Advice from a Pro: Dave Samson

  David A. Samson

It’s hard for me to believe that I’ve been in the communications business for nearly 30 years.  In fact, as trite as it sounds, it still feels like yesterday that I stepped into my first job at a small Denver-based PR firm. 

I remember so clearly the frustration I felt when it took me four months to land the job.  Four months seemed like an eternity back then.  I also looked so young, at the time, that the firm’s receptionist couldn’t believe I was a college grad.  She remarked to others in the office that she thought they’d hired me straight out of high school.  Not the first impression I had imagined making!

 Anyway, over the span of my career, I’ve had the incredible opportunity to work along side some of the most respected people in our profession, including the Culpwrit’s own Ron Culp.  I feel extremely fortunate to have been exposed to several of the most dynamic leaders in our profession over the last three decades.

So, what have I learned?  Well, way too much to download into a single digestible blog post, but let me offer a few things that stand out for me and hopefully provide some value to those reading this post:

  • Experience and integrity matter.  At the end of the day, what we have to offer (as insiders or as outside advisers) are the experiences we have gained and the integrity we demonstrate in applying that experience.  My advice is to seize every opportunity to gain new experiences, and never compromise your integrity.  No job is worth sacrificing what you stand for.
  • Always remain curious and never stop growing.  To keep advancing myself, a mentor of mine told me to reinvent myself every five years.  In other words, he encouraged me to let go of about 20 percent of my routine activities each year and replace it with 20 percent of something entirely new.  By doing so, I would transform myself every five years.  Given the rapid evolution of our industry, finding new ways to grow has never been a challenge.  Letting go of certain sacred cows has been the real test. 
  • Relationships matter — inside your organization. Seldom is there consensus amongst management in times of crisis — when your credibility and influence matters most.  So, take the initiative to build constructive relationships with your functional peers and across the enterprise.  Become a trusted advisor.  Don’t wait for others to reach out to you.  
  • Relationships matter — outside your organization.  Over the years, I’ve built many lasting friendships across our industry.  Some of these folks are now my most trusted confidants — individuals I can turn to as a sounding board on difficult communications issues, or for personal advice in times of uncertainty. 
  • Lead by inspiration, not intimidation.  Generally, there are two kinds of leaders — those who inspire others and those who seek to intimidate those around them.  Which style of leader are you?
  • Never take yourself too seriously.   None of us is indispensable.  If you think you are, you’re misleading yourself.  Just enjoy what you do and have fun.  If you take yourself too seriously, get over it!
  • Be compassionate and never lose perspective.   No MBA program or outside course will ever prepare you to deal with the most difficult situations you will encounter as a manager — an employee whose son commits suicide outside hid dad’s workplace; a young married couple in the office whose two-year-old daughter dies of SIDS; an employee who discloses that he has cancer one week before he is to be let go during an economic downsizing.  All of these instances are real.  These are the real tests of character and leadership.  How you respond will create your true legacy.

Dave Samson has been General Manager, Public Affairs, Chevron Corporation for the past five years.  Prior to Chevron, Dave held senior public relations positions at Johns-Manville, Levi Strauss & Co., IBM, Oracle and Ketchum. 

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