Different paths call out to all of us, but it takes someone who truly knows themselves to answer.
Ten years ago, Marina Monsisvais chased that call and turned it into Barracuda PR, a successful public relations firm with a growing portfolio of clients.
In those 10 years, Barracuda has made it a mission to be the megaphone for great things happening in the region, which stems from Monsisvais’ love of El Paso’s people, stories and experiences.
“We’ve done a really good job of staying on top of how communications is changing. Just adjusting for digital, video, social, and continuing to stay ahead of things and not resist things,” Monsisvais said. “There are certain things you think you don’t want to do, but not only does it make sense to do it but you should wholeheartedly embrace it and utilize it.”
If you live or work in El Paso, chances are you’ve worked with Monsisvais. In addition to her work at Barracuda, Monsisvais hosts State of The Arts, a weekly radio show on KTEP. She was also a DJ at HERO Radio 94.7 in the 2000s.
She grew up in Inglewood, California, a suburb of Los Angeles, and moved to El Paso with her family before starting high school. She graduated from Burges High School and then from New Mexico State University. She is currently working her way through an MBA program at UTEP.
Barracuda’s office in Central El Paso contains glimmers of Monsisvais’ personal style, and includes an original mural outside and even more art inside.
Barracuda is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month and has grown from a one-person kitchen operation to a team of about 10 with clients ranging from major transportation projects to The Hospitals of Providence and everything in between.
She is a member of the boards of Pioneers 21, The Hospitals of Providence Memorial campus and Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas.
Monsisvais spent an hour last week talking to El Paso Inc. about Barracuda’s impact, pivoting work during a pandemic, the coolness of Central El Paso and the story behind Barracuda’s office mural.
Q: How has the coronavirus pandemic affected what you’re doing at Barracuda?
With the pandemic, we pivoted fast. Communication is more important during times of crisis than ever before. So it was this layer of what our clients need to talk about, how we need to address the issue internally and externally, and making clients think those deep dark thoughts. I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t take them there. Right at the beginning, we did that and talked about their comfort levels and where they wanted to go, and helped them get there.
We did that with ourselves, too, and were super honest with ourselves and what’s important to us. We just remain open and agile, and it’s working for us.
Q: What has been your experience working with your clients right now during the pandemic?
There are some days where there are five Zoom calls back-to-back, and there’s this hunger to stay in touch and keep communicating. We were fortunate to be able to be part of the COVID response. We’ve been working with the Paso del Norte Community Foundation and the Paso del Norte Health Foundation to help them with their COVID response.
Q: What has it been like growing a business and a team here in Central El Paso and being that megaphone for your clients?
It’s so weird. It started in my kitchen, with me and a laptop and a friend. My friend moved and then it was me and a laptop. That was like my investment. There was no capital investment, none of that. I hired one person, and then we moved into the office in my house. Then it was me, an employee and an intern, still in my house. Then we grew into an office on Arizona, and now we’re here in our own proprietary place that’s completely and totally ours.
I don’t know that I ever would have planned it, but each thing begets each thing. And that’s just talking about our physical location. We’ve always been small but have worked on really big things. We’re small but mighty, and that leads to our agility to respond quickly to projects no matter how big or small. There aren’t layers of complexity, and we cut straight to the chase.
I’m so busy looking forward that I never look back, and some things that feel like they happened two years ago happened last month.
Q: What was the path that got you to start Barracuda and to do this work?
I was on the media side for a long time. I came from music. That’s one of my passions in life, period, and I was lucky to be able to make it a job and career for a long time. I was a music writer, photographer, and my undergraduate degree is in mass communications and photojournalism. The whole time I was doing college radio and working at venues.
Starting Hero Radio was really pivotal for me. I didn’t do it by myself; I just happened to be on the team that did it. But that just exposed me to the rest of the city and the rest of the city to me. It was a big change. You felt this cultural shift among young people. There was live music everywhere, and there’s still live music everywhere. There was this other level of live music where you had all levels of club shows and bigger music shows, and it was showing folks that we could have this. There was a whole generation thinking and feeling that, which I always knew we would be able to do as a city.
Q: What’s the PR climate like in El Paso? What do clients ask for?
We have a lot of agencies now, and a lot of marketing agencies that have PR arms. I think there have always been PR ladies here, but I may not have known them. We’ve always been there, we just haven’t had true agencies. When we opened our doors, one of our friends at the newspaper said she didn’t think a PR agency could exist, but that if anyone could do it I could do it. I’m like, alright! I didn’t think it was that hard.
