FOUR LOCAL LEADERS DISCUSS THEIR JOURNEYS AND GUIDING PRINCIPLES
BY JENNIFER BARTLETT
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ELIZABETH WARBURTON
The lion’s share of our lives is spent sitting behind a desk communicating through a screen. We no longer have to leave our homes to shop, pay bills or even purchase groceries, and our cumulative daily “screen time” really starts to add up. While online communication has put the world at our doorstep and access to people almost anywhere, it has also led to our increasing isolation from the world, as we often find ourselves sitting alone in a room, tapping on a keyboard.
The four marketing leaders profiled here hail from the diverse arenas of health care, multiuse development, energy and transportation. They have figured that to navigate their industries’ ever-evolving landscapes, they are employing enduring principles of direct communication and interactive experiences to get their messages out. And their circuitous journeys to where they are today, coupled with their unflagging optimism about their profession, underscore how much they rely on the support of others and in turn give back to their company and community at large.
Born and raised in San Antonio, Palmira Arellano attended UTSA and had planned at the outset to become a lawyer. The oldest of five children, she was heavily influenced by grandparents who taught her the importance of a strong work ethic and a kind heart. “For my grandparents, everyone they met was important. They taught me to treat everyone equally, whether you were talking to someone who worked as a housekeeper or as a CEO.” Arellano’s parents were also important role models. “My mother did not work. She raised five children and in a very gracious way. My mom and dad were wonderful role models — the best ever. They did nothing but encourage me in every decision I made and taught me the basics of how to be a good human being,” she says.
Her plan to go into law took a turn when her aunt, a community relations director at a local radio station, offered her an internship while Arellano was still in school. “That experience opened doors,” she remembers. She was allowed to sit with community leaders who were change agents in San Antonio. Watching them and getting to participate in planning events with people of this caliber had a huge impact on her. Arellano decided she wanted to be a change agent, too.
While at UTSA, she competed in the Miss Hispanic San Antonio competition. “I came in second place,” she says. And she so impressed one of the judges during the interview portion of the competition that she offered Palmira a job a week later in the area of public relations. She took the plunge, and her career in PR was born.
Arellano says that part of the “secret sauce” of her professional success is her attitude: “I look at everything that comes in front of me, and I never discount anything. I don’t close the door to anybody. I share a lot with everyone I meet, and I work to make connections.” She sees the world as wide-open. She has never shied away from walking through an open door, making a new friend or taking on a new challenge. She is eager to connect with anybody and everybody. She wants to get to know you. And her gift is her ability to see the importance of every interaction, even the smallest ones, and to treat everyone she meets with respect.
Arellano ended up working for eight years in advertising for Sosa, Bromley, and Aguilar, working on such prestigious accounts as Proctor & Gamble, Western Union, Coca-Cola and Polaroid. She had dual roles as PR director and senior account executive. She notes, “People were just starting to talk about Hispanic advertising, and I got in on the ground floor.” One day she got a phone call from a headhunter recruiting for Methodist Healthcare. She had mixed feelings about leaving her job, but she says, “I knew that Methodist was a solid company to work for.” She took the plunge. “When I started there, I knew about marketing and PR, but I didn’t know about health care.” Arellano was not deterred. She knew she could learn, and that’s exactly what she did.
She points to four important keys to success in her industry. She says mentoring others is crucial. It has been one of the most joyful parts of her job. Her ability to adjust to a changing industry is paramount because, as she points out, things are changing all the time, and you either have to get used to that or get out. Arellano also underscores the importance of having a mission to do good: “If I didn’t believe in what Methodist does every day, I couldn’t get up and go to work.” Finally, she notes that her success is in large part attributable to her can-do attitude and her ability to look ahead and never quit. She has never failed to walk through an open door or to extend a hand to a stranger. Connection is key to her success.
