David Marriott • Written September 2015
David M. Marriott specializes in crisis management, crisis communications, labor communications, litigation support and media training. He is a 40-year public relations professional, nationally accredited by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and a member of its Counselors Academy. His career spans broadcast journalism, politics and corporate and agency public relations.
David got his start as a news reporter while still in college, working at then-market-leading KVI Radio, which continued after his graduation from the UW. He moved on to KIRO Radio and finally KIRO-TV, where he won several Sigma Delta Chi reporting awards and a local Emmy.
Following his journalism days, he became press secretary to former Seattle Mayor Wes Uhlman. It was in the Mayor’s office where he first met future business partner Bob Gogerty (David met another future business partner, Don Stark, at the UW where both were members of Beta Theta Pi fraternity).
He left the Mayor’s office to become director of corporate communications for Alaska Airlines and then area director of public affairs for Sheraton Hotels before moving to the consulting side, where he has run four successful communications consulting firms—most recently as a partner of Gogerty Marriott, Inc., formerly Gogerty Stark Marriott.
David is a recognized expert in the field of crisis management/crisis communications who has written articles and lectured extensively on the subject. He has been involved with product recalls, labor strife, corporate takeovers, environmental issues, federal criminal and media investigations, numerous lawsuit and a variety of other highly visible issues—among them the crash of Alaska Airlines flight 261 and the Amanda Knox case.
Because of his extensive experience as an award-winning broadcast journalist and corporate spokesperson, Marriott is a highly sought after media-training consultant and corporate issues strategist.
Marriott was recognized by his peers for his outstanding career and accomplishments in public relations when the Puget Sound PRSA chapter awarded him its PR Professional of the Year in 2001 and again in 2011 as well as the Jay Rockey Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013.
He also has been inducted into the University of Washington School of Communications Alumni Hall of Fame. And in 2012, David won the Publisher’s Choice Award from MARKETING publisher Larry Coffman for his work on the Knox case.
And Marriott is active in the community, currently serving as a board member and twice past president of the Centrum Foundation, past chair of the Seattle Center Advisory Commission and former member and Public Policy Committee chair of the Seattle Repertory Theatre board of trustees.
He also has held board positions with the Earshot Jazz Society, UW School of Music Visiting Committee and the Seattle King County chapter of the American Red Cross, was a founding member of the Seattle Police Foundation board and founding member and past president of Marketing Communications Executives International.
David also is past president of PRSA and former Assembly delegate, district chair and member of the PRSA Ethics Committee. And he is former chairman and past president of Pinnacle World Wide, a network of 60 independently owned PR firms in 40 countries. He currently is managing director, reputation management, in the Allison+Partners’ Seattle office.
No one really accomplishes much, or attains any level of success in this world, without a whole lot of help from a whole lot of other people. I have been blessed in my life with a whole lot of help along the way from family to mentors…from clients to employers…friends and acquaintances…valuable colleagues…and some really good teachers.
My journey goes back to my hometown…Port Townsend, WA. What a great place to grow up! Through school there I made good friends that I still have, and was fruitfully guided by some great teachers. I attended the University of Washington and became a member of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity, and I’m still in touch with some of the guys I went to school with…more helping hands to provide a broader view of the world. I met my future business partner, Don Stark there. He would team up with another future partner, Bob Gogerty and I would join their firm and become a partner many years later.
I’ve moved around a bit. I started as a news reporter at KVI Radio, then to KIRO Radio, KIRO-TV, Press Secretary for Seattle Mayor Wes Uhlman, Director of Corporate Communications at Alaska Airlines, Area Director of Public Affairs for Sheraton Hotels, VP at Corporate Communications, Inc., co-founder of Bean Marriott Public Relations, then to Evans Kraft, Elgin Syferd and finally Gogerty Stark Marriott which evolved into Gogerty Marriott. Whew!!! That’s a lot of moving around. The reason I mention it is because without those experiences and the interaction with all the people involved, I would not have accomplished much on my own or been capable of doing what I do today.
I never planned on getting into the crisis communication/crisis management business. I got there as many in the field did…by being thrown into situations with few options but to “handle it.” And there have been many. Very many. Most I can’t talk about as they are covered by NDAs (non-disclosure agreements). So I won’t. There are a couple, however, that were quite visible that I will mention – the crash of Alaska Airlines flight 261 and the Amanda Knox case.
Back, I believe, in the 1980s, my client at Alaska Airlines, Lou Cancelmi, called and said he wanted to get together to formulate a crisis communication plan for the airline. There wasn’t one. There were general guidelines in the required Emergency Response plan, but no real crisis communication plan. So we spent a day together, out of our offices, asking ourselves, “what would we do if……?” And trying to figure out who would do what if something happened. As we began to sort through various scenarios, a plan began to take shape. Between that time and the 261 accident on January 31, 2000, this plan evolved into a very thorough, well-structured crisis communication plan through the contributions of many people. So when the plane went down, the plan was activated which allowed the airline to respond quickly, and effectively handle a deluge of media calls. We held media briefings every hour even if we didn’t have much to update. A talented group at the airline as well as a couple of key members of the Gogerty Stark Marriott staff, performed with extraordinary skill and effort. Alaska received high marks for its public response to that accident as a result…some exceptions for sure, but generally high marks.
