It’s not often you meet a renaissance woman at the top of a demanding career who manages to balance work, family and friends alongside a flourishing love life, but Linda Villafane makes it look so simple. The award-winning Public Relations vet has had a huge impact in the hospitality scene utilizing media and forward-thinking ideas to increase interests and visibility to the most talked about hotel chains in the industry.
Currently making waves as Director of Public Relations at LOEWS Miami South Beach, the Venezuelan-born beauty and her team have introduced an elite side of family luxury to one of the most desired travel destinations—South Beach, Miami.
The Source ventured down to Miami to chat with the boss lady extraordinaire at the exclusive hot-spot, SOAK Cabanas. Nestled at the tip of the ocean, the opulent private cabanas boasts VIP luxury—including butler service and a 2-story deck complete with ocean views. We sat down with Linda to discuss her journey to becoming one of the most influential publicists in hospitality, why it’s necessary for women to uplift one another in business and how her team at LOEWS Miami work together to create an unforgettable travel experience.
Can you tell us how you began working in the public relations field?
I’ve been doing this for 15 years! PR in general. I came here to go to college, I went to Barry University down here in Miami. My grand plan in life was to do well so that I could move here to Miami and move into my parents condo which all ended up happening, but I came to college to be a lawyer because I liked to talk and I liked to argue. (Laughs) I’m a little hardheaded so I really wanted to pursue that, then one of my courses was a PR 101 elective and I loved everything about it! So I majored in public relations and I started out at an agency down here that gave me exposure to retail PR, legal PR, medical and then hotel PR and I was able to be on the team as lead publicist for the opening of the Fountainbleu here in Miami which was a $1 billion dollar renovation.
How have you managed to gain so much traction in such a competitive industry?
It was years of learning and succeeding and getting my clients trust in an agency environment. Being driven, understanding what their story is, creating the stories with them—helping them take all of their ideas and turning them into something that people can understand and be inspired by because that’s the point of public relations. We are here to help you be aspirational, we want you to aspire to get to that vacation, to want that dress, all of those things. So I ended up being able to get a lot of good press for the Fountainbleu then for the W Fort Lauderdale which was the first W Hotel in the state of Florida another big opening. Then I got the opportunity to go in-house for hotels and I jumped on it because I decided that it was a fantastic learning experience for me. I don’t think I would have the job I have now if I hadn’t gone through that experience which was amazing to be able to open the world’s first all-inclusive Hard Rock Hotel. It’s a very big deal and I’m very proud of that. Fantastic team and ownership of those properties. They are a wonderful family and very great operators of the hotels in Mexico and the Caribbean and here in Miami so to learn from them was amazing.
What skills do you deem necessary to pull off successful hotel openings?
It was a lot of coordination. Aside from press trips unveiling’s and all of the things you do as being part of a publicist for a brand there were massive 3 to 4 day events, working with entertainment, celebrities, red carpet coordination, the FAM trip with the press, all of the different opportunities you have to showcase the property—I was in charge of all of that.
Did you ever feel it was a more male-dominated industry?
PR in general is more of a female dominated industry but in the hotel world, operation wise, it is more male-dominated…you don’t see a lot of female GM’s. You don’t see a lot of female executives from a PR standpoint. It’s always amazing to see female leadership at hotels doing their thing. Here in Miami we have several GM’s across the beach hotels, at LOEWS we have several executives on our executive committee myself included. They are amazing females in marketing, PR and operations so that’s exciting but it is a male dominated industry that at times can be difficult to get your messaging across in terms of why PR is so important.
What is the main challenge you face working in PR?
It’s very revenue driven and in PR it’s very difficult to be able to to put a dollar amount to the PR that you are getting. But the ROI is always there because what you’re doing is creating a brand. You’re creating third party exposure and another party endorsement —that’s why a lot of people, if they’re not seeing the revenue that’s coming in or the dollar that goes with what you’re spending they don’t understand why it’s worth it. This is why a lot of times across any industry, PR is always the first thing to get cut. Here at LOEWS Hotel in general across the brand, PR is something that is very celebrated and is a huge pillar of what we do here which has been really fantastic.
