BROWNSVILLE, RGV – Rio South Texas Economic Council is speeding up a $200,000 national marketing campaign to counter what members say are negative stories about the border region in TIME and Texas Monthly.

Meeting at Brownsville City Hall on Thursday, RSTEC agreed to ask Washington, D.C., based DCI Group to start pushing positive stories about the Rio Grande Valley to reporters working for national media outlets.

“It is really important we get moving on this. I do not know if you have seen it but we made TIME magazine, a very negative story on South Texas as a war zone, and then we also made Texas Monthly and the whole damn publication is on the border and why the border becoming a combat zone,” said Keith Patridge, CEO and president of McAllen Economic Development Corporation and a board member of RSTEC.

The TIME article Patridge referenced is titled “10 Cities Where Americans Are Pretty Much Terrified to Live.” Citing a Gallup survey, the article states: “In McAllen, Texas, where Americans were least likely to feel safe, less than half of all respondents were comfortable outside of their homes after dark.” Click <a href=””>here</a> to read the story.

The Texas Monthly article Patridge referenced is titled “Who Will Watch the Watchers?” by reporter Nate Blakeslee. Introducing the story, Texas Monthly Editor Jake Silverstein states: “Unless you happen to live along the United States–Mexico border, or have friends or family there, or are called by business or pleasure to travel through the region with regularity, it may have escaped your notice that over the past decade or so, that area of Texas has come to resemble an occupied territory.” Click <a href=””>here</a> to read the intro to the story.

The Rio South Texas Economic Council board of directors met at Brownsville City Hall on Thursday afternoon. (Photo: RGG/Steve Taylor)
The Rio South Texas Economic Council board of directors met at Brownsville City Hall on Thursday afternoon. (Photo: RGG/Steve Taylor)

RSTEC comprises various cities, ports, counties and economic development entities in the Rio Grande Valley. The group has entered into a $200,000 contract with DCI Group for a national marketing campaign involving earned media and polling. Around 400 white collar workers from around the nation will be polled to ask how they view the Valley. “That is our target audience. We expect to have the results of that poll in the next few weeks,” said RSTEC Executive Director Alma Puente Colleli.

Eddie Campirano, executive director of the Port of Brownsville, chairs RSTEC. Discussing the national marketing campaign at the board meeting, Campirano said: “We have got to get this thing kicked off. Here we are entering into May and we still have not got this kicked off. I do not want to have a repeat discussion at the next board meeting. Let us get it done. I am happy we are getting this off the ground.”

The RSTEC board of directors voted unanimously to get moving with the national marketing campaign. Colleli said she would call DCI as soon as the board meeting finished. Interviewed by Sue Groves of Beyond ARTS RGV magazine, Colleli said she received a call from the director of a musical venue to say that a certain artist wanted to know if it was safe to visit the Valley for a performance.

“We have to put out the positive stories. We have a lot of successes here with companies that have located and expanded and done very well,” Colleli told Groves. “We have to start working on inserting ourselves on national stories, such as workforce, transportation, medical. This agency (DCI) has relationships with national reporters. It will be earned media. They will be pitching stories.”

Colleli said RSTEC members would pay for about half of the $200,000 for DCI. The other half, she said, would be raised from the corporate world, such as banks, hotels and car dealerships in the Valley. Corporations would be asked to pay $5,000 to help the national marketing campaign, Colleli said. For this they would be granted associate membership of RSTEC.

Interviewed by the Guardian after the RSTEC board meeting, MEDC President Patridge said that in addition to negative media coverage, the Valley also has to “fight back” against extremist language from certain politicians running for state and national office. “We are also caught up in the political campaigns with Dan Patrick making comments about how it is a war zone on the border. We are getting really hammered.”

Patrick is a state senator from Houston. He is expected to become the GOP nominee for lieutenant governor.

“It is critical we mount this national marketing campaign. If these negative stories and comments stand without any kind of rebuttal then people think these things are true. We are not big enough to take on the national media so we have to look at professionals to get our story out to rebut some of that information. We are going to be an issue on the state political debate and the national political debate because it all ties into the whole immigration debate. We are getting buffeted by a lot of things,” Patridge said.

Patridge also said it was not just state and national media outlets that were hurting the Valley with negative stories. He said some local TV stations were not helping matters.

“Channel 4 had a former tourism secretary of Tamaulipas telling people never to go over to his state because it is dangerous. Unfortunately, because of our location people think that violence is bleeding over to this side. Everyone is beginning to see this area as a war zone,” Patridge said.

“As that continues to be promoted by our media… Channel 5 does it, Channel 4 does it… I understand they are trying to gain viewership but the bottom line is they are killing their advertisers, the ones who make the newspapers and TV stations profitable. You are getting a lot of people saying I am not going to locate my company there or expand my company there. Which means people do not get jobs and then they don’t buy cars and then if they don’t buy cars the car dealerships are probably going to cut back on their advertising on Channel 4 and Channel 5. It is a vicious circle.”

Patridge said he was not proposing border violence be covered up. “But I want to know the facts. I do not want sensationalism in an attempt to gain a viewer or a rating or to sell newspapers. All of this coverage is having a result on our local people. They think it must be true because no one is saying anything to the contrary. Our political leadership is not saying anything.”

Patridge said he could not understand why local media outlets concentrate on border violence and not on all the positive things that are happening in the Valley. “The local community is saying yes, they understand what all this negative coverage is doing to us. It is almost like we are eating our young. Our own media are destroying us. I think it is something we just have to look at.”

Asked how long the contract with DCI would last, Patridge said: “It depends on how they do. We will review it in six months. We are looking for results. But, I think the campaign itself is going to be a long term campaign. I see it being at least a year and probably two or three years to turn this around. We are constantly being used as a whipping post for political campaigns or ratings. We have got to fight it.”