Inside Track: Captivated by the written word
From an early age, Dave Yonkman was an ambitious entrepreneur, and he has continued to demonstrate success throughout his business endeavors.
Yonkman is the founder of DYS Media, a public relations firm in Holland. His firm works with companies in investor relations, manufacturing, energy, health care, technology and construction industries.
He started his firm in 2013. However, he started his first business at the age of 15 when he created his own magazine called Ill Times. It was focused on long-form music and entertainment stories.
Yonkman has always had a knack for writing. So, when he decided to attend Grand Valley State University, he knew he would pursue a career in journalism. He was the editor of the school’s paper, the Grand Valley Lanthorn.
“I always had a fascination with the written word,” he said. “I always learned by reading. (I liked) to read the words and internalize them. If you tell me something, I am not going to internalize it as much as I can with the written word. Just the stories that you can create with the written word is just always fascinating.
“My hands were always stuck with newsprint since I was born. I started reading The Muskegon Chronicle. I was always taking them home and my parents would get pissed because I would cut the stories out that I would like to read and memorize. I wanted to figure out: What is news? What is this person writing? Why is it newsworthy? Why does this person get an opinion page? What is this page? An op-ed, an editorial page? Why is this here and not there? I was just fascinated by this whole thing, and that is what brings (me) here today.”
While at GVSU, he interned at the Holland Sentinel. After graduation, he later worked as a journalist at the publication, covering city, county and state politics. He worked at the Sentinel for four years while publishing content in his Ill Times magazine with a few staff. Afterward, he moved on to an unexpected career path.
Yonkman was offered the opportunity by a former congressman who represented Michigan’s 2nd congressional district to become his press secretary. He accepted the opportunity and packed his things and headed east to Washington, D.C., to work on Capitol Hill in 2003.
After getting adjusted to life in Washington, his boss joined the House Intelligence Committee, just after 9/11 when the committee was tasked with implementing the 9/11 Commission Report.
“I just went from (talking to reporters for) the Holland Sentinel, the Grand Rapids Press and the Ludington Daily News to working with House leadership, working with the majority leader’s office, the House Republican Conference, the speaker’s office, and I was responsible for creating all the messaging that went into passing the bill,” he said.
“I am on the phone with the intelligence reporter from Time Magazine. The New York Times is calling and the Wall Street Journal. It was a different world and my learning curve just went from zero to (100). I still didn’t know everything that I was doing, but we passed the bill. I am not going to say that I am responsible for it because you have speakers and a president and other people in charge, but we played a big role in getting that legislation passed. That was probably my biggest accomplishment on the Hill.”
Along with messaging on the national level, including the intelligence authorization bills, Yonkman said another famous incident to which he had to respond to a flurry of questions was the underwear bomber who targeted Detroit on Christmas Day.
Yonkman spent 10 years working on Capitol Hill, where he took on numerous titles ranging from the district press secretary to becoming the director of communications with a lot of responsibilities on the committee, the congressional district job and other efforts for a re-election campaign, which he said was done off-hours.
“I thought college was overwhelming, but with three jobs; the re-elect, the committee and the congressional district,” he said. “It took about 18 months for everything to get cleared on the committee, so it was intense. It was 24/7. I couldn’t see daylight. We came into work at 7 a.m. and we didn’t leave until whenever the member came back from votes. It could be as late as 10-11 p.m. or we didn’t see him until 1 a.m. in the morning and we are back at our desk at 8 a.m. in the morning, and it didn’t matter if I had to work through the night.
“Sometimes, I’d get a call at 7 p.m. saying, ‘Hey, can we get an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times tomorrow? Can you write something and get it to me by 8 a.m.?’ I would work through the night to get it by 8 a.m., and still, I had to be in the office. I don’t know how I did it for 10 years.”
Yonkman said the average staffer’s stay in Washington is about two to three years. He left Capitol Hill in 2013 and started DYS Media in Washington, D.C.
While working at the Capitol, Yonkman said he built up a national security portfolio, which led him to work in crisis communications for a private maritime security firm that defended ships traversing the Horn of Africa against Somali pirates.
However, he decided to leave his job. With his daughter on the way, he decided he wanted to be with his family. He returned to D.C. and later to Holland, where his wife is from.
“I wasn’t setting myself up to be a successful father and husband if I am not giving enough of myself to support (my family),” he said. “I made the decision to return home. All I heard in Washington, and I heard this a lot, members would talk about what their biggest regret is, ‘I didn’t get to see my kids grow up,’ and that was the most depressing thing I have ever heard in my life, and I swore that was never going to happen to me.”
He established his business, DYS Media, in Holland in 2017. He worked out of his home for a few months until he found an office space and hired his first employee.
Two years later, he expanded his staff and relocated his firm to a larger office space. Yonkman said he is looking to expand his firm’s footprint to Grand Rapids, where the majority of his clients are located.
Dave Yonkman is president of the public relations firm DYS Media and is the former Washington correspondent for Newsmax Media.