Culture, Comms, & Cocktails is a new podcast where internal communications is served straight up. I’m your host, Chuck Gose, strategic advisor at SocialChorus. Over cocktails, I’ll introduce you to the latest ideas in corporate culture and real-world examples of how to engage employees with the best workplace communications programs.
For our inaugural podcast, I’m excited to introduce Rey Bouknight as our guest. Rey is the Executive Director of Internal Brand and Engagement Strategy at MGM Resorts International. He joins us in Las Vegas to talk about the importance of aligning your external brand message with the brand message you deliver to employees internally. Rey will speak about some new campaigns MGM Resorts International just launched, their new LEO branded app, and (of course) the best place to get a killer drink in Vegas.
So, settle in, drink in the knowledge—some shaken, some stirred, and maybe even some with a twist— and enjoy the top-shelf wisdom from our guests.
We feature communications leaders every second and fourth Tuesday of the month. Don’t miss an episode of Culture, Comms, & Cocktails. Subscribe now wherever you listen to podcasts (Apple, Google Play, Stitcher, etc.)
“As we rolled out this external campaign called “Welcome to the Show,” we launched an internal campaign called “We are the Show,” which helped our employees to understand their role, their importance, in delivering on that brand promise of wowing our guests and for them to recognize that they truly are the stars of the show.”
– Rey Bouknight, Executive Director of Internal Brand and Engagement Strategy, MGM Resorts International
Chuck Gose: I’m your host Chuck Gose, strategic advisor at SocialChorus, and I’m excited to have Rey Bouknight as our guest. Rey is the executive director of Internal Brand and Engagement Strategy and is joining us today from Las Vegas, a city very near and dear to my heart. Rey, thanks for joining me to talk about Culture, Comms, & Cocktails.
Rey Bouknight: Hey, Chuck. I’m so happy to be here. It’s such an honor to speak with you, and thanks for inviting me. Looking forward to this conversation.
Chuck Gose: Well, and I was fortunate to get to work with you and your team at MGM Resorts this past summer so it is a special privilege having you join us here for the first episode. So to kick things off, so people get a little sense of your background, talk a little bit about your role as executive director of Internal Brand and Engagement Strategy there at MGM Resorts.
Rey Bouknight: Sure. So this role is actually a fairly new one for our company. I have the honor of being the first one to serve in this role, and I’ve been serving in it for about the last two years. Before that, I was executive director of Corporate Comm for six years with the company. So I’m coming up on eight years with MGM Resorts International.
Rey Bouknight: So the reason that it was created is because our company’s leadership really recognized the importance of aligning our external brand message or that what we are delivering to our guests, with the brand message that we are delivering to our employees. And so we figured it would make sense to have a team member within HR within our Events and Communications department leading a campaign to ensure that there’s alignment between the two.
Chuck Gose: And so when you think about the internal brand there at MGM Resorts, what are some of the words that come to mind or what are some of the things that you think impact your brand the most?
Rey Bouknight: So our brand has been evolving a little bit. We actually launched in the fall of 2017 a new brand campaign, an external brand campaign, it was actually something new for our company to do. You’re probably aware that we have many resorts and many brands but there’s also our company-wide brand, MGM Resorts International. And so for the first time we launched a national campaign really articulating what ties all of our properties together, which comes down to entertainment. That we’re not a hotel company or not just a gaming company, but we really feel like we exist to entertain and to wow our guests.
Rey Bouknight: So that was really the rallying cry for our company as we launched that, again, in 2017, the fall, and we relaunched it in 2018. And, to answer your question, that’s what it comes down to. Our brand is we believe that entertainment is a fundamental human need, and we believe people come to Las Vegas and to our resorts to be wowed, to have an extraordinary experience that you cannot experience any other place.
Rey Bouknight: So as far as how does internal brands tie to that, from my perspective brand is really when you are setting an expectation or a promise and then the extent to which you’re able to deliver on that promise. And so that’s where my role comes into play, internal brand, which with this new campaign that we are launching and as we are telling our guests that we really want to wow you in a way that you’ve never been wowed before, we recognize that we needed to internally begin to share that message to ensure that our employees are able to deliver on that promise and deliver on that expectation.
Rey Bouknight: So as we were rolling out this external campaign called Welcome to the Show, we launched an internal campaign called We are the Show, which helped our employees to understand their role, their importance, in delivering on that brand promise of wowing our guests and for them to recognize that they truly are the stars of the show, and that’s what this internal campaign has done, We are the Show. It’s made them the really center stage if I can use that vernacular. Center stage of our company. Center stage of the show that we put on for our guests for each one that walks through the door so that they would really have that wow experience.
