyone going in the same direction. The administration piece takes up a big chunk of my time. These are the three primary things I deal with as a Senior Partner.

What I like most about my job is that I help people with their problems, whatever that may be. Primarily, what Aviano does is it helps companies with risk and compliance issues. If you are a public company, it is a requirement for all public companies to have an internal controls process that gets evaluated by management and evaluated by external auditors. What me and my team do most is around Sarbanes-Oxley, which is making sure that the controls are working the way they’re supposed to. The thing about internal controls is that it’s more like preventing fraud, you don’t want someone who deals with procurement to also have the ability to write checks. This creates the opportunity to write their own checks or fabricate invoices. Part of what my team does is vet out and identify fraud. The best part of my career right now, is helping companies. When CEOs and CFOs call me up and say, “Hey Tim, can you come down here real quick, we have an audit committee meeting tomorrow, and we need your help.” They call us when they need help. I’m glad to say that we have mostly been able to help. I’ve had a call on Friday asking me to come into Atlanta on Monday due to a data breach and they needed to know how to respond. These situations where we are needed in an urgent matter is always very gratifying to me.

How did I get in here? An 18-year-old graduated high school and decided to join the military. All I asked for was a desk job. I didn’t know what I was doing, I just didn’t want to work outside, so that’s how I started on this path. Once I got onto this path, I stayed on this path. I was an accountant in the Air Force back in 1985, and you’re probably thinking, “Wow, my dad was born in 1985.” So, in 1985, I joined the Air Force and basically stayed in accounting my whole career. However, like I said, I stopped being an accountant when I graduated from UNLV and became an auditor. Over the course of my career, I’ve been tied to accounting.

A lot of people define their career by what they do. 90% of your career is the people, right? It’s the people you work for, the people you work with, and the people who work for you. Mostly, your job is people. It is not what spreadsheet you’re working on, what application you’re messing with. Once you move into your career, you end up managing people and that’s universal, whether you’re managing a factory, a marketing department, an accounting department, it all deals with people. This is business. So, look at the people that you see as leaders and try to emulate that because there is no book that teaches people how to be good people. There’s management books out there about theory y and theory x, but its all about creating a genuine connection. See how people manage you, both negative or positive. I’ve had horrible bosses, people who have screamed at me, but it has all been useful because how someone handles something in the bad times, shows their true colors. When I was separated from Deloitte, I was laid off with thousands of people. Our practice was 20,000 people globally, and I was just part of 12,000 people who were laid off during this time. It wasn’t hurtful, but how leadership, my direct supervisor handled that situation, colored my impression of her because it wasn’t positive. How do I want to be remembered by my team as they work for me? Was I fair? Was I truthful? Was I transparent? Those are the types of things that I look at as my career, kind of more the people than what I actually do. You’re going to do what you think you’re supposed to be doing only for a short period of time, most of your career is all the other stuff.

College gave me the basic tools to make me useful to walk through the door. Everything I learned about cybersecurity; nothing was from college. We had an IT accounting class that was horrendous, not useful at all, it was more about how to use a spreadsheet. You’re going to find things in the industry that you care about, whether its being an entrepreneur or monetary policy, whatever it is, that’s already driving your desires and inclinations to learn things.

One example I have, and I have lots of stories because I’m an old man. A buddy of mine, I worked with him on a project in Colorado during the Dotcom boom. He was a biomed major and he was helping with the Deloitte consulting implementation. He was going to become the storage guy. In college, he learned how to be a biomed person, working with pharmaceuticals and pursuing a medical career. Instead, that all went out the door. What he did learn in college was how to write and how to speak. Even though he didn’t have the credentials, he wasn’t an IT major, but he learned how to be the storage person on the job. Now, he a senior executive at Computer Associates, a huge storage company. One of the messages I always tell people is to be flexible as to what your perceived career path may be. You never know where it could take you.

I would say being genuine is first. A lot of people say you have to be a fantastic communicator. I think a lot of people who are eloquent communicators, but not very sincere are dismissed out of hand. Always be truthful to yourself and to others.

You also do need to be a strong communicator: both written, oral, and when you’re presenting. If you don’t have that credibility, whatever you’re saying, no one is listening. I typically do Web Conferences, so I can see people’s faces, so I can read them versus just a phone call. Phone calls are hard because you’re sitting there on the phone and at the same time, an email is popping up. Before the shutdown, I would have weekly calls with the Directors of Information Technology at these different casino properties. Every week, we would go over a checklist. Did you have any breaches? What major changes happened In your environment? What else do we need to talk about? While we’re doing this, I’m looking at all the faces and seeing whether or not they are paying attention to the call or looking at something else on the other screen. This level of professionalism is something that you always want to be striving for and showing respect to the people who are giving you their time to listen to you.

My experience at UNLV was kind of interesting. I was a night student, I worked full time during the day. I worked in accounting and went to school at night. What I do miss from that time were the people who were in the same boat as me. We were all starting off our careers, trying to better ourselves. One guy worked at the front desk at the Mirage. He got his accounting degree and eventually became an internal auditor. He ended up opening up casinos in Mexico.

I miss those times, when things were exciting. There were infinite possibilities, whereas now I’m probably looking at 12 or 15 years left in my career until I’m done. It’s interesting because I still look at, owning my own consultancy, I’m being asked where we are going to go as a team. With the coronavirus shutting me down, my firm’s going to just dissolve. We’re hanging in right now. That brings me to an important lesson. When it comes to starting businesses, if it succeeds, awesome. If it doesn’t, don’t personalize it because it’s a learning situation. I’ve started at least three businesses now, two of which didn’t work out.

My experience at UNLV was kind of interesting. I was a night student, I worked full time during the day. I worked in accounting and went to school at night. What I do miss from that time were the people who were in the same boat as me. We were all starting off our careers, trying to better ourselves. One guy worked at the front desk at the Mirage. He got his accounting degree and eventually became an internal auditor. He ended up opening up casinos in Mexico.

I miss those times, when things were exciting. There were infinite possibilities, whereas now I’m probably looking at 12 or 15 years left in my career until I’m done. It’s interesting because I still look at, owning my own consultancy, I’m being asked where we are going to go as a team. With the coronavirus shutting me down, my firm’s going to just dissolve. We’re hanging in right now. That brings me to an important lesson. When it comes to starting businesses, if it succeeds, awesome. If it doesn’t, don’t personalize it because it’s a learning situation. I’ve started at least three businesses now, two of which didn’t work out.

Be a critical consumer of information, whether it’s for your career, your education, walking through life, picking a spouse, deciding to have children, be a critical consumer of information so that you have all the facts in front of you to make good decisions. You’re not always going to make a good decision, but learn from that.

Be open-minded, be flexible to things, but at the same time, be true to yourself as an individual. That is the one thing you can control, it’s who you are and how you treat other folks.