5 Questions for Roy Spence

Co-Founder & Chairman, GSD&M / Co-Founder & CEO, The Purpose Institute

June 25, 2016/0/0

Q1: What’s the riskiest campaign you’ve ever been involved with and what were the results?

It does not sound risky today but it was super risky back then. Some 30 years ago my partner Tim McClure wrote a line for the Texas anti-littering campaign called “DON’T MESS WITH TEXAS”. There were no litter barrels on the “DON’T MESS WITH TEXAS” bumper stickers. All the television spots featured Texas stars like Stevie Ray Vaughn and Willie Nelson.

We used no emotional appeal like “Please don’t litter our beautiful Texas roads”.  We basically said, “If you mess with Texas, you’re messing with us”. In short, we laddered up from the litter business to the pride business.


Q2: Do you believe “branding” in the traditional sense is dead? Why?

First, I have never really been a fan of the over-hyped concept of branding. I guess we did not know anything about branding when we first started GSD&M being tucked away in a little place called Austin, Texas. And branding was what Texas ranchers did to cattle…anyway. Plus, I never took even one advertising or marketing class at The University of Texas. So, the whole concept of branding was foreign to us. We just thought our job was to share with the target the authentic, compelling and persuasive story of the company or product or service we were marketing.

Storytelling predates writing, with the earliest forms of storytelling usually oral combined with gestures and expressions. Then storytelling evolved and people used the carved trunks of living trees and rocks and walls. Then, of course,  there was storytelling around campfires and kitchen tables. Then came traditional mass media storytelling on radio or television and now the internet.

My point is that over time the way and the medium one tells a story will change or die…but the art of storying will live on.


Q3: Is all the marketing technology that is available today truly improving marketing or just changing it?

This is a piercing question. I think the same question could be asked, “Is all the marketing technology that is available today truly improving life or just changing it.” But I won’t go there, here. Technology is on a hyper-evolutionary journey as everyone knows and is taking all the marketers for a ride. In many cases it is a marketing ride of a lifetime with the ability to connect one-on-one, really know who you are sharing the story of your brand or organization with, and the rapid fire ability of them to in turn share your story with others. And, of course there are so many other technology-advanced marketing applications. But in other cases marketing technology seems to be “full of sound and fury signifying nothing.”

We all need to take a deep breath and reintroduce ourselves to the reality that the human mind has both the left brain and the right brain. And many times the use of technology from a marketing POV is so left brain dominate (facts of the matter) that the right brain (heart of the matter) is emotionally starved…and that creates a huge opportunity for the marketing storytelling artists to own the heart of the matter with the consumer against their competitor.


Q4: What are large advertisers looking for from a full service agency today versus what they were looking for ten years ago?

I actually don’t know for certain because I am not in the day-to-day advertising and marketing arena anymore, but this is what I would look for. Pick a lead agency that is deeply — not superficially — anchored in the power of Purpose Based Branding. A lead agency who is “heart of the matter” driven. A lead agency that can actually lead and inspire the client, the end consumers and many times most importantly be the best at leading and inspiring all the other marketing agencies and stakeholders that are working on the same brand.

You can hire, teach and train “the facts of the matter” capabilities, and it is critical. But if I made the call, I would always pick the lead agency who gets the heart of the matter. That’s just me.


Q5: What’s the biggest challenge facing a large, full service agency today?

There is a looming crisis of the almost void of inspiration, joy, fun, meaning and purpose within the large agency culture itself. We got lucky. We were four founders who met in college. Who loved each other and respected each other’s strengths and had each other’s back. We believed in building the culture first and the agency next. We set out to build a love culture, although we did not name it that. But an authentic LOVE culture is anchored in three simple yet compelling ideals. A culture whereby:

  1. I love what I do, because I get to become great at what I am already good at.
  2. I love whom I do it with because everyone is united on the higher purpose.
  3. I love the positive impact I can make on other people.

Finally, we were hyper-focused on the unimaginable journey we were on. In fact, I wrote this 20 plus years ago and it is still on my wall:

“The Journey. The destination is the motivation but the journey is the thrill. Have more fun on the journey because that is where the great majority of one’s life is spent. Fully and completely enjoy the journey. For the destination, in the end, will come faster than ever imagined.”

So our early mantra was “Do great ads, have fun and make money.” Not bad. Not bad at all.


Roy Spence

Co-Founder & Chairman, GSD&M / Co-Founder & CEO, The Purpose Institute

Roy Spence is Co-Founder and Chairman of GSD&M, a leading marketing communications and advertising company. I worked for Roy right out of school. Roy bought me my first suit because I needed one for my first new business pitch and I was too poor to buy one.

He is also Co-Founder and CEO of The Purpose Institute, a consulting firm that helps people and organizations discover and live their purpose. Along with Haley Rushing, Roy co-authored the Wall Street Journal bestselling book, “It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For: Why Every Extraordinary Business is Driven by Purpose.” And, more recently he authored “The 10 Essential Hugs of life,” a collection of heartwarming reminders about the need for gratitude, love and goodness.

Under Roy’s leadership, his agency has helped grow some of the world’s most successful brands like “Don’t Mess with Texas,” Southwest Airlines, WalMart, DreamWorks, the PGA TOUR, BMW, the U.S. Air Force, L.L.Bean and the Clinton Foundation. Roy has been a trusted advisor to legendary leaders including Sam Walton and Southwest Airlines founder, Herb Kelleher. His counsel has also been sought by U.S. presidents and leaders in the State Department.

Roy has received a lifetime achievement award from the Austin Advertising Federation and was named Adman of the Century by Texas Monthly magazine. He was inducted into the McCombs School of Business Hall of Fame in 2012. Most recently, Roy was inducted into the American Advertising Federation (AAF)’s 67th Annual Advertising Hall of Fame®. The Advertising Hall of Fame recognizes the most accomplished and legendary figures in advertising, bringing together the industry to celebrate in one of the biggest nights in advertising. With this honor, Spence becomes the first inductee from Austin and the second-ever from Texas.

Roy is also a Gallup Senior Adviser working with their teams on global strategy and on the mission and purpose of the most important companies and institutions in the world. He is Gallup’s expert on Purpose.  In addition, Roy is a marketing and communications advisor of the National Advisory Council for the Trust for the National Mall.

Roy’s passion is entrepreneurship. He deeply believes that entrepreneurship is the miracle of America. His mantra is “Don’t Do Mild” in work or life; follow your dreams, follow your passion, and follow your purpose.

Roy is a member of the board of directors of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Foundation and the recently formed Markle Initiative for America’s Economic Future in a Networked World initiative. He is a Distinguished Alumnus of the University of Texas at Austin. Roy and his wife Mary have three children, Courtney, Ashley and Shay.


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