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Vanessa Mellone

Communications Manager, New Mexico Lottery

February 16, 2024

NASPL Insights Online

Lotteries are a business, and fortunately for those who work in the industry, they are a fun business – and a meaningful one! Where else can employees be sure that their hard work not only brings smiles to many faces (and can even change lives), but also sends all profits to good causes? Just ask Vanessa Mellone, the Communications Manager for the New Mexico Lottery, who helps create some of those smiles and also rests comfortably knowing that she is helping to “make a difference” for the state’s citizens.


“Sometimes the answer to a challenge is right in front of you,” says David Barden, Chief Executive Officer of the New Mexico Lottery. “Vanessa Mellone had experience with numerous facets of the lottery business, having been promoted through several positions. We recognized a need in the Marketing department for someone to help with social media and player communications. Luckily, we didn’t have to look far. Vanessa is creative, gifted at adapting and always willing to learn. She has been such a great addition to our small creative team.”


Out of college, Mellone worked a “front desk job” for about a year, before her mother found an interesting job listing in the local newspaper. “It sounded like fun,” she says of the job at the New Mexico Lottery, so she applied, and landed the position. That was in 2010, and her whole world has revolved around the New Mexico Lottery ever since.

“Retailers just want to sell those tickets, so making it as easy as possible for them usually keeps them happy. And I learned that most obstacles can be overcome with communication.”

That first job was a Corporate Accounts Representative, so she worked with major retail companies around the country – strengthening relationships, growing sales, coordinating promotions and tackling any obstacles along the way. She then transitioned into a role as Customer Service Supervisor, managing a call center and continuing working with retailers; among other things the call center managed inventory for those retailers. “Retailers just want to sell those tickets, so making it as easy as possible for them usually keeps them happy. And I learned that most obstacles can be overcome with communication.”


That retailer experience was a good foundation as her work evolved. From there she became the Deputy Director of Gaming Products, which allowed some of her innate creativity to show through with game development. Yet she really shines in her current role as Communications Manager, which she assumed in June 2022. “Here on the communications side, I can really generate ideas and do a lot of graphics work,” marvels Mellone. “It’s wonderful to take something that started with a little idea and bring it to life!”

Vanessa with her two daughters and partner.

When not working, she keeps busy with her family, which consists of her longtime partner Erik and two daughters, 3-year-old Mia and 8-year-old Sophia. She expresses her artistic nature through sewing. “I’m not a ‘paper and paint’ kind of artist, but I love to sew. Sometimes I’ll do something for around the house, but sewing clothing is my favorite. And with Sophia tall and thin, it’s often easier to make her clothes than finding the right fit in stores.” Sophia and even young Mia are taking after their mother, with artistic leanings that include sewing as well as more traditional visual art. “We are always doing something creative,” exclaims Mellone.

She also spends time working on an classic car (“it’s a forever project”), and taking care of a collection of animals that include chickens, dogs and a cat, plus fish, turtles and frogs.


Mellone has a Bachelor of Business Administration from the University of New Mexico, with concentrations in marketing and operations management.


What are the main goals of the Lottery’s social media program, and how do you define social media success?

Our main social media goal is growth. Creating content that is engaging is important too, but reaching new people – and more people – is always paramount for us. Traditional marketing is typically very expensive, so social media allows up to reach people all over the state and create excitement for potential new players. It gives us a variety of tools – promotions, winner awareness and more – to grow our player base. Social media success, to me, means that people are coming back for more. They are having fun, engaging with your content, and keeping your posts in their feed. There are so many metrics to measure “success,” but you can see it on your page when people are really having fun.

One of our most successful social media initiatives has been a character we created a few years ago, Cash Shark. Always up for something fun, “he” is usually our Advertising and Marketing Director, Wendy Ahlm, dressed in a shark costume. This started as a small promotional post and has evolved into an ongoing asset. Cash Shark is versatile enough that we can use him in multiple and ongoing campaigns, and he has also, kind of accidentally, become our very own “influencer.” Although he’s been around for a while, we really started taking advantage of him with our newest campaign for our food-themed ticket. The numbers on social media just prove that the people really like him, so we plan to expand on that.


