The Human Connection

Elaine Garza, the cool and collected chief behind Giant Noise, the public-relations behemoth she founded more than 10 years ago, has mastered the art of engaging conversation and honest communication. The key, she tells us, is simply making a genuine connection.

By Deborah Hamilton-Lynne, Photos By Rudy Arocha, Styled By Ashley Hargrove, Hair and Makeup By Lorena Guadarrama Molano

Elaine Garza, the cool and collected chief behind Giant Noise, the public-relations behemoth she founded more than 10 years ago, has mastered the art of engaging conversation and honest communication. The key, she tells us, is simply making a genuine connection. 

When you search on Amazon for books about connection, you get a staggering 55,571 results, which include 1,965 entries in the business-and-money category alone. Faced with that daunting selection, I turned to Paul J. Meyer, a fellow Central Texan who has been called the father of the personal-development movement. His Success Motivation Institute, founded in 1960, is dedicated to motivating people to reach their full potential. And he knows a thing or two about connection. Among his writings, I found one of the quotes I was looking for: “Enthusiasm glows, radiates, permeates and immediately captures everyone’s interest.” 

Honest enthusiasm is the key to Elaine Garza’s success and mastery of connection. Even on a winter’s day, Garza is full of warmth and cheer. It is impossible to respond to her greeting without a smile because everything about her says joy. As she discloses natural frustrations about balancing career and family obligations, her hair bounces and her eyes twinkle, and those around her feel at ease. Garza has built her company, Giant Noise, into a premier public-relations firm and brings an element of the human touch to every relationship. She is the type of person that always picks up the conversation where it left off, with humor and enthusiasm.
Garza is a natural communicator and the embodiment of a person who is living and loving her purpose.

Garza was raised in Corpus Christi, Texas, and made her way to Austin via the University of Texas. During those years, she fell in love with both a city and a calling. In 1994, with her degree in journalism in hand, Garza set out to join the ranks of Austin PR professionals, only to be rejected by some of the city’s largest companies. Wisely, she decided she should step away, regroup and seek another adventure, and made plans to join a friend who was teaching English as a second language in Mexico. Upon hearing this plan, Garza’s mother suggested an alternative: Why not check out the job market in New York City, where they had family and Garza had a friend working in publishing? Open to the possibilities and “more than a little naive,” Garza packed her bags, bought an airline ticket and took a chance on fate.

“Who knows what would have happened if I had gotten the jobs I applied for in Austin?” Garza reflects. “I probably wouldn’t have had my agency and I probably wouldn’t have met [my husband,] Rich.” 

Her risk paid off when Garza landed her first job out of college working for publishing giant HarperCollins. 

“I had a round-trip ticket and wasn’t thinking that I would ever move to New York, but once I got there, I had 10 interviews and surprisingly, several job offers. By chance, the woman who interviewed me at HarperCollins was a Texan. Talk about luck,” Garza recalls. “I was so naive that I went in to the interview with my briefcase and my fake press releases that I had written at UT. I didn’t even know enough to be embarrassed, and unbelievably, she hired me. Of course, I hadn’t planned to move or start work right away, so I canceled my return ticket. My mom shipped everything to me and I lived on my friend’s couch and with my grandmother for a while until I could get settled. I always thought I would be there for a year or two, and it turned into 11.”

New York and the fast-paced world of publishing fit Garza to a T. Both her parents were New Yorkers and there was plenty of family living in the area, including her beloved grandmother. Garza laughs, embarrassed to admit that her first day at HarperCollins left her a little star struck when she walked in to find actress Loni Anderson, star of the sitcom WKRP. Garza later went on to work with other famous personalities, ranging from Howard Stern to Joan Rivers
to Alice Waters.  

“It was just awesome to be in a large PR department, and I know now that it would shape the kind of agency I would create,” Garza says. “I was working on such a wide variety of projects, from a book on the Virgin Mary to Howard Stern. I can’t imagine anything more exciting and I am so grateful that was my first job. I got to read manuscripts at lunch—all kinds of manuscripts—and I loved the team. I loved the variety. It was never boring. I started as an assistant and when I left, I was a senior publicist. David Rakoff became a friend that I admired.  He knew everyone—the Sedarises and Andy Richter. They wouldn’t remember me, but for a 23-year-old, it was about as exciting as a job can get.” 

Mastering the art of connection and communication, Garza learned her celebrity clients were, first and foremost, just people, and that it was a mistake to get into PR thinking that clients would become best friends. She also learned the best publicists let their clients shine while they help manage the crazy world that is the celebrity circus imposed by 24/7 media exposure. 

