PR in Albuquerque: Much more than just Breaking Bad

Tom Garrity, CEO of Garrity Group Public Relations and 2017 chairman of the PRSA Counselors Academy, dishes on his hometown and casts his net beyond the TV show that made it famous.

Breaking Bad was filmed and set in Albuquerque and a tourist industry has sprung in homage to Walter White - but the New Mexico city’s main focus is to position itself as a modern, attractive location for business.

The government is actually the largest player in Albuquerque in some form or fashion, from state services to federal institutions such as Kirtland Air Force Base and Sandia International Labs.

Mayor Richard Berry has made the tech industry a focus and the area was boosted when Facebook broke ground on its data center in October. This helps provide affirmation to the businesses already here and puts Albuquerque on a different map for site selectors who may look at the city as a place to relocate.

Albuquerque is a great multicultural city, a diamond in the rough. I visited a lot of different places when I was in the news industry and was glad to end up here 26 years ago.

New Mexico is a minority-majority state and the appeal for PR and marketing is that your messages have to be multicultural just to be successful.

Albuquerque has been a real magnet for industry, being the state’s largest city. You have all the major financial and government institutions. Sandia International Labs is here, and federal funding for government programs is substantial. Oil and gas has an influence, even though it’s more in the east and northwest of the state.

You can also access lots of places, whether it’s Santa Fe to see the plaza or the Sandia Mountains, which are phenomenal for fishing, skiing, hiking, and biking.

Oil and gas is critical to the state’s economy, which state lawmakers and the industry have been working to remedy. When oil and gas is the topic, you always have an engaged and lively conversation. For the most part, New Mexico residents want to see responsible drilling continue in the state.

When I first came here, PR was very much about blocking and tackling as a media-relations-driven market. That remains a foundation for PR, but with nearly half the state’s population on federal assistance, there are many different issues that need management as a result.

The eastern part of New Mexico is traditionally very Republican and conservative, but that is typically offset by the Democratic voter base in Santa Fe County. Communicators need to know the messages that play in Santa Fe won’t play in the eastern part of New Mexico. Out-of-state companies often try one-size-fits-all messaging and totally fail.

Because of our state’s budgetary shortfall, everybody is trying to decide what constitutes essential government services. You have a Republican governor and a Democratic House and Senate. The ability to identify and message in that middle ground is the secret sauce for PR firms and communicators to be successful.

We’re not California or Texas. We’re different. It’s about knowing red vs. green chile [New Mexico spells chile correctly] and the history that made the state what it is today. That means understanding the different Hispanic, Native American, Anglo, and African-American cultures. There’s also a growing Middle Eastern culture in the northern and central parts of the state. It’s about how all these ethnicities interact and work together.

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