In San Antonio, a city steeped in history and legend, Trish DeBerry's roots run deep. But don't tie her to outdated ideas.DeBerry, a founding partner of Guerra DeBerry Coody (GDC), is widely recognized as one of the shining stars of Alamo City PR. Like almost all San Antonio agencies, GDC integrates advertising and marketing, but its principals come from news backgrounds: Media relations and crisis communication operatives make up more than half the staff of the 28-member agency.
San Antonio's distant history attracts tourists, and gives character to modern-day office space. GDC's "new
quarters are in a 140-year-old building that once served as a hotel and brothel.
But its more recent history, some might argue, makes the country's ninth-largest city seem a good bit smaller, and can throw hurdles in the way of those seeking change. San Antonio has been home to an Army post and four Air Force installations, including one that closed in the late '90s.
Although healthcare and other industries have overtaken the military's economic impact, its cultural influence remains strong. Many former service members retire in San Antonio, creating a large community with the means and the time to mount effective grassroots campaigns.
"San Antonio has had a group of naysayers,
DeBerry observes. "They want San Antonio to stay the same small community it was when they first came here."
For example, voters twice defeated referendums to add fluoride to the city's drinking water. Although many underprivileged San Antonio children wear caps on their teeth, vocal opponents claimed fluoride would wreak havoc on pipes and cause health problems. "It's tough sometimes to combat scare tactics with logic,
admits DeBerry, who championed the fluoridation cause pro bono. (In November, voters finally approved the referendum in a narrow vote.)
GDC's client list includes accounts well known and coveted within Texas, like H-E-B Grocery and Sprint PCS. The agency even subcontracted with Burson-Marsteller for the Hispanic slice of the Texas Public Utility Commission's hefty public education contract for retail electric deregulation.
San Antonio forms a nerve center for Hispanic marketing, with crosstown rival Bromley MS&L handling a number of national and international Spanish-language accounts. GDC also has had a strong Hispanic practice, and last year carved it into a separate division - GDC Latino - DeBerry notes.
Her own strengths lie in media relations and crisis work, born from her formative post-college days as a TV journalist and morning news producer.
Mike de la Garza recalls first meeting DeBerry in a TV studio for an interview about a civic project. "I remember how engaging she was at 5:30am,
says de la Garza, a former H-E-B staffer who hired GDC when he assumed his current job as marketing SVP for Laredo National Bank. "She got more out of me than I knew I had in me."
DeBerry credits her years in news with her ability to identify stories that get her clients' names in the press. On New Year's, for example, DeBerry jumped on reports of a military infant passed over for the usual first-baby gifts. The city's major hospitals had pooled their resources to provide scholarships and other goodies to San Antonio's first 2002 infant, but the year's first child made his debut at Wilford Hall Medical Center on Lackland Air Force Base, where DeBerry - the youngest daughter of a retired serviceman - herself greeted the world 36 years ago. The official prizes went to the city's first civilian-born baby instead, but DeBerry rallied GDC clients to give the military child's family savings bonds, prepaid phone cards, and a year's supply of diapers. "Three of our clients got great press,
DeBerry says. "I just can't believe there weren't more people taking advantage of that."
DeBerry got out of TV news for better pay and hours. She recalls the moment she realized PR wouldn't deliver the latter - sitting in a Whataburger drive-through at 2:30am, following a marathon school board meeting at which construction of a new sports arena had been debated.
While her business partner and former TV colleague Frank Guerra boasts years of campaign experience, DeBerry's political forays are more recent.
With Guerra's blessing, she took a five-month leave of absence last year to run the campaign of new San Antonio Mayor Ed Garza.
Gene Powell, the CEO of GDC client Bitterblue, a real estate development firm, worked with DeBerry as Garza's finance chairman. He describes DeBerry as hardworking, and extremely goal-oriented. "Somebody will come up with an idea, and Trish is always the one who says, 'Now wait a minute. What does that accomplish for us?'
Taking on a new challenge as vast as running a big-city mayoral campaign is typical of DeBerry, who says playing softball in school gave her a competitive edge. Her most recent challenge was planning her own outdoor wedding. She married architect Carlos Mejia on Saturday (March 9) in his hometown of Laredo, TX.
DeBerry's own hometown is never far from her heart. She believes its lifestyle and warm weather will continue to attract business and create PR opportunities. "We are very committed to making San Antonio a better place to live,