Dave Syferd

Dave Syferd • Written May 2014

Dave is a senior strategist, brand counselor, marketing communications expert who has successfully managed companies and major marketing communications accounts.

He graduated from Whitworth College in Spokane with a degree in political science.  His earliest desire was to become a commercial airline pilot and was accepted in the pilot training program as an officer cadet in the US Navy.  After commissioning, he began flight instruction, but never flew because, as it turned out, he didn’t have 20/20 eyesight.  The Navy then started him on his eventual career path by training him to become a Minority Affairs Officer.  He initiated community outreach programs and supported the recruitment of minorities in Washington DC, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia. 

After fulfilling his military obligation he joined the staff of Merry Calvo Lane & Baker, a Seattle public relations agency that soon sold to Hill & Knowlton, the worlds largest public relations agency.  Dave served many of the firm’s corporate and governmental clients and was named as the Executive Director for the National Governors Conference in Seattle in 1974.  He rose to the position of Vice President, Director of Client Services before becoming the general manager of H&K’s Honolulu office.  Longing for the gray Pacific Northwest, he returned to Seattle as vice president, director of corporate communications for Rainier National Bank.

While at Rainier, be became friends with the SVP and advertising account supervisor from Cole & Weber, Ron Elgin.  Dave and Ron talked often about how fragmented marketing communications were in those days with public relations, advertising, employee, customer, investor and governmental relations all delivering different messages to their respective audiences. That made no sense to them.

Dave and Ron co-founded Elgin Syferd Advertising and Public Relations in 1981, which grew to become the largest independent agency in the Pacific Northwest, eventually selling the agency to DDB Needham.  He managed the media and public relations groups as well as day-to-day operations, and Elgin Syferd Drake in Boise, Idaho that the company had purchased.  They sold Elgin Syferd to DDB in 1994.

After the sale of Elgin Syferd, Dave helped spearhead Seattle’s bid for the 2012 summer Olympic Games, served as interim CEO and Vice Chairman of Bob Walsh Enterprises conducting business in Russia and the Republic of Georgia, and as co-founder of International Tourism Councils, helping establish tourism in Argentina, Peru and Vietnam.  Most recently he served as CEO of Dave Syferd & Partners, a small full-service agency. Currently he is an independent marketing consultant living in West Seattle with Trudi, his wife of 47 years.

When Ron Elgin and I decided to start our own agency, Ron was at Cole & Weber and I was at Rainier Bank.  The Rainier CEO was Bob Truex.  I loved working for Bob, he was a warm, gracious, a bit crusty, caring, wonderful human being.  As Ron's ultimate client, he too loved Bob and we were both concerned that by announcing our departures he would feel betrayed.  So, we decided to invite him out for dinner and tell him our plans.

Bob couldn't have been more supportive.  He was encouraging, talked about prospective clients and how we could present ourselves and wished us the very best.  He talked at length about how we need to control expenses, go slowly with our salary increases and what the decor and location of our office can say a great deal about the agency.  Then he introduced, what he termed to most important factor in the ultimate success or failure of the agency - the asshole ratio.

Ron and I thought we were pretty good managers, that we understood how to serve our clients and that we could recognize talent.  And, we had never heard of the asshole ratio.  We told Bob that he was going to have to explain that one!

He complimented us both by saying that as managers we had proven to him that we could select very good people.  Ron had assembled an excellent account and creative team at Cole & Weber and I had built Rainier's corporate communication department from scratch.  Both were successful operations with extremely talented and compatible people.  So Bob explained that he was confident that Elgin Syferd would attract very good people because of our track record in doing so thus far.  But, he said, as we grow we would have our managers hire their people, and eventually the people they hired would hire others and, he said, as the decisions were being made increasingly without our input or approval, the chances would increase that assholes would begin to creep into the organization.  And that as the ratio of assholes increased, the quality of work produced would be negatively impacted.  Pretty sure that is not taught in business school, but he was absolutely right!

So we moved forward with our plan, Elgin Syferd became a bigger success than I ever imagined. It was, in my opinion, because we hired some fantastic people.  I am so very proud of the Elgin Syferd/DDB alumni.  I am extremely pleased to see how many of them went on to be major players in not only this market, but nationally and internationally as well. I was going to list several but knew I'd forget someone, so I won't.  But they know who they are, and they're the reason I'm getting this recognition.  I thank them all!