Infórmate DFW is a collage of community, from the leaders who’ve graced our covers the past decade to the teams supporting them, our pages and our collective triumph. Silvia Villarreal is many things — a publisher, innovator, influencer. Just don’t tell her she’s the face of the magazine.
It all began with a desire to have more Latinos present in the arts and culture scene. Fate stepped in to serve a higher calling.
It was 2008, and Hispanics were nearly invisible at all the “cool” events going on in Dallas — even when they were the intended audience — Silvia Villarreal recounts, as we dig into our parrillada at her favorite restaurant, La Calle Doce in Oak Cliff. It’s a Wednesday evening, and we’re planning her publication’s 10-year anniversary edition. She looks at me in disbelief as I continue asking details of how the magazine came about. I’ve heard many anecdotes in my nine years of knowing and working with her but need more nitty-gritty for this article.
Villarreal proceeds to explain that, although she’d always noticed a lack of Hispanics at local museums and theatrical performances, she became hyperaware of the cultural gap during a three-month stint selling ads for a startup fashion magazine. To meet ad prospects who could help the publication diversify its audience, her outings became events such as DFW Latino Fashion Week and Latino Day at the Dallas International Film Festival. The Monterrey, Mexico, native had lived in Dallas 14 years but was discovering this hip scene herself after more than a decade of splitting her time mothering three children while assisting and eventually running a lucrative real estate business.
“It was a whole different world for me, and I knew that’d be the case for many others,” Villarreal says. “Even though I really wasn’t good at selling ads as I was about content ideas, I realized ad sales were the only thing I needed in order to cater to the Latino market — so they could participate.”
With fresh insight into publishing and her real estate business experiencing a severe market downturn from the financial crisis, Villarreal refocused her energy on creating a product that would fill a void in Dallas-Fort Worth: a magazine to inform Latinos about arts and culture. “I thought it was going to be so easy,” the diversified entrepreneur says in her distinct, loud voice, laughing while shaking her head. “Clearly, nothing went the way I thought it would!”
Villarreal started approaching arts and culture organizations, finding they were nonprofits that didn’t have budget for advertising. Their recommendations to instead find sponsors for each edition was enough to keep her motivated.
She leveraged a popular e-newsletter circulating the local Hispanic community to place an ad: Writers wanted for a new Latino magazine. Jesse Garcia called almost immediately. He had hefty news writing experience, worked in public affairs and volunteered in various community-serving groups, including the LGBT council he’d started for U.S. civil rights organization LULAC, or the League of United Latin American Citizens.
“When I saw his drive and passion for the community — the way he talked about it inspired me,” Villarreal says of their first meeting less than a week later at the West End. “It was funny; I felt like I had to do the magazine right now! He made me see it could really benefit the community.”
Garcia was eager for a column where he could provide a Latino point of view on politics. (He’s actually in Washington now. Read more on page 11.) Plus, he knew of many Hispanic leaders who’d make excellent cover stories and related organizations that’d be willing to sponsor the editions. Altogether, they represented an untapped market hungry for information and inspirational narratives they could identify with and aspire to.
“I’d never really heard about Latino leaders,” Villarreal says. “Where they came from, how they got there — I’d never paid attention to that.”
A polished content strategy in hand, Villarreal needed a matching design, a look that exuded Hispanic go-getter: leadership, professionalism, of and in the moment. It was the late Pat Angel, a former account executive for print marketing company Versa Printing, who bridged the connection to José Suaste. A multicultural advertising creative behind the campaigns of numerous global brands, Suaste would end up leading the magazine’s design throughout the next decade. (Learn his “why” on page 9.)
“This October will be five years since Pat departed; she’ll always hold a special place in my heart, Jose’s and really everyone who knew her,” Villarreal says, elaborating on a recent, reminiscent conversation with Suaste about Angel. “She was a fighter and always so kind and willing to help. I grew to love her like a family member.”
By fall 2009, a glossy magazine by the name of Infórmate DFW started circulating Big D next to general market names like PaperCity, Dallas Observer and FD. It was on a mission to promote and encourage the advancement of the Latino community. This, by providing the latest commentary and features on topics including arts, culture, business, government, education and — most importantly— rising and accomplished Hispanic leaders.
