Gatesman + Dave Is Hacking Human Behavior For Good

John Gatesman’s obsessive recruiting strategies have nurtured a culture of marketing innovation

Mantras like “good enough sucks” and “grow or die” sound fanatical to some people, but not to those who work at Gatesman + Dave.

Every one of the company’s eighty employees embrace those ideas; they agree, in writing, to the company mission statement upon accepting a job there. And no one supports the mission more than president, CEO, and founder of the company, John Gatesman. But Gatesman rejects the assumption that his company’s approach to work means all grind, all the time. In fact, at Gatesman + Dave, those who denigrate Gatesman’s approach as a grind demonstrate that they understand neither the company nor the reasons for its growth.

The mantras embody Gatesman’s dynamic application of his own ambition. They shape an identity that catalyzes innovation and allows Gatesman + Dave to punch above its weight in the cutthroat world of advertising. Most importantly, the passion behind “good enough sucks” and “grow or die” is what makes Gatesman + Dave more than a company. Gatesman describes his organization as a team on a mission, one that relishes every opportunity to compete.

Gatesman makes the team-oriented application of passion obvious—immediately and repeatedly. His enthusiasm is so strong that one gets the sense he can’t help himself, but he’s smart enough to see that it has a practical application, too. It acts as a gatekeeper, an initial test that prospective employees must pass before they’re considered for inclusion in the team. “We ask several deliberate questions during the interview process. The way people respond to our questions makes it pretty obvious, pretty quickly, who’s going to thrive here and who’s not,” Gatesman says.

It wouldn’t be inappropriate to think of interviews as tryouts, at least not within the larger context that often shapes Gatesman’s perception of his company. Comparisons to sports teams abound in the language Gatesman uses to describe his people and what they do. This comes as no surprise: many of the company’s employees come from athletic backgrounds, and the company counts the National Hockey League’s Pittsburgh Penguins as a client. Gatesman himself makes a point of giving higher consideration to former athletes when he hires—he knows athletes work hard, compete toward a common mission, and work well with other people.

The tryouts, and the competition for jobs at the advertising agency, can be grueling.  “We ask all our final job candidates to talk with a number of people at the company. We invest the time to put them in front of as many of the people they’ll interact with as possible, from myself and other members of the leadership down to members of the core team they would be working with,” Gatesman says.

John Gatesman, Gatesman + Dave
John Gatesman, Gatesman + Dave

More often that not, the voices doing the interviewing respond to the candidate’s potential in unison. “It’s very rare that our employees who do the interviewing come back with split verdicts,” Gatesman says. “The tenets of our culture are very strong, and because of that, it becomes very obvious who shares our beliefs, who will enhance our teams, and who can come in, hit the ground running, and make an impact.”

Once new employees arrive at work, they find that they are surrounded by people who are even more passionate about the work they’re doing than the hiring process that fuels it. “I want people that I can share a foxhole with, who know what it means to fully commit to a team, because we’re going to go to battle for our clients—we’re going to do everything we can to outwork, outthink, and out-hustle our competition,” Gatesman says. That obsessive, team-oriented approach to the work shapes Gatesman + Dave’s identity almost as much as the actual work itself.

Almost. The results speak pretty loudly, too. Gatesman + Dave’s obsession with hiring the right humans ties into their trademarked tagline “hacking human behavior.” The company applies that same team-oriented, 360-degree, over, under, around, and through perspective to get to the core of what it is that clients need. Its work is as varied as the clients the company serves, but the results all share one singular quality: Gatesman + Dave’s work unearths what the client does better than its competition, the insight that drives those consumer decisions, and then activates that advantage in the best possible light, be it advertising, public relations, social media, or digital strategy.

If the recruiting process at the core of Gatesman + Dave’s success sounds simple, it is—but it’s not easy. Finding the right people for the Gatesman + Dave team is the first hard step among many that
follow in producing top-flight work. “As a small firm, we’re pushing close to $50 million in marketing spend, which is huge for being only eight years old,” Gatesman says. “That has been all about getting the best talent at our key positions, and then building out beneath with teams that embrace our core values.”