Lewis C. Matusow Pioneered Public Relations In The Timeshare Industry

By Rosalie E. Leposky

"Partners' 12 video kiosks keep tourists on track," proclaims a headline in the Business Monday section of The Miami Herald. The story describes Touch Miami, an interactive "electronic concierge" service with potential timeshare-industry applications. An accompanying photo features four men, including timeshare veteran Ray Knight, who is Touch Miami’s chief marketing officer.

The story is there because Lewis C. "Lew" Matusow arranged for it to appear.

            "Part of Lew's success is his tenacity and perseverance," says Knight. "By placing articles by or about his clients in a variety of publications, Lew has developed a singularly creative approach to achieving the marketing objectives presented to him."

Matusow, president of Miami-based Total Public Relations, brought a new dimension to the timeshare industry in its formative years, using public relations to craft a resort’s image by means of positive stories about the resort, the developer, and his staff through articles placed in publications read by prospective customers. "Lew has done timeshare public relations longer than anyone else. He knows the industry as an insider," says Merilee Elliott, IIDA, owner of Merilee Elliott Interiors in Chicago, IL.

Lewis C. "Lew" Matusow

In 1981, while working as public relations director at Interval International in Miami, Matusow caught editors’ attention with a week-long media tour of Toronto, Buffalo, and New York City promoting Expo ‘81, a national timeshare meeting in Niagara Falls, NY. Each editor received a timeshare board game in which dice were rolled to buy and exchange property. The game, invented by Interval’s then-president, Thomas J. Davis Jr., accompanied a pitch letter and Interval’s first media kit. The tour generated stories in six major daily newspapers, over a dozen radio interviews, and a half-dozen television interviews, including an appearance by Davis and Interval’s chairman, Mario Rodriguez, on the Canadian Broadcasting Company’s popular Canada AM morning newsfeatures show.

Skilled At Targeting Media

When Matusow left Interval International in 1987, he was highly skilled in targeting desirable media and convincing their editors to use his material. Even the most prestigious publications succumbed to his entreaties. Indeed, his very first such placement, on behalf of timeshare marketer Michael J. Butler’s firm, Mid-Atlantic West (now known as Midlan International, Inc.), appeared in the European edition of The Wall Street Journal. At that time, Matusow says, "public relations was not high on most developers’ lists of programs to use to get a resort’s message across to consumers. Developers first experimented with collateral materials -- brochures and take-home kits -- and only later asked public-relations consultants to join their marketing team. With a foot in the door, the public-relation consultant can see and suggest public-relations opportunities. Only in the last five or six years have timeshare developers begun to appreciate the value of public relations."

Matusow sees very little difference between timeshare and non-timeshare clients. "Selling a different story to an editor is always easy," he says. "Every resort or hospitality provider is different in some way. Once found, that difference or special selling point can be pitched to the editor of a target-market publication. "Besides finding something different about a resort, public relation efforts generally are much broader," he explains. "Frequently, public relations includes getting the resort and staff members involved in sponsoring and participating in community-oriented projects and joining local chambers of commerce to show that the resort is a responsible member of the local community. No matter where they are from, timeshare owners like to know they've purchased at a resort that is involved in its community.

"Community activities can help a resort’s overall marketing programs, including finding off-premises contact locations and creating a better community-acceptance experience for owners and guests. That’s why working with other community leaders eventually will benefit the resort."

The Formative Years

Lew Matusow was born in the fall of 1950 in The Bronx, New York. In 1952, his family moved to Miami Beach, where his father, Nathan Matusow, managed the Star Light Hotel at 750 Ocean Drive for a decade. Lew’s maternal uncle, Leonard Glickman, owned the hotel. Lew’s maternal grandfather, Eddie Glickman, had been a contemporary of railroad and hotel tycoon Henry Flagler. In 1925, Eddie Glickman built the Leonard, the first South Beach hotel on Ocean Drive, and several apartment buildings. The Leonard was rebuilt after Miami’s 1926 hurricane and survived until 1995, when it was torn down. "I used to play with other children whose parents owned or managed Miami Beach Art Deco hotels," Lew recalls. Like Eloise, author Kay Thompson's fictional hotel brat, Matusow and his friends would delight in pestering desk clerks and other hotel personnel.

Matusow began writing about sports as the sports editor of his high-school newspaper. Later, at the University of Miami, he was assistant sports editor of The Miami Hurricane and sports editor of the Ibis Yearbook, and during his junior year he covered high-school football for The Miami Herald. In 1973 he graduated with a major in journalism and a minor in psychology.

