Jill Giles and Brad Parscale.
Jill Giles and Brad Parscale. Credit: Courtesy / Giles-Parscale

It seems counterintuitive to suggest that Giles-Parscale has a serious brand and identity problem here at home.

The San Antonio-based firm founded in 2011 by designer Jill Giles and digital data guru Brad Parscale sets the standard for high-end design and branding work in the city and beyond, with a growing list of out-of-market clients.

It’s impossible to miss the firm’s work locally, from the Pearl and Hotel Emma to Signature restaurant in the northwest to the Esquire Tavern and the copper frieze on the facade of the Hotel Contessa downtown. And that’s just the physical expression of the company’s creative efforts. Far more of its work now is found in the digital world.

The firm has experienced meteoric revenue growth, thanks in large part to the work of Parscale, who took an extended leave of absence to work full time crunching data on behalf of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

The firm’s revenue increased by 4,782.2% from 2014 to 2016, finishing last year with more than $97.6 million in revenue, making the company No. 1 on the San Antonio Business Journal‘s 2017 Fast Track list published last week. Unstated in the story, however, is that most of that money went out as fast as it came in, funding national media buys, paying vendors, and covering other campaign digital advertising expenses.

Throughout the contentious presidential campaign and the first 100-plus days of the Trump presidency, Giles has tended the home fires, focusing her team on all the other clients. None of that business is political.

Parscale, meanwhile, has established a new home base and a new company in the Miami area, one that associates say could grow to become a $100 million enterprise. Unfortunately, that won’t be growth San Antonio enjoys.

For Giles, her association with Parscale and his continuing work for the Trump administration has led to local businesses and individuals with strongly held anti-Trump sentiments to ostracize her. That acrimonious treatment has taken its toll on Giles and cost the firm some business it did not want to lose.

“Any local business we have lost has been more than made up by out-of-market clients,” Giles said last week, “but I don’t do political work and neither does anyone else here at Giles-Parscale. San Antonio is home. I don’t want to be under attack.”

Few people distinguish between the two principals. Parscale is still her partner. His name is still one-half of the firm’s name.

The courtyard at Giles-Parscale. Credit: Courtesy / Giles-Parscale

“Jill had almost nothing to do with the campaign, and there is no one still working at Giles-Parscale that worked on the campaign,” Parscale said in an interview Friday. “The majority of our growth now is out of market. We have a lot of companies that want to learn how to use data to become better companies. We proved on the campaign how well we understand data and how effectively we can use data.”

Parscale feels that too many people in San Antonio can’t accept the firm’s work on behalf of a client they oppose politically. They fail to see the economic benefit of that work to the local economy, Parscale said.

“We spent nearly $100 million in the course of the campaign with our operation based in San Antonio, and a ton of that money was spent in San Antonio on campaign-related employment, thousands of hotel rooms, all kinds of economic activity,” Parscale said. “Many of the employees that worked on the campaign have spun off their own enterprises, using the campaign as a catalyst to better success.”

Parscale still maintains a condo in San Antonio, but South Florida appears to be his new base, where he is expected to grow a digital consultancy that serves businesses and political candidates with actionable micro-data strategies, helping clients to better connect to customers or voters, depending on the work.

Regardless of how any of us voted in the November presidential election, Miami’s gain is San Antonio’s loss.

I’ve known Giles far longer than I’ve known Parscale, but if there is one attribute they both share, it’s an absolute confidence in their talents and ability to deliver on behalf of the clients they serve.

Giles has been a small businesswoman since 1984 when she and a single production artist established Giles Design in a King William studio. For 30 years, Giles has dominated the high end of the local market with her work, building a reputation for first-class design work in print and in the built environment.

Inside the Giles-Parscale office. Credit: Courtesy / Giles-Parscale

She met Parscale in 2010 at an Hispanic Chamber of Commerce event and one year later they were in business together, Parscale leading the firm into the fast-growing digital space.

The two partners are very different people. Giles is petite, soft-spoken, with trademark long blond curls. Parscale, a former UTSA and Trinity University basketball player, is 6-foot-8, blunt-spoken, with a shaved head and fiery red Viking beard.

Trump’s victory over a pack of Republican rivals and his stunning electoral defeat of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, many in the political world agree, was due in no small part to the digital and social media strategies shaped by Parscale. The use of big data and social media were key to underdog Trump’s fundraising, building his base, and turning out voters eager for change at any cost in Washington, D.C.

For all the years Giles has worked here and built her brand and reputation, it’s Parscale who has become more of a household name in political and business circles. Trump’s ascent to the presidency transformed Parscale into a minor political and tech celebrity, and that’s where the challenge began for Giles.

The more national and local media attention Parscale attracted and the more credit he was given for contributing to the Trump victory, the more heat Giles felt from some friends and colleagues who supported Clinton and loathe Trump.

The irony here is that Giles is fairly apolitical, far more interested in communicating through good design than in political messaging or partisan politics. Like many women of her generation who have worked hard to achieve business success in a male-dominated world, her focus has been on empowerment and proving that excellence prevails in the marketplace.

Part of the problem is the firm’s success as it morphed into two very different enterprises, both under the Giles-Parscale name, during the presidential campaign. Giles and her team continued to do design work, while Parscale established what became an independent operation focused on a Trump victory. Few people knew he had taken a leave of absence, and even today, few know that he lives in the Miami area and travels more often to Washington D.C. than to San Antonio.

Parscale is no longer much of a presence here. None of the current agency employees worked on the campaign or work today on Trump administration business. Yet most people in San Antonio continue to associate Giles-Parscale with the Trump administration.

Parscale said he wants to help Giles-Parscale continue to grow even as his new business takes shape in Florida. Can he have it both ways? Common sense suggests people will not stop associating Giles with Parscale’s work for the Trump administration unless the firm’s name and ownership structure change.

Giles has no desire to live or work anywhere but San Antonio, while Parscale is bound to become a road warrior as his new business is built on his success as part of the Trump team. He will be in high demand in conservative political and business circles, and that means living in a city with a big airport with lots of nonstop flights. That’s not San Antonio.

“This presidential campaign was an amazing experience,” Parscale said. “I am going to continue to work for the president and into the 2020 election. I also am running America First’s digital operations.”

Politics can be a brutally cyclical business, so Parscale could be flying high into the 2020 presidential campaign, or he could find himself on the sidelines. That’s not a problem he has to face anytime soon. But a breakup with Giles, however friendly, seems inevitable. Parscale’s work is no longer in San Antonio, while for Giles, there’s no place like home.

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Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard is co-founder and columnist at the San Antonio Report.