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
“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 Match.com 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 dot.com 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.”