Faces of Gaming: Paul Speirs-Hernandez — Randomness, chance, reward, and luck

February 17, 2024 11:10 AM
  • Tom Osiecki — CDC Gaming Reports and Raving Partner
February 17, 2024 11:10 AM
  • Tom Osiecki — CDC Gaming Reports and Raving Partner

Paul Speirs-Hernandez, president of marketing company Steinbeck Communications and training company Red Wagon Institute, has been working with major gaming companies since 1994. Throughout that time, Speirs-Hernandez has envisioned a strategy with a world filled with “yes, can, and will.”

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He can even pinpoint the exact moment that changed his worldview.

“When I first started at Excalibur, it was the largest hotel in the world. It was a big deal to work there and I learned a lot. Everyone who knows me knows me for the expression, ‘We can do anything. It’s the magic castle.’

“I got that from my Director of Marketing, Nansee Junis. I was a young, green, advertising coordinator and I asked her if we could replace our existing sign holders. I had to interrupt her lunch with a bunch of executives at a restaurant. I remember she put down her fork and looked me dead in the eyes. She said, ‘We can do anything. It’s the magic castle.’

“It might have been flippant. I don’t know. However, it changed the trajectory of my thinking about everything. It’s a liberating and empowering expression that I’ve always remembered. It was in 1994 and it’s still an expression I use at least once every day.”

Steinbeck and Red Wagon

Steinbeck Communications has served an impressive list of clients across disciplines throughout the United States and around the world. Speirs-Hernandez has provided leadership and a communication philosophy that helped grow some of the gaming world’s most successful brands.

Prior to founding Steinbeck Communications, Speirs-Hernandez opened and ran the PR division of a Las Vegas advertising agency for four years. Before that, he was the publicist for Luxor Excalibur in Las Vegas. He’s been honored as one of the “Top 40 Businesspeople Under 40” in Las Vegas.

A native of the Salt Lake City area, Speirs-Hernandez graduated summa cum laude in public relations and marketing from Southern Utah University and received his master’s in communication training at UNLV. He’s an internationally published author and has spoken at several casino conferences in the United States.

Steinbeck Communications is a marketing-consulting company that has worked with the industry’s leading brands and organizations, including Aristocrat, GLI, IGSA, JCM Global, Sightline, AGEM, Global Gaming Women, and many others.

Speirs-Hernandez also founded Red Wagon Institute, a leadership training firm that helps teams and companies of all sizes and backgrounds (both in and out of the gaming industry) develop leaders at every level of their business.

A crazy, amazing town

He believes his career is a result of randomness, chance, reward, and luck.

When he moved to Las Vegas in 1992, he lived at the corner of a dirt road and a dirt road, which is now literally the center of the west side of town.

“From my apartment building, I could see Treasure Island, Luxor, and MGM Grand all going up at the same time. It was an incredible time in the city. I drove to school and passed a giant castle, massive Easter Island heads on Tropicana, and a pyramid. I remember thinking, this is a crazy, amazing town.

His first job in marketing was somewhat random, a communications position for a gubernatorial candidate in Nevada who ultimately didn’t make it beyond the primary.

Then, as luck would have it, a friend called and offered him a job at Excalibur. “So randomness, chance, reward, and luck played out,” Speirs-Hernandez said. “I went over to Excalibur and have been in the business ever since.

“One of the coolest things we did at Luxor was one of the earliest uses of building wraps in Vegas. The Disney company called my office, wanting to put a wrap on Luxor that looked as if a meteor had crashed through both sides as a promotion for the film Armageddon.

“We didn’t know how it was going to work. No one had ever done a building wrap before. My GM at the time asked, ‘How do we scrape the stuff off?’ I said, ‘I don’t know. We’ve never done it before. He said, ‘We’ll figure it out.’

“It got international press. It was phenomenal. And that’s one of those fun things you get to do in this city.”

Speirs-Hernandez credits several people as influencers in his life.