Chuck Gose: To take a little tie-in from something you mentioned earlier, round time together all the resorts, when I mentioned I got to work with you and your team this summer, we worked together on launching a new communications program there called LEO, which is very much about wowing people and getting people all aligned on messaging. Before we get too much into that program itself, it did include an app as part of it.
Chuck Gose: More importantly, it was very important for your organization to give the program a personality. Even when I was on site with you and the team, we had talked about creating almost like a mascot feel, and your team even created a mask of which many ways you’re the man behind the mask of LEO, of this lion head. Why was this important to give this new program a personality? Is this part of that wow aspect or why was this important to your group?
Rey Bouknight: So, yeah, I’m one of many people who have worn that mask, and it’s kind of a joke within our office who’s going to wear it next. The point is that it was really important for us to provide an identity, a personality, to the app because we felt like it would allow us a lot more creativity as it pertains to the content that you’ll see on LEO as well as creativity related to how we should engage our employees when it comes to LEO.
Rey Bouknight: It all comes back to the brand. So if we are an entertainment brand, if we are a brand that wants to wow our guests but also our employees, then the app, if it’s in alignment with our brand, should be doing the same thing. That’s when we recognized and we had the idea of giving the app a personality. You know, Siri has a personality, Alexa has a personality, so we felt like to keep in line with those apps, LEO should have a personality. LEO’s personality is in alignment with our brand. It’s fun, entertaining. The type of content you’ll see is content that we feel like our employees want to see and we’ve surveyed them to understand what that is.
Rey Bouknight: And it’s content that provides our employees with even a closer look at some of the great experiences that we are able to provide our guests much more closely within what they typically would be able to see.
Chuck Gose: When I was on site we talked specifically about this entertainment aspect of the content because we were going through content strategy and some of those conversations. We started to realize what we were talking about maybe wasn’t the most exciting things, but how can we use maybe some of the entertainment aspects of MGM Resorts and bring that into LEO. So other than some of those sort of behind the scenes looks, what other ways has this entertainment aspect been reflected inside the program?
Rey Bouknight: So one thing the program really helped us to do, it brought in the forms of communication that we could provide our employees with. So the challenge that we are facing is that we’re a very large organization. We have 81,000 employees. However, the majority of our employees aren’t on email. Even for those who are on email, when you’re communicating to them, there are certain limitations related to emailing them when it comes to video content, GIFs, other types of content that people are used to seeing on social media.
Rey Bouknight: So what LEO has allowed us to do is it’s allowed us to deliver content in a new and more engaging way especially in the way of pictures, GIFs, video content, that has aligned with really what I feel is our brand, which is tied back to entertainment. So that’s one of the advantages that LEO has provided us with. It’s provided a more engaging forum for us to engage with our employees than say email or the other more traditional ways that we are communicating to them through any other means that just … It’s not as dynamic. It’s not as engaging as what we’ve been able to do with LEO.
Chuck Gose: And then I know a lot of the content that comes in is employee generated, so employees are sharing videos and photos. As someone on the communications team, what has that experience been like seeing your employees so proud of who they are, what they do, who they work with, to then want to share that to this large audience?
Rey Bouknight: It’s been great to see. The pictures, the videos that our employees have been submitting, it reflects on the culture of our properties. Right now, we’ve only rolled out to Mandalay Bay, but we’ll be rolling out to other properties as well. We’ve rolled out the app to our corporate entities too. So what you see is, you’ll see the culture of those entities reflected in the content submitted by our employees.
Rey Bouknight: They enjoy seeing their pictures, seeing their videos posted. They also enjoy seeing videos submitted by their leaders and shared by the leaders and other colleagues too. Commonly you’ll see pictures and videos submitted of our employees volunteering and giving back to the community. You’ll see pictures and videos of our employees recognizing each other as well. It’s a great platform for our managers to recognize our employees, how they are leading the show as we call it. How they are making sure that we are providing our employees with that wow experience that we are promising.
Chuck Gose: It’s important to note, so LEO launched back in the September timeframe in 2018. So still very young, but some great successes for your team and the organization. What are some of the goals you see coming on now in 2019? Where do you want to take LEO? What do you want to see in LEO as you guys mature with the program and also as employees become more habitual and familiar with LEO?
Rey Bouknight: Well, the first goal is to drive adoption even more, to get more and more employees on it. Part of that is rolling it out to additional properties too. So that’s really the first step. In order to do that though it comes down to the content that is on the app, how to drive employees to the app, and we want them to use the app because it’s not something that’s mandatory for them. It’s something that we want them to want to do.
Rey Bouknight: Also, we want to provide an added value to the employee through the app and provide information that they typically wouldn’t be able to receive unless it was through the app. I would first say adoption. Tied to that I would say content. And thirdly I would say gathering their feedback and understanding what their experience is like in order to evolve the platform even more to fit what their wants are, their desires are, as well as making sure that it aligns with our business objectives.
