The key to communication is compassion

Communication is one of the most delicate, but vital things every company, startup or entrepreneur needs to do consistently in order to find success. However, with the wide range that communication covers, from intra-team work to showing your brand off to the public, it can be extremely difficult to understand the best practices for any given situation. David Gorodetski is the COO and co-founder of Sage Communications. With nearly 25 years of experience in the marketing and strategy industries, Gorodetski carries important insight into what’s required for a company to survive and thrive in the D.C. region.

ABERMAN: Well, I look at this region and I see a surprisingly large number of communications, advertising, PR firms here in D.C. It seems like we’re a hotbed for that stuff. What’s your perception of that?

GORODETSKI: Yeah, we have a lot of talented people in a creative space in D.C., serving historically the public sector, and over years as the city shifted itself and became more relevant in policy and non profit, then supporting those industries as well. I think the we see a lot of strategic, smart, creative people here in D.C.

ABERMAN: So, we see a lot of creative people, a lot more PR and policy work. I know that you spend lot of time on strategy and advertising. Help me understand the difference between helping a client raise awareness, or actually helping a client build the right kind of awareness.

GORODETSKI: Sure. So, usually it’s been with advertising, which is paid media, and honestly, you can say whatever you want. You buy the space, you say it on your terms, however you want, how often you want, and people believe it or not. Public relations is earned media, which which provides third party validation, which comes at a high level of credibility for what you actually say.

So, for example, if I’m a brand, and I said that I had the best product in the market, trust me, buy it now, here’s a special. Versus an article in, let’s say, Computer Week, saying we value this product, here’s the performance, here are the specs, here’s how it compared to other products, here’s the price range, here’s what you expect. You will trust the article a lot more than you’ll trust advertising. That’s the main difference between advertising and PR.

ABERMAN: It is amazing to me how few people actually do public relations well.

GORODETSKI: Because public relations is not easy. You have to start with newsworthy content. And if it’s not, you can just do press releases, but a press release is no different from advertising. So, what is that you try to convey, how you position your organization, or your leaders in your organization, is thought leader.

It’s coming with genuine, authentic content, and it comes with a set of challenges that, historically, we never faced, because in today’s world, you have to itemize your content to the people you talk to you. You have to know who they are, what is the best time to communicate with them, what you need to communicate with them, and you need to be appreciative and back-and-forth in this conversation. You can’t do that well in advertising and paid media, and it’s a huge challenge for an organization to put their resources and the time required to do it effectively.

ABERMAN: It’s really fascinating to me, listening to you I’m thinking to myself: so much of this is about execution. Yet, when many people think about advertising and PR, they think about the thing they see, the thing they hear, but I get the impression that advertising, as you’re describing it, isn’t really as much about running an ad what is it about?

GORODETSKI: Well, there’s a lot of magic that goes into the advertising. So, what most people don’t see behind the scenes of advertising is a lot of dedicated teams, going out, meeting with a client, doing strategy, doing evaluations of the market, of the competitors, developing what we call, in our world, a creative brief, and then sharing it with the creative team, and they start to develop the visual execution, either digital, or print, or broadcast, whatever the execution is.

With PR, you don’t see it all visually. You might see written words, but not a lot of visuals, although it’s changed a little bit over social media, because social media that engages more is social media that has a visual element. Where we put our effort is on strategy. We put a lot of time and resources into validating our clients’ positioning, how they’re perceived outside of the organization, how they’re perceived inside the organization, who does, on the playing field, similar things, and how they communicate that, and what are the differentiators that our clients have in order to position them authentically in the marketplace. You don’t see it.

ABERMAN: You don’t see it. And it just runs to the hard work that we have to put in to make information have integrity, which leads to the other thing I wanted to have you share with our listeners today. Talking about your career, you’ve learned a big difference between just talking tough, and being tough What are you getting at, there?

GORODETSKI: I’ll tell you, I learned that vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness. If you guys hear me out there, you’ll notice my accent. I’m originally from Israel, I have a military background. I’m familiar with the military hierarchy, and a tough society, where showing vulnerability is a weakness. And I’ve learned that it’s not, actually. It gives you a lot of strength, and passion to move forward.

And you mentioned being authentic. I take what we do very seriously, we are a bunch of very talented people, and we are gifted in a way to tell a story. That comes with a lot of responsibility, because we can sell ice to Inuits, and I don’t want to do that if they don’t need the ice. So, doing what to we’re doing with a high level of integrity is really important to me. Being tough means, in my world, to make decisions about certain executions that don’t meet the standard that I hold myself to, or the client expects of us.

So, sometimes, providing internal feedback to creative people, who put a lot of emotion into what they do, is challenging. I found, over the years, that I keep learning, and I keep growing how I do it effectively, but at the end of the day, those are tough decisions, to say this doesn’t work well, and trying to pull our subjectivity for what one designer, on an art director, or a creative director, put into the work.

ABERMAN: At the end of the day, the biggest way to be strong is to actually be empathetic.

GORODETSKI: That’s right.

ABERMAN: David Gorodetski, thanks for joining us here on the show.

GORODETSKI: Thank you for everything.

Tommy Morgan