Chow Town

KC natives pitch Sin City

Courtney Fitzgerald at her desk
Courtney Fitzgerald at her desk

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of blog posts by Dave Eckert about Las Vegas.

In the days, and potentially weeks, ahead, you’ll be reading about a lot of different experiences I had over a long weekend in Las Vegas earlier this year.

In contrast to “Sin City’s” long-running ad campaign, what happened to me in Vegas I will happily be sharing with all of you.

I asked for a food, wine and hospitality smorgasbord and the fine public relations persons of Las Vegas were happy to oblige, which brings me to the first of my Las Vegas experiences, one that occurred before I even left Kansas City.

It’s the story of how I stumbled across, then came to know, a couple of people whose job it is to promote Vegas. They are two young women, one working for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, and the second for a local public relations firm, both hailing from the Kansas City area.

Let me first introduce you to Courtney Fitzgerald, a Merriam native, Shawnee Mission North and Missouri State University graduate, and the manager of brand public relations for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

I had breakfast with Courtney at the fabulous Sugar Shack in Paris — no, not that Paris — where she shared some of her thoughts and experiences during her 11 years in Vegas.

“I grew up in Merriam, and my parents and sister still live in the same house,” she said. “My parents have owned that house for more than 30 years. When I got to college, then Southwest Missouri State University, I had never heard of PR. But I shared a dorm room with two girls who were PR majors, and I decided to give it a try.”

So, armed with a PR degree, Fitzgerald says she and her husband loaded up their car and made the cross-country trek to Vegas in 2003. They had $1,000 and a Chevy Cavalier loaded to the gills. But, what they thought would be a three month vacation turned into a brand new life.

“My husband interned with the newly-opened Orleans Arena and I interned with a local marketing/advertising/PR firm,” Fitzgerald said. “He then got an offer to work full-time at the arena, so Vegas it was.”

Flash forward 11 years. Now, Vegas is home, and Fitzgerald says after holding several other positions, she hooked on with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority about three years ago where now she has her dream job.

“The LVCVA is the largest visitors bureau in the country, representing more than 150,000 hotel rooms and more than 10.8 million square feet of meeting space,” she said. “As the manager of brand public relations, I am responsible for working with domestic journalists, movies, TV shows, magazines, bloggers and other media to talk about Las Vegas. I am also responsible for all PR efforts related to ‘What Happens Here, Stays Here’ ad campaign, the most successful destination advertising campaign in history.”

Fitzgerald loves where she lives and what she does, but visiting with her over breakfast, it was clear that even after 11 years, there are pangs of longing for her home town.

“Las Vegas has been great to our family, but I miss the rest of my family,” she said. “All but a few still live in the KC metro. It’s also tough to move away from the barbecue, the Chiefs, the Royals, and the amazing sense of community pride that Kansas City has.”

Nicole Easley, an Olathe native who works at Magnetic Public Relations, can relate. Easley, who contacted me on behalf of some restaurants her firm was promoting, says she misses almost everything about Kansas City, but mostly the people.

Easley graduated with a degree in journalism and mass communications from Kansas State University, and after spending a year in Vegas, Easley says she loves the excitement of Las Vegas.

“There is always something happening here,” she said. “I can honestly say I am never bored. Five months into my job, and we were coordinating the red carpet for Kim Kardashian’s birthday celebration at TAO Nightclub. That’s crazy to me. I never would have even dreamed up having these kind of experiences in my life, let alone at my first job right out of school.”

Easley says Magnetic is a boutique firm specializing in dining, nightlife, and entertainment clients.

“We do a little bit of everything on a daily basis,” Easley said. “It can range from writing a press release to announce a new DJ residency at Marquee, to pitching journalists a $50,000 March Madness package at Carmine’s, to overseeing a filming or photo shoot at a client venue, to inviting media to come cover the next red carpet. I realize it’s cliché to say, but rarely are two days the same.”

Easley says Vegas is a good fit for her right now. When she wants excitement, it’s right there along a five mile strip. When she wants normalcy or peace and quiet, she gets off the strip, or out of town to some place like Red Rock Canyon for a day of hiking.

As for the future, Easley says she’s ready to roll with the punches

“It’s hard to say how long I’ll be living here,” she said “This was never where I thought I would land my first job but it worked out and felt right. So, I’ll continue to stay here until it no longer fits me.”

I didn’t get the chance to dine at any of the restaurants Easley was representing through Magnetic, but Fitzgerald was a huge help in putting my schedule together. I plan on staying in touch with both ladies moving forward. It never hurts to have a Kansas City connection, or two, on your cell phone, on Facebook and in Las Vegas.

Dave Eckert is the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS-TV and Wealth TV for 12 seasons, or nearly 300 half-hour episodes produced on six continents. Eckert is also an avid wine collector and aficionado, having amassed a personal wine cellar of some 2,000 bottles.