As a 19-year-old college freshman, Matusow gained his first real taste of sports public relations. "George Gallette, UM's sports information director, assigned me to promote pre-game activities for the teams participating in the North-South Shriner College All Star Football Game played in the Orange Bowl and televised on ABC." During the game, Matusow provided local support to on-air broadcasters.

After graduation, Matusow worked as sport editor for the Coral Gables Times-Guide, a small neighborhood paper. "The accidental omission of a small private top-rated school in a pre--season roundup story on high-school football changed the direction of my professional life," he says. "On that team was Eric Evans, the son of Lee Evans, assistant director of the City of Miami Publicity Department. I was embarrassed, so I wrote a feature on the team. Evans liked the story, encouraged me to take a civil-service test, and hired me to write proclamations and promote sporting events sponsored by the City of Miami."

One particular event from this era stands out in Matusow’s memory. "In 1976, the City of Miami sponsored the Pan American pre-Olympic gymnastics trials at Miami Jai-Alai. The basic Olympic trials became a high-profile event two weeks before it occurred when the schedule of a touring Russian gymnastic team changed, making it available to present an exhibition." Led by Olympic gold medalist Olga Korbut, the Russian team dominated world gymnastics. Local funds were raised to guarantee the Russian team’s air fare and lodging expenses. In spite of the Cold War, an audience of 10,000 paid to watch the Russians’ gymnastics exhibition.

After almost seven years with the City of Miami, Matusow left to become director of public relations for the Miami Americans, a professional soccer team. He fondly remembers sending giant puzzle pieces with invitations to VIPs and the media to attend an event. He asked the recipients to bring their puzzle pieces along to complete a giant jigsaw puzzle. Several years later, he used the same gimmick to promote an event for a timeshare resort on Hilton Head Island, SC. In each case, two puzzles were made, one for use with the invitations, and the second to complete the puzzle if some of the guests could not attend.

After less than a year with the soccer team, Matusow joined Hank Meyers Associates, a prominent Miami-based public-relations firm that had brought the Jackie Gleason and Arthur Godfrey television shows to Miami Beach. As an account assistant, and later as an account executive, Matusow served such Meyers clients as General Development Corporation and other real-estate companies, and also the Miami Jai--Alai Fronton.

Having Miami Jai-Alai as a client was easy for Matusow, who had been executive director of the U.S. Amateur Jai-Alai Association. Until a 1984 automobile accident left him with back problems, he played the fast-paced game almost daily. Even now he still plays three or four times a year.

In 1981, Matusow left Hank Meyers to join Interval International as a writer. "It was interesting to work for Interval during the infancy of the company and of the industry," he says. "In the early 1980s timeshare received a black eye. It has taken a decade to change the public’s perception." While working for Interval, Matusow continued to operate his own firm, Total Sports Marketing, providing public-relations services for two major annual local sports events, the Bacardi Cup Sailing Regatta at Coral Reef Yacht Club in Miami’s Coconut Grove section, and the Golf Tournment of the Americas at the Doral Golf Resort and Spa. Matusow held the Bacardi Cup account from 1975 to 1990. He began working the golf tournament in 1981, and still does it today. Over the years the event has grown; it now attracts golfers from 26 Caribbean and Latin American countries.

Shortly after leaving Interval International in 1987, Matusow founded Total Public Relations to serve non-sports public-relations clients. In 1994, he Matusow launched a third company, Fantastic Vacations, through which Latin American banks, credit-card companies, and timeshare resorts conduct co-operative international marketing programs to bring Latin American travelers to United States destinations. "For the first time," Matusow says, "participating resorts affiliated with both timeshare exchange firms have agreed to co-operative marketing of their destination."

Family Man

Matusow met his wife, Mildred "Millie" Caballero-Matusow, while taking a University of Miami summer-session class in child psychology. "Our class prepared Millie for her life with me," he says. Millie now teaches high-school math in a dropout-prevention program. The Matusows are the parents of a daughter, Alina, 15, and have completed Greater Miami Jewish Federation training to be foster parents. Next fall, they will house a Japanese exchange student about their daughter’s age.

The Matusows are active University of Miami Hurricane football fans.

 

Over the last decade, Matusow has done pro bono public relations work for many non-profit South Florida organizations. Currently he is helping the South Florida Youth Symphony, in which Alina plays the clarinet, and is treasurer of the Dade County Alliance for Career Education, which serves middle-school and high school students.

Rosalie E. Leposky is managing partner of Ampersand Communications, a news-features syndicate based in Miami, Florida.

Copyright 1996 Ampersand Communications
All Rights Reserved
Published in The Resort Trades, May 1996


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