“Patty Coaley, we call each other Will and Grace. She was the first person I met in town in my grad office. We’ve been on a career path together ever since. We’ve leaned on each other professionally and personally ever since. We’ve been friends longer than I’ve been friends with anybody. And it’s been a fantastic inspirational relationship. She’s the reason I opened the training company.”

Speirs-Hernandez also credits his general manager at Excalibur, Bob Prince, with promoting him from advertising coordinator to publicist.

“I moved my stuff from my ad office into the publicist office. Bob came into my office and said, ‘I want you to take these photos off the walls, take everything out of here, and make this your own.’ That was one of the most impactful inspirational things that anyone could have said to me. It allowed me to make not only the office my own, but also my career. It was a game-changing thing to say.”

“I left in 2000 to open the PR division of an advertising agency we’d used while I was at Excalibur, Hall Communications. My division was run by one of the all-time greats in the gaming world, Tom Neiman. He was the one who hired me. He was and is another giant inspiration. He’s a quiet force that has shaped the history of this industry. I worked with that agency for four years and later Tom was a client of mine at JCM for years.”

Out on his own

After four years at Hall Communications, Speirs-Hernandez started his own agency; he called it Steinbeck Communications, in honor of his middle name — predictive, perhaps, of a future gaming-company storyteller.

“I was named after Paul Harvey and John Steinbeck. I could have been named Harvey John. It was sort of up in the air, and then they went with Paul Steinbeck. And that’s how the name of the company came to be,” Speirs-Hernandez recounted.

The website for Steinbeck Communications has a 1940s’ vibe with images invoking the Raymond Chandler world of Phillip Marlowe and Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade, complete with working antique typewriters. “The design matches our philosophy of providing old-fashioned service in a new world.”

“There comes a time when you realize that you should probably do something a little bit different. And for me, it was doing something on my own. I was lucky again. It was that random chance, reward, and luck. I was lucky to practice opening an agency within an agency when I opened the PR division at Hall Communications.

“I’ve had some clients since day one. I’ve worked with JCM Global since the day I left the other agency. I’ve been with them for 20 years now, a duration that’s difficult for a lot of agencies to claim. We’ve been really fortunate to have long-term relationships with several clients.

“I didn’t want to be an agency that ‘specialized in a hundred things. I wanted to be really specific. So, we focused on gaming, specifically B2B in the industry. One of the fun things we did was we helped change Trump 29 back to Spotlight 29 Casino.

“We also worked with Agua Caliente Casino and Spa Resort Casino in Palm Springs for a bit. Then, we further defined our niche in the B2B area. That’s been fantastic.

“We’ve launched some incredible products — JCM’s iVIZION, which instantly became a landmark in the gaming industry. Working with Tom Nieman, we developed the name, campaign, and launch. It was their most successful product launch to date.”

“At the ad agency, Aristocrat was a client and when I left, they stayed with them. Sometime later, I got a call from their marketing director. She said, ‘I need your help for three weeks. I need an extra set of hands for G2E.’ And I’ve been with them ever since. A three-week gig has now turned into 19 years and we’re still doing some crazy things, like launching the Walking Dead, NFL slots, and all sorts of fun stuff.”

“One of the things I love is that we’ve worked with associations and highly technical companies, such as GLI and GSA, now known as IGSA. When it comes to technical standards, that’s really inside-baseball-style language.

“One of the fun things we did was to help translate ‘engineer’ into English. We needed people to understand why these highly technical standards are so important. Engineers get it; they speak that language. However, the engineers at the properties aren’t writing the checks. The GMs are writing the checks. Helping translate that technical language has been fun.”

Employee strategy

Speirs-Hernandez espouses a specific corporate culture strategy for his clients that walks a different path. It’s brilliant in its simplicity.

“We’ve always believed that employees are the first and primary audience of any company. If your employees aren’t buying what you’re selling, no one else is buying it either. If your employees aren’t locked in, if they don’t believe in what they’re doing, they won’t deliver the brand experience. So you have to start with the employees. They have to know and believe the story.

“You have to help employees understand the brand and their roles and importance in the messaging. Doing that reaps huge dividends. That’s why we opened a training company. The communication side led to the training side, where employees have to be brought into your story.”