Elizabeth Fauerso, chief marketing officer at Pearl, a mixed use development just north of downtown San Antonio, oversees the entity’s marketing and public relations department. She cuts an impressive figure. Her office is reflective of someone who is organized and purposeful with a decidedly artistic flair. It is no wonder since her background is in comparative religion and the arts. While she is a native San Antonian with deep roots here, she actually spent her youth growing up bouncing between Europe, Los Angeles and southeast Iowa.
She is the child of ubercreative parents — her father, a musician and her mother, a writer and teacher. “It was incumbent on us to do something different,” Fauerso says. “If we came to my parents and said, ‘I’m going to be an artist,’ that was celebrated. If we had said, ‘I’m going to be something more conventional, like a lawyer or a business person,’ that would have engendered a certain amount of scrutiny.” From an early age, Fauerso was encouraged to question everything, which is central to her identity and guides her throughout her life, personally and professionally.
“I had wanted to teach English in Chile because, well, how cool would that be?” explains Fauerso. During an interview with a Chilean businessman, she drew upon her strong liberal arts education from Trinity University and impressed the businessman with her command of philosophy — especially that of German philosopher Martin Heidegger and his philosophy on the power of language. She eventually landed the job — writing case studies for his management consultancy in Mexico City.
Her work allowed her to see the world. Fauerso followed that as vice president and executive director of strategic planning at Dieste, a leading Hispanic marketing agency, overseeing product development for brands such as Levi’s, AT&T, Proctor & Gamble, and PepsiCo. She also worked with advertising entity Zuckerman Fernandes & Partners and then had her own marketing firm in San Francisco and London. She also served as group planning director at Bromley Communications here in San Antonio.
Having the opportunity to live and work in such far-flung places offered Fauerso the perspective of an outsider, which she says has been central to her professional development. Though she’s an insider in San Antonio, she’s never lost that edge that comes with being an outsider too, and she mines that perspective in her work.
Her knowledge of Heidegger was also a springboard for shaping her own philosophy on marketing, PR and community development. Fauerso throws off traditional branding strategies or a traditional adherence to big ad agency metrics, opting instead for the power of telling a story. As Heidegger says, “Man acts as though he were the shaper and master of language, while in fact language remains the master of man.”
This is certainly how Fauerso treats the Pearl, a space that has a language, a temperature and a heartbeat where the community and the development engage in a real relationship of give-and-take. For her, working to expand Pearl and overseeing its evolution is not about “branding” it as one particular thing. It is about helping to create stories around the space that reflect its past, present and future. This is so the people who come to Pearl contribute to what it is and what it becomes. The community shares in making meaning out of the space, and in that way, Pearl is a living, breathing thing that grows with the community, allowing it to be many things to a variety of diverse constituencies. “People interact with the space differently, and this should be welcomed,” says Fauerso.
She underscores that if a marketing executive offers a singular definition of a brand or an experience for the consumer, he or she runs the risk of boxing out potential constituencies. Letting individuals define their own relationship to the Pearl or offering multiple inroads for connection builds longer-lasting relationships, and gives the space greater flexibility and an ability to change over time. The Pearl is in a near-constant state of evolution, and Fauerso recognizes that the people who visit the complex are also evolving.
Fauerso emphasizes that failure has also been part of her success. She had been working in London and was feeling pretty sanguine about her future. One day she was celebrating the success of a large event she was working on, and the next, she had lost her boyfriend, her job and her living quarters. The Twin Towers had fallen in New York City, and she felt as though everything in the world had collapsed. She called her grandmother, whom she describes as “a force of nature,” and at the matriarch’s insistence she returned home to San Antonio. She had not realized how comforting and empowering it would be to be back home: “My identity was here. It was something I could wrap myself in for comfort, but also something I could use to reimagine my life.”
