We caught up with the brilliant and insightful Dave Quast a few weeks ago and have shared our conversation below.
Dave, thanks for joining us, excited to have you contributing your stories and insights. We’d love to hear about the things you feel your parents did right and how those things have impacted your career and life.
My parents taught me the importance of, and joy of, education for its own sake. They were both teachers. My mother taught four foreign languages at the high school level and my father, a first-generation American, was a professor of both philosophy and political science. Any resources my parents had went into travel, books, and lessons of one kind or another (mostly music).
With my love of lifelong learning, I jumped at the opportunity to teach at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, where I have been for the past eight years. I get to teach the upcoming generation of communications professionals things I’m passionate about, like ethics, First Amendment law, crisis management, effective storytelling, and most of the fundamentals of strategic communications.
Not only do I enjoy mentoring my younger colleagues based on my nearly 30 years of experience, but I learn a lot from them, and my students, as well. Consulting, and particularly consulting with people and organizations going through crises, involves a similar skillset, so I’ve got the best of all worlds in that I get to work with interesting clients and teach students at the same time.
Dave, before we move on to more of these sorts of questions, can you take some time to bring our readers up to speed on you and what you do?
Red Banyan is one of the country’s leading crisis management and strategic communications consultancies. People might be surprised that one of the nation’s leading crisis management firms is headquartered in South Florida, but our founder, Evan Nierman, chose Fort Lauderdale as his home base, and many of our world-class consultants live in that area. However, we have clients all over the world, and our crisis management and public relations experts operate in every region of the United States, including Southern California, where I live.
Lots of PR firms say that they do crisis management, but there are very few firms like Red Banyan that live and breathe crisis communications as we do. Crisis communications is a very specific discipline in the communications field, and one that most firms, even “full service” PR firms, don’t have experience in to help clients within moments of being hired, like we do almost every day.
Very often, we engage with organizations and individuals during the most challenging moments of their lives. They need trusted counsel, a steady and strategic hand, and a clear and experienced head. We regularly deal with issues like whistleblowing, cancel culture, data breaches, product recalls, major litigation, bankruptcies, corporate reorganizations, celebrity scandals, and everything in-between.
We are also a full-service strategic communications firm, working with clients around the world to build and position brands or companies and helping them achieve their communications goals using all of the tools in the public relations toolbox, including media relations, graphic design, content development, and the like, across earned, paid, shared, and owned media channels. Often, clients that initially engage us to help them manage a crisis then transition to become ongoing clients for whom we do organization-building public relations.
We’d love to hear the story of how you built up your social media audience?
Social media is a great way to keep up with the news, to curate information that you find interesting, to see what people you are interested in are up to, and, sometimes, to engage. But “engagement” is a double-edged sword and shouldn’t be, well, engaged in, for its own sake. “The internet is forever” and hot takes, if not offered judiciously, can come back to haunt you. We get calls from people all the time looking for help to mitigate the results of an ill-advised social media decision.
But if you want to engage, and you have a good reason for doing so—advocating for a good cause, promoting a business, constructively contributing to a discussion—then there are things you can do to enhance the number of people who see your posts.
I mostly engage on Twitter, and I’ve managed to attract more than 8,000 followers, but the advice below can apply to almost any social media platform.
Engagement begets engagement.
Retweeting or sharing thoughtful or funny posts from people you admire will, in turn, get engagement from others who share your sensibilities, and it may compel them to follow you. Sharing content is the very best way to show people what you care about and, thus, who you are. When you see something that is meaningful to you, share it. People will generally appreciate it and it will make them more likely to share your compelling content.
Content is king, so when you share your own thoughts, make them pithy, memorable, relevant, and, most of all, authentic. Use #hashtags to target content for relevant audience. If your goal is to be top-of-mind, keep a steady stream of engaging and thought-provoking content on your feeds. Frequency can vary, based on the nature of the platform, but tweets are buried within minutes, making almost daily engagement a good idea. Contrastingly, weekly engagement on LinkedIn may be enough to keep your connections engaged with you.
Share with care and post with purpose.
As I suggested above, beware of shooting-off hot takes that might get you in trouble. “Trouble” will be different for everyone, but even though you may think you are writing, say, a tweet for a specific audience of like-minded people, you are really sharing it with the world. Think about how your significant other/boss/family, etc. will react to your post. It’s not taboo to post about topics that we are generally told not to bring up during Thanksgiving dinner, but there can be a real-world social, professional, and reputational cost to such posts, so think carefully before you commit. The temptation to engage in heated debate, or to get snarky, is almost irresistible sometimes. I’m quite engaged politically, and my work on social issues is part of who I am both personally and professionally, so nobody is surprised when I share my point of view. However, I always (try to) engage respectfully and ask myself “would I be proud if my kids read this post?” before I hit “send tweet.”
While snark may be fun or feel cathartic, the posts that get the most engagement are inspiring and uplifting. So, strive to be (mostly) helpful and positive. In a world where a lot of things are going off the rails, don’t just complain, but share solutions, distractions, and, if all else fails, cute photos of your pets. People love photos of pets. Don’t equate being authentic with being mean. Leap at the chance retweet/share content. Always take a deep breath before you share your own content. Good luck!
How’d you build such a strong reputation within your market?
I was fortunate at the outset of my career to have had some high-profile—and high-stress—jobs that kickstarted my ability to successfully manage crises, exposed me to some of the most talented people in the industry, and gave me invaluable experience as a public-facing spokesperson in various high-stakes environments which helped to build my reputation.
A reputation isn’t a resume; it involves whether you are seen as someone with integrity and, more intangibly, whether you are someone other people want to work with. That noted, below is something of a resume to give you an idea of how my visibility in my industry has grown over the years.
I got my start in state and local politics in my home state of Washington. After moving to Washington, DC to serve as press secretary to the chairman of a full committee in Congress,, I took my first corporate job in New York as a spokesperson for a company that was, at the time, number nine on the Fortune 500. Not only did I very quickly learn a great deal about how corporations work and communicate, but I got to hire, and observe, some of the country’s leading PR consultants as they helped me tell the company’s story. In this role, I did frequent media interviews, including appearing regularly on talk radio shows all over the country, which also raised my profile.
Since then, I have continued to focus on learning and growing, representing individuals, non-profits, and some of the world’s leading corporate brands on crisis management, strategic communications, and public affairs-related projects. I have advised clients in such industries as energy, metals, agriculture, technology, consumer packaged goods, financial services, not-for-profit, and reproductive healthcare.
Here in Los Angeles, I lead the West Coast crisis practice for Red Banyan in addition to my teaching duties at USC. I’ve also been a longtime board member of Planned Parenthood of Pasadena and the San Gabriel Valley, which allows me to give back to the community and, hopefully, use my expertise to help the organization better serve its patients and other stakeholders.
Finally, throughout my career, I have always looked for opportunities to promote my clients or my causes in the most public and effective ways possible. I can’t lie, I don’t enjoy networking. But I do enjoy telling stories and engaging with issues. To that end, I have, on the strength of my reputation, been able to give speeches, appear on panels, do many television interviews and debates, and testify in front of government bodies, including the U.S. House of Representatives.
- Website: www.redbanyan.com
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/redbanyanpr/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RedBanyan
- Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/davequast/
- Twitter: @davequast
- Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC9qcXcEZAV3uSv3uQdleO0Q