07/01/2005 12:00AM

What happened here with 'What happens here . . .'


Imagine hiring an advertising agency to create a new slogan for your company. After you pay it for creating the slogan, you then give it a budget in the millions of dollars to advertise the new slogan that represents your interests. Then, imagine that slogan achieves a level of recognition that you had hoped for and it becomes a valued asset to your company.

Good deal: A successful campaign and a catchy identifiable slogan, bought and paid for. Right?

Well that may not be the case with the slogan "What happens here, stays here."

What happened was that the rights to that internationally recognized slogan for Las Vegas, first used in the 2003 television advertising campaign for the city, were transferred to the R & R advertising agency for $1 in an agreement with the original rights-holder and client - the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

R & R Advertising, which has held the authority's advertising and marketing contract since 1980, developed the slogan. It also developed the slogan "We work as hard as we play" for the authority. The authority was created decades ago to promote Las Vegas and its convention business. It is funded by a room tax levied at hotel casinos in the state and has a multi-million dollar annual budget.

R & R, a local Las Vegas agency, and authority president Rossi Rolenkotter entered into the license-back agreement on the slogan, and it took effect on Jan. 1, 2004. Rolenkotter apparently did this without the full knowledge of the 13-member authority board.

Chairing the board, which includes elected politicians and industry leaders, is Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman. The mayor put the issue on the agenda for the July 12 board meeting.

Although it appears that the authority gave its advertising agency an asset that could be worth millions, the transfer of the slogan rights protects the authority from any lawsuits stemming from trademark infringements. It also makes the advertising agency responsible for pursuing such claims against other entities.

R & R chief executive Billy Vassiliadis said the agreement was made to protect the slogan against any unlawful use, rather than for monetary gain to his company. As long as the authority still owns the campaign that R & R created for the tourism authority, any profits from such things as merchandising or re-licensing would revert back to the authority.

The arrangement came to light with a trademark infringement lawsuit the advertising agency filed against a California woman who used the slogan to market clothing. R & R attorneys informed the agency that unless it owned the rights to the phrase, it would not have full legal standing to pursue the case in court. This is something the authority apparently doesn't want to get involved in.

While R & R has sent as many as 75 cease-and-desist orders to other individuals and businesses to stop using slogans created for the authority by R & R over the past two decades, the lawful ownership of the slogan is a more powerful deterrent.

Although Vassiliadis said he would not allow R & R to profit from the slogan, the July meeting with the mayor and former lawyer Goodman should clear up any misgivings about the agreement.

I would close with the phrase "Only in Las Vegas," but R & R has applied to trademark that slogan, too.

Ralph Siraco is turf editor for the Las Vegas Sun and host of the Race Day Las Vegas radio show.