A fateful example of how closely linked public relations and marketing are comes from El Paso, Texas, where its "sister city," Juárez, Mexico, is plagued by violence. The El Paso Times provides a lengthy story illustrating how vital focus and effective branding are in such a contrasting situation. Both are elusive in El Paso.
The Times' story lays out virtually a textbook example of a public relations planning challenge. Situation: El Paso has profited from its relationship with Juarez and the Mexican-American culture it fosters. But as conditions have deteriorated in Mexico, El Paso is increasingly vexed by the turmoil in Juárez. There have been more than 3,000 murders in Juárez this year and and only seven in greater El Paso—five in the city and two in the county.
Hotel occupancy in El Paso is up, a reflection of cross-border trade, but at least half a dozen Texas organizations have postponed conventions in El Paso because of concerns, well-founded or not, about security there.
It's a truly vexing situation, one that's hard to get a handle on. Billy Vassiliadis knows about such challenges, The El Paso Times notes. His company, R&R Partners, came up with Las Vegas' turnaround slogan, "What happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas." He's urging El Paso to get a better handle on what makes it different from other communities, a research/focusing effort that could cost, Vassiliadis says, between $200,000 and $300,000 the first year and about $150,000 annually. Of course, greater stability in Mexico could help, too, but that's beyond El Paso's reach, out there on the very western edge of Texas. (In case you've been wondering.)"El Paso's got to decide they want to own something," Vassiliadis says, "They want to represent something they can own and they can deliver on that's unique to them."
Focus, focus, it's the start of everything, even against great odds. Offering favorable crime statistics doesn't help a great deal when people decide there's likely a crime problem. Displaying a city that's got its identity together can help more. We've never been to El Paso and shouldn't be prescribing from afar. (New Orleans after Katrina is another parallel, The El Paso Times story notes.)
El Paso leaders have some initiatives in mind for "a counter crisis communications program," including developing a website to contrast El Paso and Juárez. But the challenge of reimagining a community with a lawless, violence-plagued neighbor just across the border is huge, and calls for an overall communications planning and positioning exercise. Read The El Passo Times story for a textbook example in relational difficulty. And consider what you might recommend.
How to focus when your neighbor's involved in mayhem is a daunting PR challenge.