Three Trinity Grads Find “Balance and Trust” in Communications Partnership
by Sharon Jones Schweitzer '75
Ten years ago, Frank Guerra '83, Trish DeBerry-Mejia '87, and Tess Coody '93, set out a vision to create a small business built around smart ideas, exceptional service, and quality work. Today, Guerra DeBerry Coody (GDC) is a full-service marketing and communications firm with 50-plus employees, $30 million in total billings, offices in San Antonio and Phoenix, Ariz., and a national reputation as a leader in Hispanic marketing. The firm’s family first philosophy and on-site day care facility has earned it accolades from Inc. Magazine, Working Mother, and Entrepreneur. Their headquarters building, a restored Civil War-era limestone building that was once an abandoned hotel and brothel, sits in the heart of San Antonio. The firm moved to the downtown area to be part of the revitalization of Houston Street, dubbed by GDC as the Madison Avenue of Hispanic advertising.
These Trinity alumni have successfully developed a progressive and innovative business with an enviable portfolio of clients in telecommunications, health care, retail, and politics. They chalk up their Trinity connection to coincidence, “because our class years really didn’t overlap much.” But they confess that their alma mater remains an important legacy to a business they call a “communications brain trust.”
Frank Guerra ’83 “The Idealist”
Frank Guerra, co-founder and CEO of Guerra DeBerry Coody, began his career in television news at a CBS affiliate in San Antonio. From there he became the campaign manager for Henry Bonilla, in his first race for Congress. Bonilla, a Republican, won that election by the largest margin of victory in the country against an incumbent. “Along the way to getting Henry Bonilla elected, I learned something about Hispanic voters that was real and measurable,” says Guerra. A father of four, he says Hispanics are concerned about economic issues, educational opportunities for their children, and the well being of small business, where many Hispanics are employed. “We’ve broken the stereotype,” Guerra says of his political marketing strategy, and developed a marketing model that assumes that “an Hispanic can be a Republican.” His successful political marketing work with the Republication National Committee, as well as with the gubernatorial campaigns of Jeb Bush and Rick Perry, caught the attention of the 2004 Bush/Cheney re-election campaign. Guerra was tapped as a member of the national media team, which spearheaded the advertising push to target the Hispanic vote. Guerra’s expertise in multicultural marketing earned him the moniker of “spellbinder of the Latino vote” in a profile for Latino Leaders magazine and he has developed a place for himself in the national political media market, a place he calls the “grown-ups table.”
His competitive spirit was nurtured early on during his days at TrinityUniversity. “I was in a class with some really bright, competitive students, I learned quickly that you couldn’t wait for things to happen, you had to make it happen on your own account.” He says Trinity really opened up his world and provided him a much broader perspective.
Trish DeBerry-Mejia ’87 “The Pragmatist”
GDC president and partner Trish DeBerry-Mejia is well known as a political strategist and crisis communications advisor on the San Antonio political landscape. “Negotiating clients through divisive communications issues is my forte,” she says. And DeBerry-Mejia has handled a few “divisive” issues, such as fluoridating San Antonio’s water supply and the proposed PGAVillage development in an environmentally sensitive area in NortheastBexarCounty. She also served as a campaign manager, helping to elect Ed Garza as the second Hispanic mayor in San Antonio’s history. “That experience was the ride of a lifetime and it gave me a deeper appreciation for strategic planning.”
She has put that strategic know-how to use for such clients as the H-E-B Grocery Company, the Public Utility Commission of Texas, and Pace Foods. Like her partners, she is a very results-oriented person and is known as the firm’s “decisive decision maker.”
DeBerry-Mejia says what she appreciated most from her Trinity education was the “real world experience” she gained working for the campus radio station, the high expectations of her communication professors, and the KENS-TV internship that lead to her ten year career as a television reporter, anchor, and producer.
The mother of a two and half year old son, with number two child due in late March, DeBerry-Mejia says being a parent has given her perspective that career is not the only thing in life. But has it changed her life? Her partner Frank Guerra quickly answers for her, “only completely!”
DeBerry-Mejia says their firm’s “intense focus on the quality of life for all employees” has made it much easier to balance family and work. Their philosophy is simple: recruit and retain highly creative, professional team members, offer them on-site child care facilities and continued learning opportunities, respect them and invest in them.
Tess Coody ’93 – "The Nurturer"
In 1995, when Frank Guerra was scouting for talent to build a new marketing and communications firm, Tess Coody, now GDC’s chief operating officer and third partner, wasn’t so sure he’d follow through with an offer to join. Just before taking the meeting to discuss coming on board, Coody learned she was pregnant with her first child. Would he hire a pregnant woman, knowing that starting up the business would mean long hours and non-stop work? She got a much different response than expected. Thrilled with her personal news, her soon-to-be partner offered her the job and made arrangements for her to telecommute a few days a week when her baby arrived.
Coody, who now has three young sons, worked to create an on-site childcare center that provides her and other GDC parents with peace of mind and contributes to the firm’s high staff retention rate. It has also gained national attention from such publications as Inc. Magazine, Working Mother, Entrepreneur, and Southwest Airline’s Spirit magazine as a symbol of a family-friendly business environment. “We have always been family focused and we wanted to create a work environment that championed that ethic,” Coody was quoted as saying in Inc. Magazine.
As a result, Coody considers herself the “nurturer” of the firm. As the operations person, she manages the human resource component as well as oversees the agency’s health care, telecom, and retail clients. She recently opened GDC’s new Phoenix office, which is the result of their successful relationship with Vanguard Health Systems and the Abrazos program for Hispanics in that area.
Coody graduated with honors from Trinity in 1993 and went on to serve as a reporter for the San Antonio Light, the San Antonio Business Journal, and The Brazosport Facts. Coody says her experience as editor of the Trinitonian was invaluable, providing her with a “laboratory environment to learn about a business where you were responsible for the management of a budget and staff and accountable to a board of advisors.”
“Trinity taught me to be a more critical and creative thinker, which I believe is one of the competitive advantages of our firm.”