What are some of the fruits of your labor?
Whatever campaign or media I have done and experience that I bring to the property has generated in actual revenue and you can show that in bookings…it’s amazing. We had a live radio remote about a year ago that was five days straight a huge national radio program and I was be able to track everything from it, all of the social posts all of the editorial they gave us, the videos they posted all drove revenue for over a quarter of $1 million in room revenue in over a five day period. And we can attribute that directly to this because there was no other promotional campaign that was driving that much traffic to our website or to our booking channels. We even got an inquiry about a wedding from someone who was in town looking at another venue. I think internally, it’s an internal campaign making sure you PR your PR and we all have to do it no matter who you are, making sure people know what you’re doing why it’s important and that it’s part of a team because we are not a single person here at this hotel operating I support marketing and marketing supports the pillars of the hotel and sales and on and on.
What has been the most challenging aspect of your career?
I think the most challenging part of my job has been getting people to understand what PR means. I struggle with it till this day 15-years later. I can put out a great one-piece story it can be on a fantastic new beverage we have at the bar, beautiful photos…great content… interview with one of our executives and I’ll send the email out and it’s crickets. I’ve learned you can’t expect a ticker tape parade for all of that because people don’t understand how much goes into that one little piece. Just getting people to understand all of the work that goes behind it and it can be a little deflating sometimes, but at the end of the day I know it’s worth it. And I do get so much support! Throughout my entire career, great mentors, great GM’s that have supported me and love to showcase the work and great leaders from the PR world that I’ve been able to learn from.
How do you find balance between work and home?
I still consider myself to be someone that’s still learning how to be a professional, how to be a wife, how to be a friend…I don’t think we ever stop learning these things,especially in my industry. Everything changes every day it’s important to keep up with that. I’ve learned at an early age and various experiences that there has to be a separation between church and state. I will stay at this hotel five days straight without sleeping working for you if you need me to, I’m 24/7 because I’m a PR person. But when I go home I have to dedicate time to myself. I have a husband that I want to pay attention to, my friends, my family. I work here all day and then when I go home, I try to disconnect as much as possible. It’s difficult and I think with the world of social media and phones and how connected we are, that divide can get smaller and smaller.
What keeps you inspired?
For me it’s just really meeting people and seeing what they do. I get inspired by fellow women, fellow publicists who are out there. Talent, writers, communicators, storytellers, I want to meet them. I want to read their books, because through them we learn more, we uplift each other and that’s how you become better. To have that kind of support and to be like, “Hey I really like your work let me bounce some ideas off of you because I think what you’re doing may help elevate what I’m doing.” I have a great group of girlfriends that I love very much, we’re all in different industries some are in the beauty industry some are in retail. I have a friend right now that just quit her job and self-published her own book and is doing all of her own PR. And it’s inspiring. My friend is a marketing director for a huge retail chain department store and she’s traveling to Hawaii, Las Vegas, putting on amazing shows and making a huge impact on the demographics she’s trying to reach. I think it’s all about collaborating with different women and learning from each other that’s really the only way you keep getting inspired because if not, it’s the same thing over and over again.
What can we expect in the near future from LOEWS Miami?
We recently completed a $50 million dollar renovation so the hotel is beautiful and brand-new— everything, the rooms, the restaurants all have a new look and feel. We are in the middle of South Beach but we are a family-oriented luxury property. It’s great because you can come down here experience everything South Beach has to offer in terms of nightlife and entertainment, but you have a private oasis of approachable luxury to come back to. Our family programming is really important to us. We really try to roll out activities that families can enjoy—both parents and the children. In the next quarter, we will be rolling out an expansion to our LOEWS LOVES KIDS program which includes toddlers and teens so there’s going to be dedicated hours for toddlers and specific classes for them to take. Whether it’s yoga or cooking, we really want to make sure all ages are represented. We have family happy hour as well, you receive an hour of the free kids club and then the parents get drink specials during that time, but instead of going to the kids club they’re sitting right there on the lawn so you can watch them have a great time while you’re having a cocktail.
To learn more about the Loews Miami experience CLICK HERE