Eventually, Garza left to work as a magazine publicist with publications such as Outside, Spin and Vibe magazines. 

Foremost for Garza then and now is honest communication in all relationships, with clients and with the media. She not only has retained the lessons learned during her tenure in New York, but she has also maintained her relationships with firms, clients and colleagues she knew in those formative years. One of Giant Noise’s newest clients, the Texas Book Festival, brings Garza full circle, allowing her to utilize her contacts in the world of book publishing while expanding her interest in authors and their readers.

“Sometimes it is a fine line to walk because there are sensitive things at times that we cannot release. Sometimes the client wants a guaranteed return, but I have learned that PR is nebulous in outcome. You can get two major covers and it barely moves the needle,” Garza says. “On the other hand, I can have a one-on-one conversation with a writer and get four major stories out of it. To me, success is contributing in a positive way to advancing your clients’ goals and building awareness of their accomplishments and product. I have been lucky to have clients that I believe in and am passionate about. The match starts with honest communication about goals and expectations, and that has to happen from the beginning. If it is a match and we feel connected and clear, I can design a successful plan for them. We have been lucky to have several long-term clients, and so, we almost have a shorthand between us. … Now we just know what to do and we mesh.”

Fast-forward to 2006. Garza is married to Austinite Rich Garza and is the mother of a daughter, Luci. The couple made the decision to return to Austin to put down roots and raise their family. Although Garza was torn about leaving New York and the impact on her career, she took the leap and recruited Spin and Vibe to become her first clients. With a 3-month-old baby, she began working from her garage with her first employee, William Mills, who had been her intern in New York. Admittedly, Garza says she didn’t have a real business plan and the agency grew organically as she began to make connections in Austin, sometimes through events that Spin or Vibe sponsored, and sometimes through family, friends and her Texas Exes community. As the agency took on a life of its own, it eventually outgrew the garage space, forcing Garza to learn many important lessons in business survival 101.

“I really thought I would live here and do projects in New York. I was naive, but Austin was a great launching pad,” she says. “I had been gone for 11 years and, other than college friends who had managed to stay in touch, I didn’t have community. I had to reconnect in order to build, and a series of good things happened for me. I was lucky to have two initial clients, Spin and Vibe. Outside came in and hired me as their agency. The editor of Vibe went to Latina, so I got them as a client as well. I also started to reach out to magazines in Austin because that was my niche. I reached out to Austin Monthly and they were my first client in Austin. We also work with Texas Monthly. 

“Here’s what I learned starting and building the agency: Even if you start in a garage, always look and act like a first-class professional—great logo, considerate and attentive staff. As the owner and founder, you can’t possibly know everything and be good at everything, so humbly hire people to do the things you don’t like and aren’t good at. That lets you focus on your strengths. 


“When I hired Julie Hart to be my CFO, it was a complete game changer for me. Do things you have never done before and you will be surprised how it turns out. I was scared when we moved into our first office space, but it was a turning point for the agency and allowed us to continue to grow. When I took on [hotelier] Liz Lambert and Bunkhouse as a client, I had no experience in hotels. The Hill Country Food and Wine Festival was my first festival. Look at all opportunities and don’t miss a chance to connect, even if it involves a risk. Our San Antonio office came to be because the chief marketing officer of the Pearl was a friend of my husband, Rich. Our client list grew from that association, and serendipitously, my former assistant, Natalia, had moved to San Antonio and was the perfect person to head up that team. … It really is six degrees of separation.”  

In 2016, Giant Noise celebrated its 10th anniversary, with offices in Austin, San Antonio and New York. With more than 30 employees, Garza, along with Guerilla Suit Owner James Moody, purchased the current Seventh Street space, a far cry from Garza’s garage. Staying true to her “industry of interesting,” Garza has also attracted a wide variety of clients, including hotels, restaurants, fashion brands, festivals and events. Giant Noise is the agency of record for high-profile clients including Hotel Emma in San Antonio, South Congress Hotel, Texas Book Festival, Circuit of the Americas, Launderette, The Salt Lick, Sway, the Paramount Theatre and the Moontower Comedy Festival, just to name a few. Garza makes an effort to stay current and has incorporated a social-media specialty team into her staff. It is clear that she lives what she loves and loves what she does. Garza makes an effort to stay current and has incorporated a social-media specialty team into her staff. It is clear that she lives what she loves and loves what she does. 

