Eight weeks after the fiery end to the Mount Carmel standoff, the Waco Image Task Force today will start trying to figure out what kind of image of Waco the siege singed onto the consciousness of the nation and the world.
All that is certain is that just about everybody — thanks to the hordes of out-of-town media here to cover the siege — knows where Waco is.
Surveys show that local residents don’t feel stigmatized by the 51-day-long standoff between Branch Davidian cultists and federal agents. Less certain, however, is Waco’s reputation beyond the Brazos.
“What we’re recognizing is there may have been some damage to Waco’s image,” said City Manager Jim Holgersson.
Identifying and repairing that damage is the job of the Waco Image Task Force. The group is made up of a variety of public relations professionals, business officials and others.
The task force also will try to formulate strategies for a renewed public relations offensive by the city, especially as new tourist sites — which will need visitors to survive — come on line.
“Our role now as citizens of the community is to communicate the quality of life we enjoy here,” said Stan Latham, president of Metro Waco Tourism Council.
After introductory remarks by Mayor Bob Sheehy, assistant city manager Melissa Vossmer and Holgersson, the task force will split into three subcommittees assigned to develop specific media, economic development and education strategies.
“What we’re looking for is broad-based input,” said city community relations manager Carol Perry.
The chairs of the subcommittees are: John Fletcher, advertising and public relations executive, media; Jack Stewart, president of Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, tourism and economic development; and Michael Bishop, vice president of communications of Baylor University, education.
The task force, officials said, is an extension of post-Mount Carmel efforts already underway by City Hall.
Now in development are a city-promoting effort, designed with help from Southern Living magazine, and a 90-second video news release on Waco, Perry said.
“We’ve been doing things based on recommendations from our in-house people, basically City Hall,” Holgersson said. “We thought that we really ought to broaden that, and we ought to invite some other people . . . and let’s talk about the whole image issue.”
An early draft of a report on the aftermath of the Mount Carmel standoff on Waco recommended a task force look at several possible strategies, including radio spots, public opinion surveys, letter-writing campaigns and a national seminar on cults.
Mention of these have been omitted from the most recent version of the report so as to allow task force members to come up with their own ideas, Perry said.
“As we talked about it more and more,” Sheehy said,” we realized we’ve got the resources of a lot of people in town . . . and we said, ‘let’s call on them.’”
Into the limelight
Sheehy played a key role in representing the city in the days after the April 19 fire that killed more than 80 Branch Davidians. He talked tirelessly with reporters from around the world, hoping to shape perceptions of Waco, an official said.
Sheehy said he stepped into the limelight “mainly because I got the calls. We were trying to stay in the background” during the siege.
Before Mount Carmel, the city already had launched a public relations effort, in part, to promote a growing inventory of tourist destinations. The events at Mount Carmel, which is about 11 miles from Waco’s closest border, made this a good time to take a broader look at the area’s overall image, Holgersson said.
“People are focused on that issue,” he said. “There’s attention to it so why not work on it. Even if our image hasn’t been damaged — and I don’t know how to define it — why not still work on the issue of enhancing and promoting our image.”
The Waco Image Task Force will meet at 11 a.m. at the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum’s Knox Hall.