Q: Looking back, was it hard?
Oh it’s hard, don’t get me wrong. It’s hard to start an independent PR agency in El Paso, period. But I didn’t think it was so hard as to not to even attempt it. Heck yeah, it’s hard to start a business, much less one that people don’t quite understand until they need you.
I’ve been placed in rooms before where they’re like, tell me why we need to hire you. If you’re putting me in that position, you’ll come back when you know you need me. I’m not going to justify why I exist. Every now and again someone will put us in that position, and it’s just not a good fit. There are more people and others that are. You need to be open to this type of communication in order for it to work for you. If you’re not even there yet and you’re looking at me to convince you, we’re not a good fit.
Q: Talk to us about the Los Dos mural on Barracuda’s building.
I love them so much. I love them as people, their art and what they represent. My friend and I created Chalk the Block, and through that we had a year where we had pop-up galleries. That’s the first time I really saw Los Dos’ work. I saw their Pachuco pieces and I was like, I need those. I went up to them and asked if I could buy the pieces right there. I acquired those two pieces, and they’re currently in my kitchen.
It turns out I was their first true art patron, as they tell me, to buy a piece of their original art. So we’ve had a beautiful relationship.
We got together and talked about mural ideas, and so there’s the Barracuda muscle car. A lot of people think it’s the Barracuda fish; it’s not the fish, it’s the muscle car. It’s Heart. It’s that.
So together with Los Dos, they created the concept. You see the car and a strong woman with a megaphone on top of the car. They drew me into it, and I’m driving the car. And all the animals in the mural are either alive or have passed and were my pets.
Q: You are a supporter of the arts in El Paso, from State of the Arts to supporting local artists. What has been your process for developing an eye for art and continually showing up for those artists?
It comes from my love of music first. I don’t play music, but I am a master appreciator. We need each other. I know and am aware of how hard musicians and artists work and how they’re expected to do it for exposure.
Having understood that side, I understand it’s important to pay them for their work. Pay them, and help them grow and develop. We need art and music; it’s part of what brings us vibrancy. But we also need to pay for it; you can’t just expect it to be free.
There are things you see that you don’t understand, and it’s fine. It’s art, it’s weird and ephemeral. But the things that make you feel something are the ones I’m compelled to act upon, if I can afford it. It’s important for us to pay for their talents and acknowledge its presence.
Q: What was the deciding factor in joining the UTEP MBA program?
I lead a team and am very conscious that I’m their leader. But I needed a leader, and needed some development, too. I thought, I need to use my brain in a different way for myself and can continue bringing more to them. I don’t have a business background. I have a communications background and can see the end before and figure out how to get there. But it was nice to learn that all those instinctual things are actually business principles. It was like, I was not wrong about this. And there are other things I can put into practice right away.
It’s been a really practical use of the education. It’s doing what I wanted. I’m enjoying it and am also ready for it to end.
Q: You’re a champion of Central El Paso and have made your life and your business here. What is it about this part of town that draws you here?
When we moved here, my dad said we’re going to live in Cielo Vista. I guess when they left in the 70s it was “the” neighborhood. He said ‘Children, we’re coming to Cielo Vista.’ We just wanted a pool. If the house had a pool, we’d continue to be his children.
I quickly figured out that spirit of exploring the city. Somehow, when I was able to drive, I’d drive around and get to know the city.
I stumbled on Central, and it was beautiful. It reminded me a lot of California, with the craftsman homes and grass and porches. It felt like what I was used to when I was growing up.
It’s walkable, there are mom and pop shops. It’s made for you to interact with your neighbors.
Q: What are some of your favorite spots and things to do in El Paso?
People have heard me say this before and I’ll say it again: if you’re bored in El Paso, it’s because you’re boring.
Before the pandemic, it was live music, wherever the shows may be. Eating here is really good. I also think we have really good coffee. I love District, Eloise, Salt + Honey, Savage, I love them all. And I drink them all.
Q: What are you listening to?
I love Run The Jewels. I love Rosalia; she’s so cool. I’m listening to the new Fiona Apple. That album is going to be good for a very long time. The Strokes, and The Weeknd.
Every day I’m on my bike and riding to Run The Jewels or Rage Against The Machine.