Real Talk: Brendan Gahan

“In advertising we’re really selling our thinking to our clients. We have to be able to communicate why our thinking and our ideas are the best.”

Young college students and high school students often underestimate how valuable reading and writing skills are in the real world, and why they matter so much in jobs that aren’t commonly associated with those skills. I’ve started this series, Real Talk, to give professionals in a variety of industries a chance to share why reading and writing are so critical to what they do.

Today, we’re profiling social media marketing expert Brendan Gahan, named one of Forbes Magazine’s 30 under 30 in Marketing and Advertising in 2013. You can check out his media strategy blog and his popular “The Confessional” series of anonymous interviews with influencer marketing experts here at

Describe your current job.

I’m the founder and EVP of a Social Media Agency, Epic Signal. My job is working with brands to develop awesome social media campaigns. We work with brands like MillerCoors, Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Alaska Airlines, Dockers, Amazon, YouTube and countless others.

What kind of reading and writing do you do on an everyday basis?

Day to day I read a lot of digital publications. I try and keep up to date with media and industry trends by reading sites like adage, adweek, Fast Company, Forbes, etc. I also read a lot of the social media and tech focused blogs like Mashable, Techcrunch, etc. This helps me stay current and have an understanding of what major changes are occurring within the industry.

On my own time I like to read a lot – I usually have at least one or two books by my bed. Generally I read a lot of non-fiction – a lot of biographies and history books. For a long time I used to try and read business books but 99% of them are boring and a waste of time. I’ve found that I learn a lot more and enjoy myself when reading about real people and real stories.

Most of my writing is for work and it tends to be short form. I write a lot of emails each day. I also write a lot of presentations. With presentations I generally try to distill things to as few words as possible – no one wants to read a presentation.

On my own time I do a fair amount of blogging (at I write a lot about social media – specifically youtube and influencer marketing.

What kinds of reading and writing skills are key to your job/your field?

I do a lot of presentations – whether to existing or potential clients. More often than not you’re dealing with very busy people who do not have a lot of time. What I try to do is take complex ideas and simplify them in a way that’s easy to understand and has a clear process and/or insights to support them.

I don’t need to write eloquently – I just need to distill ideas into their simplest form (and it helps if I can keep it somewhat engaging/entertaining).

Why are these skills important to being successful in your work?

In advertising we’re really selling our thinking to our clients. We have to be able to communicate why our thinking and our ideas are best. I’ve seen countless smart people get bogged down by details that matter only to them. Think about the person you’re presenting to – what do they need to know to understand the concept your trying to communicate? Whittle it down to the bare minimum.

What advice do you have for students, particularly college students in first- and second-year writing courses?

In college I used to think of a ‘real job’ as being this thing where if I was good at the day to day tasks I would be good at my job. The reality is having a job is like a massive group project – you’re going to be successful if you can work well with others, communicate clearly, and get the job done. Having people like you and understand you is almost as important (and possibly even more important) than any single, specific task.

As a result, your ability to consume information, comprehend it, analyze it, distill it and communicate your analyses and own original ideas is critical to your success. Just as an example of what this means for me in my job, I’ve found that my ability to take in a lot of information and distill it to headlines or a few bullet points is really helpful.

Reading and writing are hugely important, and I think that because I did so many history courses in college – where I had to read and analyze multiple texts and then distill them into reports where I summarized and shared my interpretation have helped me a great deal in the ‘real world’.

Also, don’t be an asshole. That helps.


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