It’s Hard To Say Goodbye

Featured image: David Landis with his beloved mai tai: retirement promises more culinary and cocktail excursions for The Gay Gourmet! Photo by: Aaron Blank

By LCI Founder David Landis

Sean and David with their dogs
Retiring LCI Founder David Landis (left) with new LCI President Sean Dowdall (right) – and their gregarious pound pups, Gaston (left) and Alphonse (right). Photo by: Susie Biehler

“It’s hard to say goodbye.”

Those immortal words from the iconic Broadway musical Dreamgirls ring in my head as I write this, my final postscript, for Landis Communications Inc. (LCI).

Yup, as of October 1st, yours truly is retiring as President of LCI, where I’ve been since founding this San Francisco-based integrated marketing communications agency in 1990. I’m moving on (more on that later). A seamless transition awaits as our agency is in extremely capable hands, with General Manager Sean Dowdall becoming our next President. He is supported by our crack team of PR experts, who aren’t going anywhere. Together, they are, without a doubt, the best PR team in the business.

So, it’s time to reflect on the past 31 years.

I’m proud that we’re LGBTQ+ owned. 

First, that Dreamgirls lead sentence above may be one of the gayest sentences ever written. The fact that I’ve been able to conduct my business in San Francisco as an out gay man is one of the accomplishments of which I’m most proud. That, as well as the fact that every year since the San Francisco Business Times started its list of top LGBTQ+ owned businesses, we’ve made the cut. We’re also proud that for years, the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce has certified LCI as an LGBTQ+-owned business (and even featured us as its “Business of the Week.”).

I remember in 1990 when I started this agency in my bedroom after leaving KPIX TV (CBS, San Francisco) as its PR Director. 

I had three clients in hand and Tina, my cat, as the perfect “assistant.” My first clients included two former employers (KPIX TV, San Francisco Symphony) and one new client, PIER 39. Those organizations were seminal in giving me the start – and the confidence – I needed to be on my own.

From there, it’s been a wild, fun, sometimes challenging and always rewarding ride. 

We’ve promoted launches, anniversaries, crises, reputation management, IPOs and just plain brand awareness. Back in the 1990s, we launched Old Navy and served as their agency of record nationally for 7 years. LCI helped establish and take them through its IPO. We represented Whole Foods Market on the West Coast and Cold Stone Creamery West of the Mississippi. We promoted NBC Universal (its entertainment division) nationally for more than 10 years – we even media trained Jeff Zucker (now President of CNN). LCI helped UCSF open its Mission Bay Campus, launched Sutter Health’s new CPMC Van Ness facility and also promoted the renovation of Stanford Children’s Hospital. In 2000, when bombed, we went from being a $3.2 million business to an $800,000 business. That was one of the hardest lessons of my professional career (even worse, in a way, than COVID). We survived and that gave us the impetus to initiate our critical ROI metrics program, Promised Results©. In the 2000s, LCI started working with Save the Redwoods League, which is still one of our favorite clients. Velodyne Lidar, a client for 3 years, makes the technology that allows self-driving cars to “see.” We helped take them public in what was then a new form of going public called a SPAC. For 8 years, we even represented a chain of national cemeteries, Northstar Memorial Group – and yes, PR can even help that business effectively. Last year, we celebrated our 30th anniversary by giving away 30 (plus one) contributions of $300 each day during our anniversary month (October) to worthy San Francisco Bay Area nonprofits nominated by LCI staffers.

We’ve always been at the cutting edge and continue to be. 

We didn’t just rest on our public relations laurels. More than twenty years ago, I learned about SEO (search engine optimization) and instituted it to great success for both our agency and our clients. Go ahead and try it: Google “San Francisco Public Relations” and see where LCI lands. I couldn’t have done it without the able help of Mannix Marketing in New York. SEO remains the single biggest contributor to our prospect pipeline at LCI. We also were early adopters of social media, digital marketing and content marketing – and added video production to our suite of services shortly thereafter. We truly are a one-stop-shop, offering every imaginable kind of marketing and communications service that any client might need.

About 15 years ago, we joined the international Public Relations Global Network. 