The lesson: planning and preparation…planning and preparation…planning and preparation. Ben Franklin and Winston Churchill were right, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”
We were also fortunate that we had people experienced with the use of the internet and we used it to help disseminate information to the public and media. We were lucky that Twitter and Facebook weren’t around yet, so we avoided the onslaught that would have occurred through these and other social media channels. Remember, this was nearly 16 years ago. We got approximately 12 million unique visitors to the Alaska Airlines’ website in the first 24 hours. Imagine what that would look like today.
The Amanda Knox case couldn’t have been more different…yet similarities did exist. Heavy media attention being one of them as you all know.
I met the Knox/Mellas families via a call from a friend who asked if I’d talk to Amanda’s dad about the media pressure they were feeling. I did and to relieve the press from both families, told him to, “Just tell the media to call me.” I also said we needed to issue a statement…a short one supportive of their daughter, then we’d go from there. Good Grief!! I had no idea at that moment how many media would be calling me. It was a tidal wave of phone calls and email. We got a brief statement issued and it began to quiet just a bit…but it was the start of what has become an almost eight-year saga.
We had intense, worldwide media interest in this story, so the decisions we had to make were selecting who we would deal with first. We had a lot of British tabloid media asking for interviews of the family…Italian media (many similar in style to the British tabloids)…and of course all the local Seattle media and the national networks. Because of the instant coverage in Italy and the UK, all leaning heavily to the prosecutor’s claims of her guilt, I felt we had to go big, fast. So we decided to work first with the hour-long news magazine shows of the three major U.S. networks. They had the time and resources to fully investigate the case against Amanda, and I felt if they did so, they would see the weakness of the prosecution’s allegations and see Amanda for who she really was. This was our objective all along. The prosecution was painting a picture of Amanda that was totally false…180 degrees from the truth. Our job was to hammer away on who this young woman really was…through her parents, sisters, college friends, teachers and others.
After Amanda’s successful appeal and release in 2011, I was asked by one publication what my objective was during this time and my answer was simple…to tell the truth about Amanda Knox. It wasn’t being told by the prosecutor and frankly, so many of the media just followed his lead.
We had very strong pieces done, particularly by ABC and CBS. NBC to a lesser extent, but all very positive about Amanda. I felt these pieces would impact future coverage so if I referred a number of media to those stories they would have an idea of what the “major” news networks were saying. These pieces led to two very pro-Amanda hour-long stories on British television which surprised even me. But I could tell from long conversations with the producers of the stories that they were open to the idea that Amanda was innocent. What a concept!!!
One of the challenges…among many…was that in so many cases, one publication or broadcast would simply repeat what another publication or TV/radio outlet had reported. And if that original story contained a biased tone or factual errors, they were simply repeated time and time again. Another Churchill quote, stolen, I believe, from Mark Twain…”A lie gets half way around the world before the truth gets its pants on.” This was certainly the case for us. We were constantly battling the drumbeat of what I call, repetitive reporting…a single story being repeated and repeated, literally around the world with no one checking its accuracy. I will tip my hat to the major U.S. networks as producers there that I worked with often called to check the accuracy of stories they were seeing from other news outlets.
Bottom line…we had no crisis communication plan or staff to draw from. It was one of those “handle it” situations where you do what you can with what you’ve got. What I had to work with was two amazing families…amazing parents of Amanda, who did basically everything I asked them to do whether that was getting up at 3:00 AM to make a satellite feed for a live morning news broadcast at 7:30 a.m. Eastern time, to taking time off work to spend time with a documentary producer wanting to shoot some “B-roll.” Most of those producers didn’t know where the term “B-roll” actually came from.
To say the least, Curt Knox and Edda Mellas…Amanda’s parents…were stellar. Their respective families, likewise. What a joy to work with them. They became a second family. And even though this long saga is finally winding down, to a successful conclusion, we stay in touch.
And Amanda. What a treat it was to finally meet her after four years of work, when she stepped off a plane at Sea-Tac airport, turned the corner and asked, “Are you David?” It was an emotional moment for me.
It was so gratifying to finally read the “motivation” from Italy’s highest appeal court over this Labor Day weekend. A totally innocent verdict and a scathing rebuke of the prosecution and previous trials…the lack of evidence and credible witnesses, the mishandled investigation, etc. The judges of Italy’s highest court echoed what we had all been saying for years. How sweet the tune. But what the hell took them so long?
What an amazing group of people I’ve had the good fortune to have in my life over these many years and many jobs. My thanks to all for whatever successes I’ve achieved. It’s really because of you I’m here today.