In Memoriam: David McLean Marriott, Sr.

David McLean Marriott, born October 1st, 1943 to Robert Marriott and Jean McLean Marriott, passed away on Monday, April 30th, 2018.

David graduated from Port Townsend High School in 1961, and later attended the University of Washington, where he graduated with a degree in Radio and TV at the School of Communications — he would later be inducted into their Alumni Hall of Fame in 2005. His earliest jobs after college were as a news reporter for KVI Radio, KIRO Radio, and KIRO Television.

After working for mayor Wes Uhlman as press secretary and special assistant, David began a long career in marketing and public relations: first, with Alaska Airlines (1977-1982) and then with Sheraton Hotels. He started his own firm with partner David Bean, Bean/Marriott Public Relations, which was later purchased and absorbed as Evans/Kraft Bean Public Relations. Starting in 1990, David spent many years at Elgin Syferd Public Relations, and then reunited with Bob Gogerty and Don Stark at what would become Gogerty Stark Marriott. Since 2015, he had been with Allison+Partners as Managing Director of Reputation Risk.

“David was the longest-serving member of the Centrum Board in its 45-year history. He was, in essence, a direct connection with our founder and visionary, Joe Wheeler. With deep roots in Port Townsend, David, his wife Helen, and their entire family live the values of Centrum of inclusiveness, lifelong learning, and an embrace of creativity and global cultures. David was high energy and a scholar of jazz. We will all miss his presence at Centrum.” – Centrum Executive Director Rob Birman

A legend in the field of public relations and crisis communications, he received many awards and accolades, including Professional of the Year in 2001 and 2011, and the 2013 Jay Rockey Lifetime Achievement Award from the Public Relations Society of the Year; numerous awards for his work on the case of Amanda Knox, including the Publisher’s Choice Award from MARKETING magazine; an Emmy in 1970 for his work on the courthouse riot story; and induction as a Marketing Immortal from MARKETING.

He also served as a member and officer of numerous business organizations, including Public Relations Society of America, Marketing Communications Executives International, Roundtable, Pinnacle Worldwide and countless others. He was a member of Beta Theta Pi fraternity and Sigma Delta Chi journalistic society, and was a lifetime member of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks.

David was a staunch supporter of the arts and his community with both time and money, serving on the boards of many organizations over the years, including Centrum Foundation in Port Townsend, Earshot Jazz, Seattle Repertory Theater, Seattle Center Advisory Commission, University of Washington School of Music Visiting Committee, and Virginia Mason Foundation Corporate Advisory Board. He also served St. Anne’s Catholic Church on Queen Anne on committees and as a lector and eucharistic minister, and spent over a decade as scoutmaster and council adviser for the Boy Scouts of America.

David was an avid lover of music from an early age, and most especially jazz and opera. Beyond his love of music, he was passionate throughout his life about hiking, fishing, food and wine, Native American art, literature, history and travel. He was full of love and laughter, welcoming and inviting to all, and made everyone feel special. Whether telling stories about his family, or sharing a joke, he was always inclusive of anyone around him, and at the same time, always willing to listen.

He is survived by his wife of 49 years, Helen Marriott; three children, David Jr., Thomas and Rebecca; daughter-in-law Lisa Chick; and his three grandchildren, Frances, Samuel and Napoleon. A public funeral service and celebration of life will take place at St. Anne’s Catholic Church (1411 1st Ave W) on Queen Anne in Seattle on Monday, May 14th beginning at noon. In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation to Catholic Community Services of Western Washington.

In 2015, David shared a bit of his professional journey on the website:

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.

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