After World War II the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, in an effort to boost tourism, launched a Live Wire Fund promotional campaign. Steve Hannagan and Associates, the last of three public relations agencies to handle the publicity effort, established the Desert Sea News Bureau in 1947, which changed its name to the Las Vegas News Bureau in 1949. When Hannagan did not have his contract renewed, the bureau became a division of the Chamber of Commerce and was later renamed the Las Vegas News Bureau. The mission of the bureau changed little from its inception until it became an agency within the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority in 1992. It sought, in the words of Don Payne, who headed the bureau for nearly a quarter century, to create "a desire in the American people to find a reason to come to Las Vegas."
In its first years, the bureau sought, through saturating the nation's media with photos and copy, to make Las Vegas a household name. Bureau photographers devoted most of their time to three types of photos. Because most Americans did not have swimming pools, the photographers often began their days with a "hometown" run to the resort hotels along the famed Las Vegas Strip looking for couples they could photograph. They wanted to capture images of average Americans enjoying themselves at a resort pool and, with the couple's permission, send the photo to their hometown newspaper. They also used almost any excuse to send to all media markets "cheesecake" photos. These pictures of attractive young women in swimsuits or alluring costumes, always captioned with a Las Vegas dateline, were intended to capture readers' attention. Finally, the resort hotels often had the bureau photographers blanket the nation with pictures of entertainers who were performing in their showrooms and lounges.
Bureau staffers saw these types of photos as crucial in persuading Americans that Las Vegas was a relaxing, luxurious, exciting, and fun place to vacation. Rarely did the images feature gambling, because the bureau sought to counter the image of Las Vegas as "Sin City." One famous example to the contrary illustrates the collaboration that often took place between bureau staffers and hotel publicists. In 1953, Al Freeman, publicist at the Sands Hotel, had workers place an actual craps table in the hotel pool and the News Bureau photo of people in swimming suits playing in the pool was published all across the nation as the "floating crap game." Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the bureau and publicists engineered a long list of "stunt" photos to keep the image of Las Vegas in the nation's media.
The bureau also provided copy and research on Las Vegas to newspapers, magazines, radio, and television. For many years, for example, it sent travel packets that included four or five stories and photos with captions every four months to news outlets across the nation. It also produced and revised many times a promotional film entitled "Las Vegas Playground USA."
Under the management of Don Payne, the bureau expanded its efforts beyond Las Vegas. In the mid-1960s, it began promoting attractions within a day's drive of the city, and in 1974, in collaboration with Long Beach, San Diego, and Palm Springs, California, it began promoting the four locales in international markets.
Although the bureau rarely had more than a dozen employees, its output of copy and photos grew rapidly. In 1956, it took just over 9,500 photos and by 1991, it had produced over 175,000 prints. The widespread distribution of those images transformed hundreds of national, regional, and local periodicals into promotional outlets for Las Vegas publicity. In 1957 alone, magazines and newspapers published over 15,000 stories and photos about Las Vegas.
When the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority took over the bureau in 1992, few members of the staff remained and its function became to provide publicity photos to travel agents and conventions. It continues to provide photos and video of red carpet, special, and sporting events to news outlets and wire services around the world. This organizational change reflected a fundamental reality. The Las Vegas News Bureau, in less than half a century, essentially had achieved one of its most important goals. It had made Las Vegas a household name.
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