Red Wagon Institute

Speirs-Hernandez shares an obvious passion for the Red Wagon Institute, the training company he created in 2018 to share his vision for a program designed to create empowerment and help take control of life choices.

Red Wagon Institute has three main areas of training: leadership, team building, and communication. “From Managing to Leading” is a course that combines experiential learning, in-class discussion, and team-assigned homework to help managers become effective leaders.

“Curing Cantcer” is about getting off “can’t,” getting on to “can,” and getting on with your life and business, leaving behind the negativity of what can’t be done and instead focusing on the positive, what’s possible, what every team member can and will do.

“Moonshot” pushes attendees to think and dream big, to shoot for the moon, discover possibilities and put goal-setting techniques into action.

“This is a stepped program. First, everyone learns that they get to be a leader. They put their capes on their inner superheroes and realize they can do anything. Once they know they’re leaders, we go to ‘Curing Cantcer,’ where anything and everything are possible. If you live in cantcer, you’ll spread cantcer and it will infect everything around you. So let’s get cantcer out of your life.

“When you know that you’re a leader and you know anything’s possible, what’s your ‘Moonshot’? What’s the biggest thing you want to do? Whether it’s in the company, the community, or family, we challenge people to think differently and understand the power of possibility. It’s about understanding that they have the power to be the change and to change the world, whatever their world is.

The second category of offerings is team building, which includes “Silo Camp,” “Your Brand,” “Competitive Advantage,” and a process called “Stop Start Change Continue.”

“‘Silo Camp’ is specifically geared toward helping people recognize and break down silos,” explained Speirs-Hernandez. “In ‘Competitive Advantage,’ we push people to get past the sales jargon that they’re using and define, specifically and clearly, their competitive advantages, whether it’s in their company, a specific product, or on their team.

“‘Your Brand’ helps people define who they are at their core. And ‘Stop Start Change Continue’ is a great way to look at processes or projects, analyze what is and isn’t working, and plan a path forward.

“In the Communication track we offer a range of classes to help people communicate better, including DiSC, speaker training, media training, and other communication classes.”

Emotional results

Speirs-Hernandez becomes understandably emotional when he recounts some of the stories from Red Wagon Institute attendees.

“People call us months later and say, ‘That was the day my life changed. That was it. Everything’s been different ever since.’ They can trace it to that day and that’s phenomenal and so rewarding emotionally — to feel that you’ve made such a huge difference in their life.

“I’ll tell you another quick story. After a ‘Curing Cantcer’ class, a guy came up to me and said, ‘I just want you to know that as soon as it ended, I went out into the hallway, called my wife, and told her everything was going to be okay.’ I thought, Wow. I found some ways to help today.”

Success secrets

I asked Speirs-Hernandez what he believes is behind his success with Steinbeck Communications and Red Wagon Institute.

“My success is based on old-fashioned service. I’ve worked in other agencies and I’ve been on the client side. I’ve seen how other agencies interact and it’s palpable when the client doesn’t feel like you care, when the relationship is just a transaction. That’s a relationship that doesn’t mean anything. Honestly caring about people makes all the difference in providing that old-fashioned service.”

A Good Thing

Paul Speirs-Hernandez feels his destiny as one of the gaming industry’s premier communicators is based on Randomness, Chance, Reward, and Luck. He created Steinbeck Communications and Red Wagon Institute with a vision of “yes, can, and will.” Along the way, he created a unique strategy based on empowerment and continues to train industry participants, producing a future based on positive energy. And that’s a good thing for the gaming industry.

Entries in the Faces of Gaming series:

Tom Osiecki is a casino consultant who writes an occasional column for CDC Gaming Reports called Faces of Gaming, about interesting and engaging people in the gaming industry.

Tom Osiecki is a marketing and management consultant for Raving Consulting and can be reached for consulting engagements at 775-329-7864.

If you know of a fascinating personality in the gaming industry you would like to see profiled, please send Tom Osiecki an email at tosiecki@cdcgaming.com