Chuck Gose: And importantly when we talk about getting that employee feedback, you and your team have done a great job of doing that, what are some of the adjustments you’ve made in the program based on what employees have told you?
Rey Bouknight: They’ve provided feedback that they wanted the experience on LEO to be very much like the experience they have on other apps. The timing was great because some of the feedback we received and requests that our employees were making to us included being able to comment on posts, being able to tag other employees in posts. I said the timing was great because the software updated around the same time that these requests were coming in. So overall I think the feedback has been wanting to have an experience that’s similar to the apps that they use on their mobile devices and it’s been great to see how the technology has evolved just naturally to help us respond to those requests and those needs.
Chuck Gose: Rey, I’ve been impressed with you and the team assembled. It sounds very marvel there, but you guys did assemble a great team to help lead LEO and continue to grow LEO, so I applaud you and your team’s efforts. You’ve dedicated yourselves to it. You’ve made tweaks. You’ve made adjustments, but you went forward with a plan. I think showing the responses from the employees whether it’s the adoption numbers, the participation numbers, it certainly shows that there was a need out there, MGM Resorts saw that need, and you guys and your team are now fulfilling that need for employees. Hopefully, as we go into 2019, 2020, 2021, we just see LEO continue to grow and be this great resource for not just the employees but also management and leadership there at MGM Reports.
Rey Bouknight: Yeah. I’m really excited about what 2019 is going to bring. I think we’re off to a great start now that we’ve begun with corporate employees and Mandalay Bay employees. I’m looking forward to what this year’s going to bring as we roll it out to the additional properties too. And, like you said, gathering feedback and understanding how things can continue to evolve in order to meet the requests of our employees, but also make sure that what we’re providing is in alignment with our business objectives too.
Chuck Gose: So the podcast is called Culture, Comms, & Cocktails. So we’ve covered the Culture part, we’ve covered the Comms part, now let’s cover the cocktail part. As I said, Las Vegas is a place very near and dear to my heart. There are some amazing cocktails, amazing places to get cocktails there in Las Vegas. So what is your favorite cocktail out there, Rey? Or what’s your favorite place, of course, at an MGM resort, favorite place to grab a drink?
Rey Bouknight: So I’m excited to share with you what my favorite place to grab a drink is. I had the chance to have a sneak peek at … This might be a shameless plug, but I’ll share this anyway. A new place called On The Record, which is at Park MGM. It’s a nightclub. It’s a nightclub with a very cool vibe, a very chill vibe that is opening up New Year’s Eve. I had the chance to get a sneak peek with some colleagues, and I’ll tell you, it’s an amazing place. If you are able to come to Vegas and especially stay at Park MGM, definitely check it out.
Rey Bouknight: It’s a great place just to hang out, grab a few drinks. If you want to dance, you can dance. If you don’t, you can just hang back and enjoy the atmosphere. The music is great, and the overall atmosphere is very, very unique from what you would typically find at a nightclub. I’m not one to go to a bunch of nightclubs and you know jump on the dance floor, and that’s one reason why I like this club because it has such a chill atmosphere and environment. It’s definitely something special that if you are visiting Vegas definitely check it out, On The Record, at Park MGM.
Chuck Gose: So first off, Rey, all plugs should be shameless in my opinion. So the Park MGM new place On The Record, endorsed by Rey. I have not had the privilege of being there yet, but we’ll certainly check it out on my next visit to Las Vegas. Again, Rey, I want to thank you for being a guest on Culture, Comms & Cocktails. It can be a little scary being a guest on a podcast. It can be scarier being the first guest on a podcast, so thanks for being on here with me.
Rey Bouknight: It was my pleasure and, again, an honor to be the first. Thanks for the invitation. Thanks for your partnership and the entire SocialChorus team. Again, we’re excited about 2019 and know great things are on the way. Thanks again for having me.
Chuck Gose: If you’re still listening, join me and 400 other world-class communicators April 24th in New York City for FutureComms 2019. This day-long event showcases the best in internal communication to keep your skills sharp. Speakers have yet to be announced, but that will all happen soon enough. Registration information and pricing is available at FutureComms.SocialChorus.com. If you’ve already made the wise choice of being a SocialChorus customer, attend our customer forum the day before on April 23rd. You will get to meet many of the communicators that will be featured on this podcast.
Chuck Gose: Again, learn more at FutureComms.SocialChorus.com. Thank you, Rey Bouknight, for being the first guest on Culture, Comms, & Cocktails. This is far from my first podcast already, but it’s always a little nerve-wracking getting that very first episode out. I also want to thank each of you for listening in. This is Culture, Comms, & Cocktails internal comms served straight up. See you next time.
And if you need more inspiration, watch out latest video with AB InBev on how they connect 180,000 employees around the globe.