Once upon a time, Sage Communications CEO David Gorodetski had planned to be an artist — a struggling painter, to be exact.
“I didn’t know if I was cut out for the ‘starving artist’ lifestyle,” he recalled. “I did know that I had a keen eye for simplifying complex ideas and creating visual communications that could have a huge impact. Entering the world of communications, marketing and PR was a natural path where I could build a career using those strengths.”
Today, Sage is a successful marketing and communications firm that serves a range of clients in government and the broader public sector, technology, professional services, arts organizations and more. Gorodetski is no stranger to working with Fortune 100 companies. His current role, however, is both old and new. He is in his first year as CEO of a company that had its start 20 years ago in his home basement.
How he got here is a story that began half a lifetime ago.
Born and raised in Haifa, Israel, Gorodetski completed his mandatory military time before coming to New York for graduate school. He had planned to return home once his education was complete. But one opportunity followed another, and after an internship and job offer, his transition to living permanently in the U.S. became complete.
Before starting Sage with co-founder Larry Rosenfeld, Gorodetski worked at a small design studio. Eight months later, he was recruited to Stackig Advertising and Public Relations, an agency once owned by Rosenfeld. Gorodetski was doing work he loved and collaborating with coworkers whose company he enjoyed.
Once Stackig was sold, he was recruited to become worldwide head of Ogilvy Public Relations Interactive Creative Services.
“After Sept. 11, 2001, everything changed,” he said. “Suddenly, there were many questions up in the air, and I felt there was more to life than working for a publicly traded communications company.”
That epiphany eventually led to the founding of Sage in 2004. He and Rosenfeld developed a business partnership with Rosenfeld as CEO and Gorodetski as chief operating officer and executive creative director. When Rosenfeld retired in August 2021, Gorodetski became CEO.
“I learned a lot from him,” Gorodetski said. “I appreciate so much of what he brought to the table and our mutual growth and what we have achieved with the agency.”
Becoming a CEO in the midst of a pandemic has had its challenges but also provided unique opportunities for growth. Among other learning opportunities, Gorodetski’s military service helped him develop resilience and core leadership skills that have been assets in the corporate world.
“You learn how to remain calm and slow down in times of uncertainty and fear so you’re less likely to react in a panic,” he said.
Resilience and calmness have been essential ingredients for his success leading Sage.
“From the get-go, I always told the Sage team, ‘It’s uncertain and we don’t know what is to come, but we’ll discover it together. Trust me that I will always keep you informed as I get answers,’” he said.
As an experienced leader in a new role, Gorodetski said he is working to ensure he understands the vision and needs of the people on his team. Realizing that forcing a vision on his team wouldn’t work, he and President Julie Murphy have interviewed each Sage employee — at every level — in small group settings. And those conversations have formed a collective sense of the people’s vision, he said.
“There’s a great energy in moving forward, and people are really excited about what’s ahead of us,” Gorodetski said. “Sage has always been focused on developing authentic and trusted strategies to assist our clients in reaching their target audiences. In today’s world, there are endless opportunities, and our clients trust in Sage’s years of experience to inform that strategy of where, who and how often our clients talk to their target audiences.”
Sage’s clients include some of the most successful organizations in the nation — Dell, AT&T, NVIDIA and Adobe to name a few — as well as a range of government agencies such as the Agriculture Department, the International Development Finance Corporation, the Export–Import Bank of the U.S. and more. But Gorodetski is also reminded that success comes with responsibility. Potential Sage clients are evaluated through a scorecard to determine if they are a good fit for Sage services.
“Because of the impact our work has on American citizens, government operations and in the nonprofit and higher-education sectors, doing the right thing is critical,” he said. “As gifted storytellers, I want to make sure we use our voices to tell stories that we believe in. And yes — we have said ‘no’ to clients before for many reasons from conflict of interest to it’s just the wrong thing for us.”
Gorodetski is also passionate about remembering those less fortunate and providing opportunities for those willing to take them. Additionally, Sage is an in-kind partner for several community organizations including the Northern Virginia Department of Family Services, Women in Technology, the D.C. Jazz Festival, Sitar Arts Center and others. Gorodetski is a member of the board of directors for Leadership of Greater Washington.
As he looks ahead to the rest of the year, Gorodetski is focused on continuing to hire the best people — those who understand what Sage does and have a passion for carrying that out.
“I continue to evolve as a leader,” he said. “Sage is going through a change in the way we assist our people with their growth goals. By readjusting some of our internal operations, Sagers can now take advantage of several professional development opportunities, and we have reward programs in place for their achievements and performance.”
“I believe by valuing our people and investing in their growth. We have created Sage to be a place for them to develop a long-lasting career, knowing that there is no limit to how far they can grow at the agency. Once we did that it changed everything. People got really excited, and I want to see that continue.”
Outside work, Gorodetski enjoys painting, sailing and traveling. When he does eventually retire, he hopes to circumnavigate the world on a sailboat.
“On a personal note, my daughter just graduated high school,” he said. “I have this amazing child who is becoming an independent, strong woman, and I have the people here at Sage, and for me, that’s enough.”