Teaming up to promote health and the environment
EnviroMedia’s Valerie Davis and Kevin Tuerff have joined forces for more than 20 years
Alcalde magazine writer Valerie Davis cherished her quiet office near Waller Creek on the University of Texas campus. Then her bosses at the UT Alumni Association told her to make room for the new public relations guy.
“Luckily, we became fast friends,” Davis says of office interloper Kevin Tuerff. “We bonded over ‘Far Side’ cartoons. We both drove gray Hondas and both have three siblings.”
To boot, the working pair were born three years apart in the upper Midwest and had just graduated from UT when they took their respective jobs with the alumni group.
Twenty-five years later, Davis and Tuerff run EnviroMedia, an Austin integrated marketing firm that focuses on health and environmental issues. They’ve worked in tandem all but three of those years. Lots of marriages don’t last that long.
“We are the same, but different,” Davis explains. “We have a lot of the same big philosophies. We come at them, though, as yin and yang. Kevin is fast-paced and visionary. I’m contemplative with a strong attention to detail. He speeds me up. I slow him down.”
Stylish but informal, Davis, 49, grew up all over the place as an U.S. Air Force officer’s offspring. She was drawn to sports as a kid and admits to being a bit of a conformist.
“I laughed a lot,” she recalled. “I socialized in small groups, did well in school, then was perhaps too social in college.”
She came to Austin in 1981 to study journalism and public relations. After the Alcalde, she worked for the Texas Department of Transportation on the Don’t Mess with Texas campaign and also on the agency’s Adopt-a-Highway program, traffic safety and speech-writing. She served as a legislative liaison for the travel division.
There, her paths crossed again with Tuerff, who worked for a state commission. They teamed up on the Clean Texas 2000 drive, which concentrated on voluntary green efforts.
More button-down Tuerff, 46, grew up mostly in Houston, a “borderline nerdy” kid who competed on the tennis team and worked as a cashier at Target. He blossomed in college, co-founding a student radio station (now KVRX 91.7FM) while majoring in organizational communications.
“It was the fastest way out of UT at the time,” he jokes of the extinct major. After his time with the alumni group, he worked with in the nonprofit and public sectors.
“We always said we should start an agency one day,” he says of Davis. “Ten years later, we did.”
That was in 1997. At that time, the state was cutting budgets and outsourcing its public campaigns. Their first project was to take the Texas Recycles Day national.
“These issues are so complicated and we were good at making them easy to understand,” Tuerff says. “After several bottles of wine at Hudson’s on the Bend, we came up with Tuerff-Davis EnviroMedia.”
“My mom wondered who was going to pay for this kind of service,” Tuerff says. “It took 15 years for her agree it was a success.”
Shortened to EnviroMedia and now staffed with 50 employees, the company’s main clients are government agencies. Two of their biggest private clients have been H-E-B and Car2Go North America, which shares space on the floor of Hartland Plaza between West Sixth and West Fifth streets. They also helped Dell with its push to recycle computer hardware.
Four years ago, they opened a second office in Portland, Ore.
“There was so much more going on with sustainability issues on the West Coast,” Tuerff says. “Austin likes to think it’s green, but Portland really has it going. The political leadership in Austin is still trying to play catch-up on clean energy, water and waste. Nobody in Portland is not pro-environment no matter the political party.”
Deborah Morrison, advertising professor at the University of Oregon, recently noted that EnviroMedia was the only company of its precise kind in the country.
Single but dating after the end of a long partnership, Tuerff lives downtown and bikes to work. Davis shares a Hays County “EnviroHacienda” with her partner of 18 years, Millie Salinas, who also works on Hispanic marketing at EnviroMedia.
Although green to the core, Tuerff and Davis are not bomb-thowers.
“We believe in working together and finding a middle ground,” Tuerff says. “We tell people: We are not tree huggers but we can introduce you to some.”
For example, they find ways to encourage intentional biking and walking, a strategy that blends their strengths in health and the environment.
“Former Mayor Gus Garcia would say a healthy environment means a healthy community,” Tuerff says. “They go hand in hand.”
Michael Barnes writes about Austin’s people, places and history.