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MONOGRAM Is the marketing agency for luxury lifestyle operators

Amy Colbourn, managing director of business strategy for MONOGRAM, chats with Peter White

You’re running a Las Vegas resort that’s due to open soon. How do you stand out in a crowded marketplace? Ideally, you find an agency that thinks outside the box. In the case of Virgin Las Vegas, you pick up the phone and call MONOGRAM. It’s a newish marketing agency that paradoxically has a wealth of experience in Sin City. MONOGRAM Managing Director of Business Strategy Amy Colbourn unravels that paradox for our own Peter White in a recent conversation.

Could you begin by telling us a little about yourself?

I’m managing director of business strategy for MONOGRAM. I’m charged with focusing on business leadership, specifically in terms of brand strategy and business development. I help drive strategy and lead the teams who manage the relationships. I’ve been working with Executive Director John Schadler since O.H. Partners acquired the team from SK+G and opened the Las Vegas office five years ago.
I’ve spent the majority of my career on the East Coast, working for independent agencies. While there, I was able to lean into brand strategy and lead marketing efforts for local casinos, regional destinations, and several state lotteries, as well as drive global consumer brands. That experience was a great complement to the luxury-marketing and megaresort legacy of SK+G. I was inspired to take our work to the next level with industry-category focus and a dedicated team with a focused skill se

What do you love about being in the advertising industry?

One of the reasons why I love the advertising industry is because it’s always evolving. That means we have to stay in lock step with consumers, up to date on pop culture and abreast of innovation. We’re constantly operating in a growth mindset. Advertising is an exciting and dynamic industry.

Tell me more about the team at MONOGRAM.

As much as we are laser-focused on luxury, hospitality, destination, and casino marketing, we are committed to a team of experts who have the experience and who truly possess the passion for what we offer. We’re not for everyone and we’re OK with that notion. This is the kind of place where we’re always on. We’re always thinking about our clients' business.
Marketing specialists love working for agencies with a range of client verticals that offer a ton of exposure to different businesses, challenges and opportunities to do amazing things creatively. Agencies that specialize in marketing for a focused vertical, such as hospitality and take it to the next level of specialization. It requires a unique skill set, one that’s highly conceptual with the ability to define the experience. It’s highly emotive and requires the ability to deliver the experience. What we do is very brand-centric, meaning we have the ability to do effective brand marketing while also selling amenities. What we do requires a highly polished design aesthetic in order to create distinct visual identities or to imagine an experience from a back-of-the-napkin idea.

Tell me more about what makes the experience as a MONOGRAM client different.

MONOGRAM was created to deliver specifically for the clients it serves. Just as we help properties define customer-service culture as an element of the brand and a competitive advantage, we seek to offer the same level of personalized service to our clients. The experience for a MONOGRAM client is highly skilled and very personalized.
We realized that we had an existing set of clients who had expectations that were aligned with the hospitality businesses they serve and that we needed to shift operationally to specifically align with these expectations. This means going beyond defining our client-service culture to cater to the needs of the hospitality sector. It’s the invisible promise of an experience — an experience that delivers 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It’s about making intangibles more tangible. It’s about competitive advantages that are based on emotions and not things.
MONOGRAM serves a different kind of client. The clients themselves are high-touch and require personalized service just like the customers they market to, and guests they serve.

What notable projects has MONOGRAM been involved with recently?

We work with clients on a lot of international casino's, resort's, and destination projects that are highly confidential and have long development times — up to five, six or even eight years from conception to opening. With these projects we’re bringing a brand vision to life as projects are conceptualized working alongside architects, investors and designers.
That aside, one of the most fun brands we’ve worked with recently is Virgin Hotels. We reimagined Virgin’s loyalty program, “The Know,” when it was rapidly expanding throughout North America. It was a fun way to take loyalty from the transactional nature most consumers are familiar with — like points and rewards — and adopting a lifestyle approach to loyalty that is more about personalization and preferences. I could go on …

Tell us more about the project’s development phases and what they involved?

Virgin Hotels’ work, along with our depth of knowledge in the Las Vegas market, parlayed us into being the brand agency to introduce Virgin Hotels to Las Vegas. The beloved Virgin brand was up against a few challenges. First, replacing the acclaimed Hard Rock Hotel and, second, stepping into an off-Strip location.

We took all the rich equity the Virgin brand had to offer and leveraged the opportunity to appeal to a new demographic of visitors to Las Vegas — the ones with the been-there-done-that attitude who were looking for Las Vegas done differently. The launch campaign never gets old. It’s a truly refreshing experience and it was a hard nut to crack in the entertainment capital of the world. We’re pretty proud of having made it a success in many regards.