Fauerso says that coming back to San Antonio not only helped her to understand who she was, but also compelled her to think about the obligation she had to contribute to this city. She then pauses for a moment to tell me about when she became a mother to her daughter Josie, now almost 3, and her realization that her role as a parent and as a professional are connected. She emphasizes how important it is to be able to bring her daughter into her work world — much like her parents integrated their professional pursuits with her and her siblings. “Being a professional with sons and daughters invited into our work worlds helps us promote a healthy perspective about the realities of being engaged professionals and parents. We live in a world where our work and personal lives intersect and can influence the other for the better — it’s an ecosystem much like Pearl,” says Fauerso. Getting to work every day at Pearl, a development that has changed the complexion of the city, is a huge gift and it is setting an example not only for Fauerso but also for the rest of the city at large.
NuStar Energy, LP
Joanna Weidman came to San Antonio in middle school by way of Fairfax, Va. While attending school in San Antonio at Eisenhower and then Churchill, she found her love of writing. She did well in her English courses and says she was a “one trick pony” because she did not have a natural talent for her other school subjects.
In high school, Weidman was enthusiastic about getting involved and learning as much as she could. She wrote for the school newspaper and worked on the yearbook staff. Then she found a new passion, event planning, when she served on the teen board at Dilliard’s department store. “There was a woman who had a job doing special events at Dilliard’s, and that sounded like something I would like,” explains Weidman. She followed that experience with an internship at KSAT-TV, where she finally pinpointed where her passions lay and decided what she would major in at college.
She attended the University of Texas at Austin, earning a bachelor’s in journalism with a concentration in public relations. “I love to write and do events and utilize different communication tools,” says a smiling Weidman. And from there she has shaped a successful career in communications in San Antonio and has never looked back.
Weidman joined NuStar. LP in 2007 and today directs its internal and external communications as the senior vice president of administration while helping to oversee the company’s facility services. Prior to her work at NuStar, she was corporate communications director at Valero Energy Corporation, director of public relations and marketing at CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Health Care, and worked at the Atkins Agency, a marketing firm where she helped direct public relations campaigns for the San Antonio Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, the Alamodome, the Hard Rock Café and many others.
NuStar, a leading energy company, is all buzz and excitement and youthful energy at its employee-centric campus. Weidman herself embodies the young energetic spirit of her company. She is wickedly smart, thoughtful, even analytical in her answers to questions and unabashedly enthusiastic about NuStar Energy and her mentors, Bill Greehey and Mary Rose Brown. Her devotion to her company and her bosses is almost religious, always underscoring the gratitude she feels toward the people who brought her up in the energy industry. She alights on a feeling of belonging at NuStar that helps her to do her job well. It is a feeling she seeks to cultivate in her employees. “To belong to a place means that one has loyalty to it, but also that the place has loyalty to you,” Weidman says. “Every decision NuStar makes is about its employees first.”
Weidman’s job at NuStar is to establish new employee communication tools, events and activities. She leads project teams and even helped lead the team that planned and constructed the new $100 million corporate campus, which has received numerous awards, including “Best New Office Development” in 2013 by the San Antonio Business Journal. “To say it was challenging is an understatement, as I had no experience in real estate or construction,” she says. “Fortunately, Mr. Greehey and Mary Rose provided leadership and resources that we needed to be successful.”
As part of her role at the company, Weidman activates daily communication with employees: “We utilize a folksy, easy style of writing that reflects the voice of our executive leadership.” The various platforms of communication include an online portal, online newsletter and TV screens in the break room as well as posters and promotional flyers – much devoted to promoting events and various employee-focused communication.
Weidman also helps oversee communications about the company’s financial performance, operational and safety milestones, and how the company’s operations around the world are doing. This includes new capital projects, employee benefits enrollment, various HR programs and even back-to-school fairs. She also has to keep the communications flowing to and from her counterparts located throughout the world, relying on the company’s intranet.
When asked about being a high-ranking female executive in the energy industry, traditionally a male-dominated profession, she replies, “Women have made strides in engineering and energy. One of the cool things is there is a local organization here in San Antonio called Women in Energy, and we have lots of employees involved. We also have a lot of young women becoming more engaged in this, and the group is helping its members stay informed about what is happening in our industry, how we can get more involved and move up the career ladder. We have to encourage younger women to consider our industry.” She continues, “We have several women who are in senior management here at NuStar, and mentoring is important. As an example, we have a high school age intern we secured through the city’s SAWorks initiative, and she is getting to experience various aspects of our company so she can learn about the exciting careers she can have in energy – maybe communications?” says a hopeful Weidman.