IDFW leads by example. A handful of local Latino publications that mostly resembled tabloids have come and gone. To date, no other publication in the metroplex caters to Hispanic professionals and entrepreneurs who also prefer their media in English. By continuously evolving its strategies and tactics, the quarterly magazine remains on course and in print when many mainstream publications have gone digital or vanished.
What happens in the community continues to be a direct correlation of what happens in and with the magazine. Villarreal has many a time considered going fully digital due to the expense of printing. But, every time she’s about to, someone is always willing to gather sponsors to help highlight a leader on the cover.
“The Latino leaders have kept me going; their stories have been my personal drive,” she says. Likewise, “the very people we serve in the community have kept us in print.”
Villarreal’s perceptive eye and local involvement have also been key. Circa 2011, the Hispanic business and professional community started feeling small because the same people would show up at networking events, so these “turned into more of a happy hour for socializing than connecting for business,” she explains.
The solution: IDFW created its own quarterly networkers. More than celebrating the community leader on the magazine’s cover, the goal was to diversify attendees to enable more meaningful, relevant connections. This, by keeping the invite list exclusive to the cover person’s personal and organizational contacts and the magazine’s sponsors and advertisers.
In 2015 came a community-wide, family event celebrating children: “Festival de los Niños” at Kidd Springs Park. “I had nothing better to do,” Villarreal says, with a sarcastic laugh. “I’m from Mexico, where we celebrate April 30. No one was doing events around that, and I wanted to do something to directly connect with Latino families beyond our audience of businesses and professionals. What better way than to celebrate El Día del Niño?”
Come festival day, the sun shined brighter than ever and sounds of mariachi and folkloric music filled the air as children rode ponies and played games in the lush, green grass. The evening before, the IDFW event planning team was on lockdown inside the park’s community center — surrounded by deafening tornado warning sirens and faced with a heavy chance of rain the next day. Due to such unpredictable spring weather, no amount of global brand and local sponsors could convince Villarreal to repeat the highly successful event.
It took her nearly three years to recover from that trauma before her inner innovator pushed to fill another community void — this time, indoors. Last November, IDFW launched event series Experiencias Exclusivas for a new spin on fun, socializing and connecting live with the adult Hispanic market. The jam-packed inaugural affair comprised a dinner, miniconcert and dance because “there’s really not a place outside of bars where adults can let loose,” Villarreal says.
“I like when people talk about our events, so part of me worries I won’t be able to make the next one better,” she adds. “The name includes ‘exclusive’ because that’s exactly what they’ll be: There’s no defined agenda or format to dictate the next experience. It allows my spontaneous personality to kick in.”
Similar to Experiencias, the energetic, fun-loving entrepreneur is letting life dictate her next business venture. Lately, social posts of her constant Mexico travels have drawn the attention and group-trip requests of multiple women she’s met through the magazine. Many of them don’t have a good grasp of the Spanish language or are uncomfortable navigating outside of tourist hot spots like Cancun and Cabo. “Again, it’s the community asking for things that gives me ideas and opens doors,” Villarreal reaffirms. “I want people to know more about Mexican culture and our traditions,” but these trips as a business can be a “one-time thing or happen for the next few years.”
IDFW is still front and center for Villarreal. Living up to its name and vision, the magazine recently expanded its distribution into Irving and Fort Worth. Villarreal’s not exactly sure how, but she hopes to extend circulation to more cities in the metroplex. If history’s the best predictor of the future, she’ll rely on the work family she’s built this past decade to help determine and execute next steps.
“I like to allow people to take ownership and be part of the different things we do — event planning, marketing, public relations, brainstorming,” Villarreal says. “I involve everybody who’s been or is with the magazine, so they can help with ideas. They often offer to volunteer; they feel part of the magazine family because of the relationship we create. It makes me feel we’ve done something good throughout the years.”
I can attest, especially to the ownership part. You see, Villarreal wanted this article to be strictly about the magazine, not about her — not her picture, voice nor history. Contrary to her confident, exuberant personality, she doesn’t like the spotlight; she’s happy directing behind the curtain. I made the call that IDFW’s story is intrinsically hers — I couldn’t separate the two and write a decent rendition of the magazine’s 10-year journey. Unless, my plan wasn’t well executed, I could expect her to call a meeting, imploring to brainstorm a new direction.