LCI then was able to develop and share business both nationally and internationally. We also were able to compete with some of the big multi-national PR agencies. I’m honored that I was PRGN’s President during that time. Additionally, I now have trusted and dear friends anywhere I travel all over the world. And those of you that know me well know that I’m a big globe-trotter (COVID notwithstanding)!

Awards – we’ve earned them and run out of shelf space! 

Ragan’s Ace Awards named us America’s #1 small PR firm and the #1 small healthcare PR firm; we’ve received two IABC Gold Quill awards; a national PRSA Silver Anvil award; PRSA San Francisco’s “Agency of the Year” and “Campaign of the Year” awards; been named to Forbes’ list of top 200 U.S. agencies; and also made the PR News Agency Elite 100 list two years in a row. Plus, we’ve always made O’Dwyer’s’ list of top San Francisco PR firms.

Our stellar team members are the reason for our success. 

There are too many to name, but please know that I think of all of you often. I will give a shout-out to my first employee, Mary Carbonara – a modern dancer who, it turns out, has an innate knack for PR. I’d also like to remember a couple of other past staffers and friends, Marsha Robertson and Kate Berenson – who have since left the planet. And to our current team – now spread out virtually – I consider you the prime-time team of all time. Without all these able PR pros by my side, we could never have achieved what we did.

Besides profit (always a priority), what’s been the driving force? 

The belief that serving our community, our clients and our staff is of the utmost importance. I’m especially proud that for two years in a row, the San Francisco Business Times has named LCI to the list of top 100 corporate philanthropists in the San Francisco Bay Area. Given that we’re a $2 million business, even I am surprised we made that list, an honor we share with some of the biggest companies here in the Bay Area.

COVID allowed us to close our brick-and-mortar offices in early 2021, but that’s been another good lesson in how to adapt and change to better serve your clients and staff.

So, what’s next? 

Rest assured, I’m leaving the business, but I’m staying in my beloved San Francisco. There’s nowhere else in this world that I’d rather live. I’ll continue to write for Forbes and the San Francisco Business Times. But truly my favorite writing is for the San Francisco Bay Times, where I pen the food/restaurant column, “The Gay Gourmet.” (You can also follow me on Instagram, where my handle is @gaygourmetsf.) And, since I’m a piano major at heart (yes, a Northwestern University graduate), I’m getting back to my musical roots. The Amateur Music Network has named me its new Curator, a volunteer position that allows me to interview all the great stars from symphony, opera, jazz and Broadway. I’m also continuing my work on the advisory boards of ODC, San Francisco’s premier modern dance company, theatre and school, and Project Open Hand, which serves meals to vulnerable populations. Plus, I’m a board member at Friends of Alta Plaza Park, our local park with stunning views of San Francisco Bay. I’m also looking forward to more travel with my dear husband Sean (again, COVID permitting), more hikes around the beautiful San Francisco Bay Area and more walks with my dear dogs, Gaston and Alphonse.

Here’s an invitation: I have been lovingly called “a lady who lunches” (a nod to my idol – Stephen Sondheim – who, yes, I’ve met!), so I’m open to invitations. Just sayin’. . .

As I wander off into the sunset for new adventures, I have to quote another mentor of mine, the illustrious former program annotator Michael Steinberg at the San Francisco Symphony. “It is a lot that I pack into two simple words: thank you.”

For those of you that want to keep in touch, my new email is: [email protected]. Au revoir for now!

Related articles:

David Landis: Some of my favorite PR Campaigns

LCI Celebrates 30 Years

LCI’s 30th: A Look Back in Pictures

David Landis is the Founder of Landis Communications Inc. (LCI), a San Francisco-based independent marketing communications agency celebrating more than 30 years in business.

27 thoughts on “It’s Hard To Say Goodbye

  1. Congratulations on your retirement, David! I’m truly proud to be part of the LCI team and to have worked with you. I hope retirement brings you plenty of mai tais!

  2. So many years together – and so many adventures! Enjoy every single moment. No one is more deserving of an “encore career” than you.

    1. Brianne, you and I have shared more years together than anyone at LCI. I couldn’t have done it without you, thank you. And never forget the roller coaster ride at the Stratosphere! Cheers, David

  3. Oh David, David David! My heart swells as I meander down memory lane, recalling at least 90 percent of the milestones you mention. I will never forget visiting your bedroom office as you proudly presented your fax machine…cutting edge at the time. Then of course there is the cage and the Pope T-shirts and the tap dancing spectacular, all of which make me laugh and cry… or rather laugh until I cry! I wish you many wonderful adventures and a full and happy life with all that is dear to you. Never change! Love you forever, my dear friend!!!

