We had the good fortune of connecting with Dave Gassman and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Dave, is there something that you feel is most responsible for your success?
I pride myself on not being too proud. I don’t assume that because I have a lot of expertise in creative advertising and marketing I always have the right answer. I’m constantly finding new ways to learn and to shake up my preconceived biases. For example, 20 years into my career I went back to grad school at Northwestern University, which really opened my mind to a world of new thinking. When I turned 50, I set out to learn digital marketing from a group of amazingly smart and savvy mentors who were young enough to be my kids. I don’t let ego get in the way of being a lifelong student. Heck, I even started learning guitar three years ago (though I’m willing to bet that Fender makes a lot of money from 50-year-olds trying to work out their mid-life crises).
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do. We’d love to hear what sets you apart from others.
Building complete brand platforms is my current focus. I approach branding not just as design, but as a marketing device that a client will run longer and with more frequency than any other marketing tool they’ll ever use. So every component of the brand – from the logo to the typography to the copywriting – should do a ton of heavy-lifting. My process starts with diagnosing the problems and opportunities in the business that need to be addressed, and developing a brand strategy that will solve those challenges. I then approach the creative elements of the brand in the same way I’ve created TV, print, and digital ad campaigns throughout my career… by coming up with a big creative idea that expresses the brand strategy in an engaging way. If you think of the most famous ads you’ve seen, you can quickly identify a big, but simple and elegant idea that makes the ad memorable and persuasive. That works in branding, as well. I put it all together with tight design and persuasive writing. I create everything including the logo, tagline, graphic elements, a manifesto, headlines, copy, advertising, and anything else that will help the brand make the client money. I also offer Creative Content – both video and still — as well as Digital Marketing Systems including online funnels and social media marketing. But building a proper brand platform first makes content and digital even more powerful.
What you are most proud of or excited about?
One of my current clients is The Navy SEAL Foundation. It’s an incredible honor to help this organization attract a larger audience of supporters who will stand behind our incredible SEAL warriors, SEAL vets, and SEAL families, all of whom sacrifice so much for the safety and security of our country. They’re out there fighting for us every day. Something else I’m proud of is a PSA video campaign that Johanna and I created for The Biden Foundation’s organization ‘It’s On Us’, to help battle sexual assault. The three videos went massively viral — they were featured in the US in places like The Huffington Post, Upworthy, Mashable, Bustle, WhoHaHa, and HelloGiggles; and in countries all over the world, from France, Italy, Australia Japan, and even Monte Carlo. The spots were also shared by many celebrity advocates in the fight against sexual assault, including Rose McGowan, Amber Rose, Kara Swisher, Alanis Morissette, Zoey Deschanel, Cindy Gallop, and Nia Vardalos.
How did you get to where you are today business-wise?
I started in advertising working for an ad legend named Ed McCabe. He was one of the original Mad Men, and tough as hell. From there I went to work for another legend named Dan Mountain at a small agency, where I worked on liquor and beer brands including Herradura Tequila and Kirin Beer. I was then hired by Rick Sittig at Secret Weapon Marketing as one of the first creatives other than himself to come up with commercials for Jack in the Box. I stayed for five years and worked on over 50 Jack in the Box spots, as well as ads for Ikea and Activision. From there I moved on to Deutsch (DirecTV), then to Chiat/Day (Nissan and Infiniti), and then relocated to Chicago for four years where I was a VP Creative Director at Foote Cone and Belding, running various Kraft brands and Qwest Telecom. After that, I freelanced at almost every agency in LA and Chicago, until I started to get approached directly by clients. Once I began working for my own clients there was no turning back.
What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way?
Throughout my career, I’ve found that nothing supercharges learning as much as having a great mentor. I was lucky enough to have three. Ed McCabe taught me how to take a beating and get back up again. Dan Mountain taught me how to make an ad concept soulful without getting schmaltzy. Rick Sittig taught me how to get a belly laugh in 30 seconds.
What do you want the world to know about you or your brand and story?
I know that some agency owners set out to “scale at all costs”, and those who do end up spending all their time managing people. That’s not me. I love to do the actual creative work. I like having a few great clients that I can focus on and to whom I can give my best work. I don’t see myself hoarding every client opportunity and outsourcing all the work the way so many other agencies do. So when I meet new clients I first engage in preliminary conversations to see if there’s a fit. If not, I have a large network and I’m always happy to make a referral.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
My father in law from Winnipeg, Canada, was a college professor with an unending penchant for research — he was fascinated with LA and, once, while visiting, took me to see some sites that he was curious about. We visited the Bradbury Building, The Ennis house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, the High Tower apartment building (which was famously featured in The Long Goodbye), along with a few unique views that I didn’t know about. He passed away this last summer, and that day is one of my favorite memories of him. But I would be remiss not to mention a few of my favorite destinations: Having lived in Chicago for four years, we’re loving the new Gino’s East in Sherman Oaks. Downtown, Johanna loves Cole’s, I love Philippe’s. Let the french dip debate begin. For sushi, Katsuya in Encino or Studio City is a standard, but Sushi Note in Sherman Oaks is new and yummy. Ventura Boulevard. The Iliad Bookstore in North Hollywood. The Last Bookstore Downtown. Any hiking trail in LA. Fryman, Runyon, the Hollywood Sign. The Broad. LACMA.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My wife Johanna, who’s a writer and is currently showrunning at Dreamworks, and our daughter, Sadie, who’s in eighth grade at The Science Academy STEM Magnet. They both inspire me every day.