Doug Robinson: Vicki Varela — Utah's No. 1 salesperson

Published: Sunday, March 30 2014 8:55 p.m. MDT

“I like promoting causes and issues I believe in more than selling bars of soap and telephones or products like that,” she says. “I am much more on the community engagement side of things.”

She left the regents when Gov. Mike Leavitt, who had worked on several projects with Varela, hired her as his communications director and spokesperson and, eventually, his deputy chief of staff.

Eight years later she become a partner in a consulting firm called Wilkenson, Ferrari and Varela. They guided the effort to promote and market Daybreak, a 4,000-acre, master-planned community in South Jordan, owned by Kennecott Land. It was marketed as a self-contained neighborhood built on the themes of water conservation, open space and energy efficiency, with more walking, more mass transit and less driving, among other things. Wilkenson, Ferrari and Varela was tasked with creating that brand, but to get the project off and running they had to persuade various communities to put up money, organize a referendum for a sales tax increase and expedite construction of a light rail project.

Varela started her own consulting firm eventually — Vicki Varela Strategic Communications — essentially doing the same work she had been doing. She moved on again five years later after she was asked by Gov. Gary Herbert to take charge of the state’s tourism.

“I was immediately intrigued,” she says. “I had never thought of it, but as soon as it was presented to me I was absolutely interested. It made sense as the next chapter, from being a Utah convert to loving community engagement and branding and marketing and selling a product I love.”

Among the projects she has launched is “The Mighty 5,” a 60-second video that boasts of Utah’s five national parks — Zion, Arches, Bryce, Capitol Reef and Canyonlands: “I’ve seen it 300 times and every time I see it it stirs me,” says Varela.

She is working on an ad campaign for next winter to promote skiing. She has enlisted help from former Deseret News writers Ray Boren and Ray Grass and Pulitzer Prize-winning photographers Larry Price and Mark Osler to help sell the Utah brand.

“This it the most fun I’ve ever had,” says Varela. “It’s a privilege to promote Utah."

Doug Robinson's columns run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Email: drob@deseretnews.com

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