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.