PROFILE: Villa d'Este is the backyard of PR's 'quintessential pro'

Jean Salvadore has made just one job move in 54 years. Such loyalty

is only topped by her commitment to PR. Chris Barnett meets this genuine

and wildly popular ambassador of the industry.

Jean Salvadore may have started at the bottom, but she took her

orders from the top. As a 24-year-old PR rep for TWA in Rome, she had to

sit by her home phone at 2am every day, waiting for Howard Hughes, TWA's

eccentric billionaire CEO, to call from California. Lord help her if she

didn't answer.

"Either Mr. Hughes or an aide called with the next day's instructions,"

she remembers. "I had to send $100 worth of flowers anonymously

every day to actress Jean Peters, his bride-to-be, who was in Rome

making a film. Or put Gina Lollobrigida on a flight to LA, because he

took a liking to her. Poor girl was insulted by his request."

Salvadore did more than meet, greet, and dispatch movie stars,


She actually did publicity. Hughes, who also headed RKO Pictures, wanted

her to tip the press that Ingrid Bergman was coming to Rome. But the

film's director, quite a lothario, screamed at Salvadore, "No publicity!

I've got to get Anna Magnani out of town before Ingrid arrives." When

she relayed the director's displeasure, Salvadore got an icy call from a

Hughes aide.

"You just remind Mr. Rossellini who is financing his film. And as for

you, young lady, make up your mind if you want to continue working for

Mr. Hughes or not." She got the message.

In 54 years, Salvadore has only had two PR jobs: 20 years with TWA, and

PR director for Villa d'Este at Cernobbio on the shores of Lake Como,

Italy, for the past 34 years. In three decades of telling and updating

Villa d'Este's 433-year-old story, Salvadore's PR skills helped

transform it from a neglected private villa into a fully booked,

exclusive resort for the powerful and prominent. Rooms that fetched

$30 a night in the mid-'60s now start at $400-$450

for a double room.

Salvadore mastered her craft with no formal training. When she joined

TWA, she was flown to New York for a six-day crash course in PR. The

late Gordon Gilmore, TWA's VP of PR, took her to her first cocktail


"He wanted to teach me how to hold a cocktail and a cigarette. But I

didn't smoke and never had a drink in my life, so I had water and an

olive in a martini glass," she recalls. Gilmore also introduced her to

important New York journalists. Salvadore caught on fast, learning the

art of making reporters look good to their bosses with exclusives and

fresh news angles - and by being a friend, not a flack.

Recently celebrating her 75th birthday and still putting in 10-hour days

at Villa d'Este, Salvadore is revered today as the quintessential PR pro

by magazine editors who have worked with her over the years. "Giovanna

has spent Thanksgivings with my family," says Pamela Fiori,

editor-in-chief of Town and Country. "She understands the value of

personal contacts, and is never heavy-handed. She's fun, but always

knows who she is working for, and that's critical in PR."

Millie Martini Bratten, editor-in-chief of Bride's, says, "Jean knows

how to bring a story to life, and has the patience to let it unfold so

you discover it. But she's always there to round out your knowledge, and

make your story more interesting." The New York Times' Florence

Fabricant adds, "Jean is not one of those agency types who spills out a

stream of releases. She nurtures deep, personal relationships, but never


I think of her as an ambassador for Villa d'Este, not its


Besides Gilmore's tutoring, Salvadore, who worked with the Italian

resistance during WWII, also credits her PR skills and savvy to her late

husband, Luca, a flamboyant Italian journalist who later headed PR for

the Rizzoli Publishing empire. He taught her to treat the press as

personal friends, and to nurture the relationships before the story is

pitched, and long after it runs.

That advice has served her well. "I always handwrite notes to reporters

and guests, because it makes all the difference in the world," says


"The human touch is most important in PR."

Villa d'Este may be the lap of luxury, but Salvadore works at a

cluttered desk in the sales office. There's a vintage portable

typewriter buried under magazines, but no computer. She's a legend among

writers and editors for her exhaustive research on their behalf.

She compiles a virtual dossier of clippings, photocopies, anecdotes, and

other little details. "Press kits should be customized with photos and

background that's appropriate for the publication," she advises.

Salvadore walks a fine line, though, in guarding the privacy of

high-profile guests and helping journalists. But she downplays herself

and her clout. She never introduced herself to Ricky Martin because "he

didn't want to be disturbed." She was also the only person at the resort

"allowed to speak" to Barbra Streisand, "who was very paranoid about

being recognized, but who is an awfully nice person."

Salvadore says she doesn't have to keep serious journalists away from

her celebrity guests. "Writers like Clive Irving of Conde Nast Traveler

never intrude, don't ask for anything, and act like regular guests."

Irving, Traveler's senior consulting editor and a co-founder, says

Salvadore is "a marvelous dame. She's helpful, but always lets me find

my own story, and that's much more interesting than having the PR person

trying to ram their story down your throat." Nancy Novogrod,

editor-in-chief of Travel + Leisure, insists PR pros could polish their

prowess by emulating Salvadore.

"She's cultured, genuine, and her skills are natural and direct. She

charms you, befriends you, and makes you care about what she values. She

understands the psyche of the American journalist and editor."

Salvadore, who lives in a book- and memento-packed cottage on the

grounds of Villa d'Este, is also an accomplished writer, albeit a slow

one. She spent 10 years ghostwriting a cookbook for the resort. Villa

d'Este Style, her coffee table book, is selling well, a year after its

debut. Novelist Joseph Heller wrote the introduction, his last piece

before his December 1999 death.

Salvadore has no plans to hang it all up. "Retire? I'm not even an

employee," she laughs. "I'm only a consultant." And she doesn't even

have a contract.


1942: Graduated Visconti, Rome (high school)

1944-1946: American Red Cross, Rome, information desk (where she mainly

served coffee and doughnuts to American GIs)

1946-1966: PR manager, TWA, Rome

1966-present: In-house PR consultant, Villa d'Este, Cernobbio, Italy.

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