How does MONOGRAM expertise apply to the casino floor?

Great question. We concentrate all of our efforts in understanding the players within the competitive landscape to know how to position clients in any market — giving them a clear competitive advantage over all other options.
And, when it comes to casinos, you aren’t just competing with other casinos.
When you know who you are and what you have to offer, you can really focus on the people who buy your products and services rather than worrying about what the competition is up to.
You’ve had a couple of incredibly busy years. What can we expect next from MONOGRAM? What projects do you have for 2024?
You can expect us to take the lead in terms of thought leadership and innovation. Hospitality is one of the fastest-growing sectors and its competitive nature will require more from brands in terms of marketing. The ones who are best able to create smart positioning strategies, and who are able to develop and deliver messages that resonate with consumers will be the ones who win. I’m not going to name names because that would give away too much information. Be sure to follow us as our success stories continue to unfold this year.

What would you like to see in the future from MONOGRAM? Are there any dream collaborations, projects or ideas that haven’t come to life as of yet?

We’ve been doing this for a very long time and, at the same time, we’re just getting started. So, in terms of the future for MONOGRAM, the sky's the limit. We just know we won’t settle. When it comes to clients, we don’t want just anyone. We want brands that seek to be exceptional and are willing to do what it takes to be exceptional. The same goes for our team.
It’s been five years since SK+G Las Vegas and Phoenix-based The Harkey Group joined forces. How was the merger, culminating last year, in the organizations rebranding to MONOGRAM?
We did exactly what we do for our clients. We started with a clear mission, created a strong brand positioning and brought it to life. Every aspect of our brand is who we are, what we do and who we deliver for. We want clients to feel as much a part of the MONOGRAM brand as we do.
Another really important aspect is the company we keep. The clients we represent are all aspirationally aligned. They represent the best of the best — from a luxury development brand at Red Rock Canyon in Las Vegas to a multi-property resort, casino and spa in the romantic desert city of Palm Springs.

What are the key aspects of MONOGRAM that have been amongst the main reasons so many Las Vegas resorts and casinos have chosen the company over the years for brand development?

There’s a real market need for agency partners who add value and can help solve complex brand problems. Clients need someone who understands the industry, and can provide strategies to get there quicker and smarter. Another thing is that service and brand marketing is more complex; it has different needs and requires a different skillset. Spend an afternoon with John Schadler, and you will learn more about brand marketing and strategy for hospitality than some people learn in a lifetime. 

With so many advertising agencies, how does MONOGRAM plan to stand out?

We stand out because we focus on serving one industry and doing it better than any other agency. It means better understanding of the nuances, insights, audiences and industry so we can focus on building strategies for the future. When you understand, you’re better poised to help businesses navigate changing landscapes and gain the competitive edge. Specialization in luxury marketing means really understanding the luxury consumer and the competition in the market. We concentrate all of our efforts in understanding the luxury consumer, their pain points and what motivates them. This allows us to expertly craft and deliver messages in ways that resonate specifically with this group of consumers.

What does a speciality agency offering like MONOGRAM allow you to do?

MONOGRAM allows us to create a team that does one thing and does it better than anyone else. It also creates an agency that is a complement to The Harkey Group of agencies. While The Harkey Group focuses on being a holding company serving a range of clients, MONOGRAM focuses on brand marketing for luxury clients, most notably hospitality clients. There is a clear distinction between marketing products and services. In many cases we say we are marketing the invisible — the intangible aspects of an experience that, when added up, deliver a sense of perfection.

Image: Las Vegas Skyline Credit Shutterstock

How does a specialty agency offering like MONOGRAM make you more valuable to the clients you serve?

When we think about what clients want, we’re better prepared to deliver overall. We’re less likely to treat marketing as a handoff and we become much more engaged in the business strategy. We’re able to have a seat at the table to discuss strategies further up the marketing channel — even as part of business operations — and to operate as a true extension of the client team. Clients want communication and, more specifically, they want added-value communication. Clients want you to understand their business and their industry so that you can deliver strategic leadership, industry knowledge, business strategy (and how they make money), and new product innovation. Clients demand creativity and more so they want an agency that can help them be the unique voice in the room. And, they want media strategy as a specialized skill to work in tandem with the creative. We can deliver the things that clients want most.

Casino Life Magazine would like to thank Amy Colbourn and her team for all the cooperation provided to us that made this exclusive feature interview possible.

*** This interview was originally published in March 2024 edition of Casino Life Magazine Issue 164 ***