Remembering Dave Marriott

Legends truly make you better, most of the time without even trying

Generally speaking, my contributions here focus on the intersection of digital and public relations, which most of us would agree is pretty common today, even though it wasn’t when PRWeek first asked me to contribute in 2009. This week, I’m choosing to share some thoughts on a great practitioner I had the privilege of working with, Dave Marriott, who passed away on April 30, 2018.

In November 2009, I moved to Seattle to join the great team at Allison+Partners, with the goal of opening up shop in the city. Seattle was one of the places I’d most enjoyed traveling to in previous business roles, and when the opportunity arose, I jumped at it. Just days after a cross-country drive, a delayed moving truck, and a quick jaunt down to San Francisco, I was connected with someone I’d heard of, but had never personally communicated with: Dave Marriott.

A colleague of mine introduced us via email with the intent of assessing whether temporary office space might be in the cards, and simply to help me get my PR bearings a bit. A few quick web searches later, I realized that I was speaking with someone who, for lack of a better way to say it, knew his stuff. If you’re not familiar with Dave’s work, he’s most well-known for his support of Amanda Knox and her family and his crisis management work for the crash of Alaska Airlines flight 261 in January 2000. Coincidentally, my marketing work was also affected by that incident, as we had to make changes to a marketing program I was running at American Express at that time.

Dave and I chatted via telephone for about half an hour, and he made himself more than available for anything I might need. We crossed paths once or twice over the next few years, but nothing terribly significant came to pass. Then, in early 2015, Allison+Partners brought on Dave and his colleague, Joel VanEtta.

To say that I learned a lot in the eight-ish months I was in their company would be a massive understatement. Dave’s grasp of optics – even for the smallest thing – was incredible. As someone who didn’t grow up in today’s digital-crazy era, his ability to use time wisely, even when faced with a crisis, was something I hadn’t really seen before in my 15 years of working in marketing and communications. It’s not that everyone else rushed all the time, it’s that he had a well-metered way of approaching situations that there probably should be a book written about. Or two.

One of the areas Dave gave me some fantastic guidance was on this contribution in this very column, where I asked his opinion on the best way to give another former colleague, Don McIver, his due, without coming off as trite upon his passing. In his usual thoughtful way, he asked me a handful of questions about my motivation, assuaged my fears of going slightly "off book" from a content standpoint, and took a pass at my draft.

It’s not often that we get to work with people who are literally recognized as a "legend" in their particular arena, and my takeaway from having had such an experience is that they truly make you better, most of the time without even trying. Dave’s touched countless lives, personally and professionally, and I’m proud to have known him.

Tom Biro resides in Seattle and is MD at Rusty George Creative in Tacoma, Washington. His column (typically) focuses on how digital media affects and shifts PR. He can be reached on Twitter @tombiro or via email at tom@rustygeorge.com.

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