PR Legend: Dave Samson


This post is part of The Plank Center’s Legacies from Legends in PR Series that was begun in recognition of the 40th Anniversary of the Public Relations Student Society of America in 2007.D.Samson_DSC4538

Dave Samson is General Manager of Public Affairs for Chevron. He has also held senior communications roles at Levi Strauss & Co., IBM, Oracle and Ketchum.

It’s hard for me to grasp that I’ve now been in the communications business for four decades. As trite as it sounds, it feels like yesterday that I stepped into my first job at a small Denver-based PR firm. At the time, I looked so young that the firm’s receptionist didn’t believe I was a college grad. She remarked, out loud, that she thought they’d hired me straight out of high school. Not the first impression I had hoped to make.

Over the span of my career, I’ve had the incredible opportunity to work with some of the most dynamic leaders in our profession – many of whom took an interest in me.  Here’s what they taught me:

  • Experience and integrity matter. When you sum it up, what each of us has to offer 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.
  • Remain curious and never stop growing. To keep advancing myself, a mentor of mine once told me to reinvent myself every five years. He encouraged me to let go of 20 percent of my routine activities each year and replace those activities with 20 percent of something entirely new. By doing so, I would transform myself over the course of five years. Given the rapid evolution of our industry today, finding new ways to grow is not the challenge. Accelerating change and letting go of sacred cows is the real test.
  • Relationships matter – inside your organization. Seldom is there consensus amongst management in times of crisis – when your credibility and influence matter most. So, take the initiative to build relationships across the enterprise. Become a trusted advisor. Don’t wait for others to reach out to you, reach out to others first.
  • Relationships matter – outside your organization.  Over the years, I’ve built many lasting friendships across our industry. Today, some of these folks are my most trusted confidants — individuals I can turn to for candid advice during times of uncertainty or on difficult issues.
  • Lead by inspiration, not intimidation. There are two types of leaders – those who inspire others and those who seek to intimidate those around them. What style of leader are you?
  • Never take yourself too seriously. None of us is indispensable. If you think you are, you’re fooling yourself. If you take yourself too seriously, stop it! Instead, enjoy what you do and have fun.
  • Be compassionate and never lose perspective. No leadership course will prepare you to deal with the most difficult situations you will encounter as a leader — an employee whose son commits suicide outside his dad’s workplace; a young married couple whose two-year-old daughter dies of SIDS; a close colleague who passes away after a protracted battle with cancer. For me, all these instances are real. These have been the real tests of my character and leadership. How you respond to similar challenges will define your legacy. Enjoy what you do and have fun.

Published: February 26, 2019