In your various interactions with players, what do they want the most? What are they most likely to complain about?

We do a lot of second-chance promotions, and players all want to get that phone call telling them that they won. I am so lucky that I get to call our second-chance winners and give them that amazing news; it really is the best part of my day. Our players get very involved in these promotions, particularly when we post about them on social media. They follow up, they want to know when the drawing is, they are paying attention to who won. They even love it when other players win, and seeing our players celebrate others’ wins on social media is amazing. That winning experience is, in the end, what they are looking for, even if it’s through someone else.


Conversely, “I never win” is probably the biggest complaint. This is why we try to make winner awareness a priority. It’s great to have our in-store signage, but here is where social media shines. It only takes a few shares or comments to really get the word out about a big winner, and as noted our followers are great about supporting one another. That helps us defeat that negativity. We use a winner template so we can quickly post this type of information, and it also creates consistency for our followers to recognize as they scroll through their feed.


Your job includes conducting research with players using an online platform; what have been some of the highlights?

I love data, so every survey has been really interesting to me. We do one every other month; sometimes they are repeated so we can identify trends and track changes over time. The surveys cover a wide range of topics, including beneficiary awareness and promotional preferences, and they always tell us so much information that we can put to use. Our most successful survey in terms of response rate was the “Tasty Ticket Survey.” I think it was the catchy name! It allowed us to do some market research in anticipation of launching a food-themed ticket (and we also used Cash Shark).


We probably get the most information from our annual advertising survey, in which we ask participants what types of platforms they use and what advertising messages resonate with them. There are so many different ways to reach players now, and this type of information really helps us maximize our spend for advertising. For example, we considered hiring a social media influencer, but we learned through this survey that our players aren’t ready for that.


Anyone can take our surveys, and we offer an incentive to do so. For each survey, we randomly choose three participants, who each win $100 in Lottery Bucks. It’s free play for them, and very inexpensive for us. Players love it!


Is there anything you wish you could change, either in New Mexico or in the greater lottery industry?

This industry is great! I had a goal in college to use my future career for more than a paycheck. Giving back has always been really important to me, and working for the Lottery allows me to do that. The one thing I do wish I could change is the perception of lottery in general. It really surprises me, especially when I travel to different states or talk to people about what I do, that people have a negative view. That they don’t understand lottery proceeds in every state go towards good causes. Yet beneficiary awareness in general is hard, especially with tight advertising budgets. Sometimes using what you have with social media to get the word out is really the best thing you can do.

2022 New Mexico State Fair Lottery tent.

What do you like the most about working at the New Mexico Lottery? The least?

The thing I like most is knowing that we are actually helping to make New Mexico a better place because revenues here fund the Legislative Lottery Scholarship Fund. You know that you’re not just getting up and going to work for a paycheck, you are actually making a difference; as I noted earlier, that’s really important to me. We are helping young adults get that college degree without starting their adult life with a mound of debt. When I look back and reflect upon my life, I want to feel confident that my presence made a difference, and I really think the Lottery helps me achieve that.



The thing I like least is having to be away from my kids during the day, even though we do have a hybrid work environment now and I work from home two days a week. My young girls are so amazing, I wish I could capture every moment of their little lives. They remind me to have fun and enjoy the little things in life rather than being focused on what’s next. And that’s really difficult for me, so that keeps me grounded.


What’s the most fun you have had at the Lottery?

My current communications role in the Marketing department is by far the most fun I have ever had here. I really do enjoy going to work! Every day, I never know what I’m going to get into, whether I’m dressing up in a shark costume or going for a drive across the state. It’s so much more fun than just sitting at a desk. Even better, the entire department collaborates as a team and is always coming up with the next big idea. Being a part of these initiatives from planning to execution is really fun and fascinating, and I learn new things every day. When people ask me what I do for a living, it’s hard not say “I play games all day” because it really does feel like fun.


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