Weidman emphasizes that the key to her success is all about the people she works with. She says that public relations works best when the relationships between people internally function well. The loyalty she feels toward her company and the people in it are the things that drive her passion for NuStar and what she does. And the employees get to benefit from her attention to the quality and integrity of the messages they receive, positively reinforced in so many different ways.
VIA Metropolitan Transit
Rachel Benavidez is formidable. Smart and talented, she is a woman who is not afraid to speak her mind. When she does, she is at once so graceful and passionate that you cannot help feeling her excitement. Starting as the director of marketing and promotions for VIA Metropolitan Transit in 2015, she coordinates marketing efforts and oversees communications for the agency. She describes her job this way: “My role includes strategic and creative development for everything from branding to collateral materials, events to media and advertising for VIA initiatives.”
Benavidez credits her outstanding and passionate team and describes a positive, creative culture as the engines that drive their success. She also credits VIA leadership, saying, “I’m inspired by our leadership at VIA from our esteemed chair and board of trustees, to our president and CEO, our senior executives and our chief of staff, who have shared a vision to move our community forward.”
Benavidez studied government and literature at the University of Texas at Austin, (where she also served as a presenter at the Barbara Jordan National Forum on Public Policy in 2007). After college her career began at her hometown newspaper, where she earned her first professional byline and met her first wave of professional mentors that would support her during and after her journalism career that included time as city editor and government and politics editor for the San Antonio Express-News. “The newsroom is a special place. I like to say that I grew up there. And in many ways that’s true,” she says.
From journalism to the broader arena of communications, public relations, and now marketing, Benavidez sees how all of her professional experiences fit together in one greater narrative arc. “Sometimes a mentor isn’t someone you work with in an office. Sometimes a mentor is someone whose work inspires or influences you, draws you in, in the way gravity keeps a satellite in orbit,” she reflects. She remembers author Sandra Cisneros as one of these mentors. Benavidez interviewed Cisneros during her tenure as editor for San Antonio Magazine, and she was struck by Cisneros’ style as much as by the content of what she said. “Ms. Cisneros was a truth teller, someone who didn’t sugar coat — not her criticisms of others or her own shortcomings or pain. I knew her through her published work, but sitting with me in that Southtown coffee shop was someone three-dimensional and real.” Cisneros gave her important advice that day, encouraging her to be real and to follow her path, regardless of what culture says. Clearly, Benavidez has taken that advice to heart.
Today her professional goals revolve around communicating the values and benefits of public transportation, and doing so consistently, creating and supporting opportunities for community engagement and working to increase ridership, public awareness and a positive perception of VIA.
Her passion for her work is evident in the way she describes the agency, the community and the city she seeks to bolster through the creation of a great public transportation system. She is thoughtful about the position she is now in and the opportunities in front of her, explaining, “I joined VIA at an exciting time for our region, as transportation choices become increasingly important. Approximately 150 new people are arriving in our region every day. That’s about 1.6 million new residents by the year 2040. Part of my work is to communicate why public transportation — why VIA — is an integral part of creating sustainable growth in our community.” Her dedication to that community is evident in her leadership style and her consistent efforts on behalf of the greater San Antonio region.
Benavidez counts herself lucky to have had many mentors who have offered her encouragement and support throughout the years. Among them are family, friends, colleagues, artists, writers and others. “I crossed paths with these people at the exact right time. Lucky for me!” she exclaims.
And she returns the favor of being supportive to her community through her work, as cheerleader for VIA and for the region. Her devotion to her community is evident in everything she says and in the way she describes her ideas about career, life and self. She is someone who has truly blended her vocation with her avocation.