  4. Fabulous retrospective on what you have created, accomplished and lived with your work, David. Honored to know you and so treasure our friendship. Here’s to your next adventure. Happy Trails. With you all the way, xoxoxo

  5. So many amazing accomplishments. I’m proud to have been part of some. Congratulations and a mai tai on me awaits in Kauai.

    1. Gretchen, you are a big part of LCI’s success over the years. Yes, I’ll take you up on that mai tai – provided you let me buy YOU one as well! Cheers, David

  6. David, in the 20+ years that I’ve known you, you’ve gone from a key contact in a new city where I knew no one, to a service provider when I hired LCI to open the “new” MuseumStore at SFMOMA, to a friend who never said no when I needed good PR counsel off the books, to a colleague I couldn’t say no to when you asked for my “temporary” help at LCI. And here we are, 4 years later, and I’m still at LCI and now you’re leaving!! It’s been a terrific ride and one that is far from over. You’ve taught me a lot – including how to love small dogs – and I like to imagine that maybe you’ve picked up a thing or two from me ?. I count on our continued lunches, dinners and the occasional symphony or theater dates. There are so many Sondheim lyrics I could quote to sum up my feelings (“You could drive a person crazy”, “the little things you do together”, “losing my mind,” “sorry/grateful” “not while I’m around”). I think, though, that “being alive” is most apt – you know how to to live, David, bravely, unapologetically and con brio. Thank you. And happy trails…

    1. David what a typically generous and gracious farewell post, celebrating LCI accomplishments without drawing attention to your utter genius in PR, relationship building, team building, mentorship, creativity, imagination, follow through, loyalty, enthusiasm…the list could go on and on. I have loved being part of your life and work even before LCI, and watching vicariously and from far too great a distance. In Sean you leave your team I. Such capable hands and I hope you can avoid dinner table/pillow talk at least some of the time as you embark on your next great adventures. Lunch absolutely whenever you are in NY. Congratulations and much love, SF

  7. Polly, your words resonate with me and you have been such an integral part of LCI’s success – whether as an employee, client, colleague or friend. You forgot to mention our initial meeting in New York – at the NY Philharmonic with the also smart and one-of-a-kind Lois Cohn who may have been responsible for getting us together. If that’s the case, I thank her for a great gift. More symphony concerts together to come, I promise! Cheers, David

    1. Yes! Dear Lois, who NEVER retired (and is probably up there shaking her head at you), but I know was so happy that we finally were working together.

  8. The great ? song ” Oh baby baby it’s a wild world out there!” is being played at the Caffe Trieste now in your honor”

    Mille Grazie BELLO ‼️❤️

  9. What a lovely kudo, Susan. Many thanks. You’ve been a mentor in more ways than you even know – not just in PR, but in life – and in how you support the arts and education: two things I’d like to do more of in retirement. And yes, we will see each other more on either Coast. Cheers, David

  10. My dear friend of 100 years, cheers to you! Reading your blog, it seems like you won’t have time for lunch– but maybe you can squeeze me in? As I recall, Cafe Claude was a fave of ours. Hoping it re-opens so we can toast, soon!

  11. I waited to write this on David’s last day at LCI because I was with David the first day he started LCI.

    David started this amazing agency at a small desk tucked in the bay window of our bedroom. The rest of the home office consisted of a green screen WordPerfect machine, a super-slow printer and Tina, the cat. David would put papers and files on the bed. Tina liked sleeping on those!

    Now, it is time to look ahead. David is the best friend anyone can have. And now is the perfect time for all of you to reach out to David, have lunch, just a call, whatever. More than anything, David is the most wonderful person in the world to know and have as a friend. And that is coming from his closest friend, husband and now President of LCI.

    Thank you David – for everything!

    1. Sean, how very sweet of you. I guess I’m the luckiest guy because even though I’m retiring, I still get to spend every day with you. You will take LCI to new heights, I’m sure of it! Cheers, David

  12. Retired or not – you will still be the person that I want to see the most in the next PRGN gathering.

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