ANALYSIS: Profile - Doyenne of travel PR who sells a good story Vivian Deuschl is well practiced in the art of media relations and in a crowded hotel market, her nose for a news story sets her company Ritz-Carlton apart. Thom Weidlich reports.

Although she works for The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, one of the most glamorous brands there is, Vivian Deuschl has no time for ostentation.

Although she works for The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, one of the most glamorous brands there is, Vivian Deuschl has no time for ostentation.

Although she works for The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, one of the most glamorous brands there is, Vivian Deuschl has no time for ostentation.

She is poised and to the point.

But Deuschl and Ritz-Carlton have been a good match. She's worked for the company for 13 years. Now corporate vice president of public relations, she directs the PR strategy for the company and its far-flung properties from Atlanta to Hong- Kong, Boston to Kuala Lumpur.

At the same time, Deuschl excels at and continues to practice, media relations. She is loved by journalists and many count her as a friend.

Reporters view her as a resource and trust her journalistic judgment.



Travel industry figure

Perhaps because she works in-house rather than for an agency, many feel Deuschl has not gotten the recognition in PR she deserves. On the other hand, she enjoys a high profile in the travel and tourism business and Travel Agent magazine has twice named her one of the 'Most Powerful Women in Travel.'

She needs to be a leader: Atlanta-based Ritz-Carlton, a dollars 1.4 billion company (1999 sales), plans to up the number of hotels it manages (it doesn't own any properties) from 38 to 60 over the next two years.

Deuschl began her career in the 1960s as a journalist, on the China Post in Taiwan where her husband, then an Air Force lieutenant, was stationed.

Dennis, her husband of 37 years, is now a PR practitioner in the US Department of Transportation. (The license plate on their green 1994 Cadillac Seville reads 'Power PR').

Back in the States, she moved into political PR, mostly working gratis on campaigns. She then spent a year as director of PR for the Washington, DC Convention and Visitors Authority, which was her introduction to travel and tourism PR. Her big break came in 1982, when the American Society of Travel Agents moved its office from New York to Washington. Seventy-five people interviewed for the job of PR director; Deuschl got it.

Two years later she became special assistant to Donna Tuttle, the country's under secretary of commerce for travel and tourism. One of the major issues she dealt with during that time was terrorism.

Events such as the attack on Korean Airlines Flight 007 and the bombing of Libya rocked the tourism industry. Throughout the crisis, Deuschl argued that the industry had to be more up front about how it was affected by terrorism.



Journalistic instincts

Sharon Walsh, now New York deputy bureau chief for the Industry Standard, recalls when, as a reporter for the Washington Post, she called Deuschl at the commerce department about the story she was working on: Americans weren't traveling overseas because of terrorism. 'She immediately convinced me that that wasn't the story at all,' Walsh says. 'The story was that people from foreign countries were coming to us in record numbers and she was right. That was my first front-page story for the Washington Post.'

After her government stint, Deuschl spent a year building a travel and tourism department for PR agency E. Bruce Harrison. Though she brought in big-name clients like American Express and Northwest Airlines, she decided that she didn't like the rainmaking aspect of agency life. Soliciting new business really wasn't her style.

So she took a job with John Coleman, who owned Ritz-Carlton hotels in Washington, DC and New York. It wasn't an obvious career choice: at the time, Coleman was in the papers for paying neither his bills nor his taxes.

But it was there that she started the innovations that would become her trademark.

She came up with the idea of offering a dollars 15,000 'Premiere Presidential Package' for the 1988 Bush inauguration, which included such goodies as the presidential suite, a chauffeur-driven Rolls and a private dinner party. Deuschl won media attention for the offer and did a walk-through with the Today show on Inauguration Day.

During the 1987 Ronald Reagan-Mikhail Gorbachev summit in Washington, Deuschl began a tradition of placing dove-shaped 'peace cookies' on world leaders' pillows at night (which landed the hotel on the front page of the New York Times). She repeated the practice last month at the Ritz Carlton Sharm el Sheikh in Egypt, where President Clinton was meeting with the region's leaders to discuss the Palestinian uprising. Those cookies made the Washington Times and the Wall Street Journal. 'Now people are saying, 'I didn't know there was a Ritz-Carlton there,'' she comments.



Continuing innovations

When Ritz-Carlton and Coleman parted ways in 1988, the company asked Deuschl to stay on. She started as regional director of PR and was named last year as the company's first corporate vice president of PR.

Deuschl, who works out of the company's Washington, DC, office, gets heavily involved with the hotels before they open. For example, Deuschl began strategizing with the staff in March about how to get publicity for the new Ritz-Carlton in Philadelphia, which opened a month before the Republican convention in August. One approach was to provide delegates with what are known as 'turn-down' amenities, or pillow treats such as Reagan jellybeans and Lincoln Logs. While such activities may seem gimmicky, they are effective.

'I've been accused of liking reporters too much,' she admits. 'I think media relations is what I do best. While certainly other people in the company answer the day-to-day media calls, I do try to interest journalists in long-range trend stories.'

Journalists who have worked with Deuschl say she's available, sticks to agreements and is a great resource because she knows her industry.

She is also unafraid to suggest stories that may ultimately include her competitors. For example, USA Today did a story she suggested on hotels in Dubai, but Ritz-Carlton's presence there got only brief mentions.

'One thing that sets her apart is that you don't just hear from her when she has something to pitch you,' says Rudy Maxa, host of public radio's The Savvy Traveler and editor-in-chief of Rudy Maxa's Traveler Newsletter.

Maxa says he trusts Deuschl's judgment on stories implicitly. 'She has a journalist's sensibility,' he says.

Yet, despite her magic media touch, Deuschl admits to still waking in the night worrying that she won't get a certain story placed. Maybe that's the secret to her success.



VIVIAN DEUSCHL

Corporate vice president, PR

The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co.

1963-1971: Journalist in TX, Taiwan and PA

1975-1980: Press secretary on political campaigns & for the Natl. Capital Area, USO

1981-1982: Director of PR, The Washington, DC Convention and Visitors Authority

1982-1984: Director of PR, The American Society of Travel Agents

1984-1986: Special assistant to Donna Tuttle, the under secretary of commerce for travel and tourism, US Dept. of Commerce

1986-1987: Vice president, travel and tourism sector, E. Bruce Harrison

1987-present: Regional director of PR rising to corporate vice president of PR, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co.



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