“Giant Noise is not just Elaine Garza. The company is made up of an unbelievable team,” Garza says. “My first employee, William Mills, is still with me. Courtney Knittel has been with me for six years and Rose Reyes joined me as COO, coming from the Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau. I am blessed with great teams here and in San Antonio. I am lucky that I get to represent clients I believe in. I don’t see how you can represent someone unless you believe in them 100 percent. And I have great relationships and respect for the writers I work with. I love telling my client’s story and showing all of the components of what they do. I love the one-on-one connection, going to lunch and getting to know people on a personal level. If you know someone’s work and show that you respect the work, you not only know what and how to pitch a story, but you also don’t have to feel like you are constantly selling. Be enthusiastic and take the time to have a conversation rather than relying on an electronic connection. 

“I try my best to be kind and grateful to everyone I work with. A journalist is your friend and someone you can hopefully work with for a long time, so trust is important in that relationship. The best possible thing you can do is actually read their stories and thank them. Consideration and taking the time goes a long way. You can’t be a fake if you want to make a genuine connection. I always welcome honest communication. Make sure from a connection standpoint that you don’t limit your connections. Connect with everyone, whether they are younger or older than you. Some of the most fascinating relationships that I have are in different age ranges, whether they are 25 years old or 70. It goes back to what is interesting. I am a very curious person and I am interested in a variety of things, not just pitching, pitching, pitching, but getting to really know people. Building a relationship is what real connection is all about. And that is how I measure the success of Giant Noise: in how we conduct business and how we personally conduct ourselves.”

Success has come with a price, but Garza knows how to set her priorities and keep them straight, juggling media connections, clients, family and self-care. Today, her children (Luci, 11, and Sabina, 9), husband and extended family, including parents, siblings and cousins, help Garza balance an incredibly rich life that also includes community involvement in organizations such as the Texas Medal of the Arts, the Texas Exes, the Flatwater Foundation, the Waller Creek Pop-Up Picnic and Les Dames d’Escoffier.

“As far as family goes, I try to be home by 6 so we can eat together as a family. On the weekends, I focus on the kids and Rich. I try not to look at emails on Sundays, and we are trying to untether from our phones,” Garza says. “We like simple things, like watching movies together and going to the kids’ games. I am very active with the girls in Girl Scouts. It has been a great way for me to connect with their friends and the moms. Once a week, Rich and I have date night. We also love to travel. I take a full month off in the summer and that is my time with my family. My parents travel with us as often as possible, and my brother is in the Foreign Service, so we get to go visit them in great places, like China. We have been to Thailand and Hong Kong and are planning a trip to Berlin this year, as well as Ireland, where some of my father’s relatives live. I love doing this with and for the kids. I see them learning and becoming better citizens. We have so many great memories of our trips.”

As if on cue, Rich whisks Garza away from a probing journalist for date night. Ever the consummate professional, Garza finishes the interview with her trademark humor, honesty and enthusiasm. 

“Here’s what I know for sure: I am a better boss, a better co-worker and a better mom when I keep my priorities in place. I would be lying if I said I always have it all together or always get everything done, but I believe that your environment has a huge effect on your psyche, so I try to keep it as simple as I can,” Garza says. “I have to exercise for my sanity and the sanity of everyone around me, so that is how I start most of my days. If you don’t love consuming media, writing and getting out there, don’t go into public relations. The secret to good PR isn’t a pitch; it is making that genuine connection, which allows a relationship. It is a conversation, an intimate, ongoing conversation.”

And with that, the Garzas are off for their evening, already engaged in each other, enthusiastic, glowing, radiant and capturing everyone’s interest as they walk away.  


Sweet Inspiration: People Who Inspire Elaine Garza Every Day
 

  1. “My parents, always and forever. I am very close to my parents and I love them deeply. They inspire me each and every day. To have two people believe in you so much before you even believe in yourself is the ultimate gift.”
  2. “My grandmother started as a secretary for a financial magazine on Wall Street and ended her career as the VP and head of circulation. She was the life-of-the-party, dance-on-the-table kind of lady. She certainly taught me that you can work really hard, but please do not take yourself too seriously, and if you cannot have fun, what is the point?”
  3. “My co-workers inspire me and teach me every day.”

Elaine Garza's Must List:

Must attend: 
“I love the Waller Creek Picnic so much. Being around friends in the park, eating delicious food and supporting a great cause is the perfect mix for me.”

Must experience: 
“If you come to Austin and don’t take a dip in Barton Springs at least once, you are really missing out. It takes me about 20 minutes to slowly make my way all the way into the water, and my kids tease me endlessly but I always leave with my spirits lifted.”

Must-try restaurant: 
“That is like picking between my children. I could never just pick one.” 

Must watch: 
“Grown-up movie Before Midnight, and Star Wars with kids. We just watched the entire series and it was so much fun.”

Must read:
“The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver is at the very top of my list.”


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