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Mayor of Idea City, GSD&M

by Deborah Hamilton-Lynne

On Branding & the Unique Brand that Defines Him, His Business, Austin & the Austin Man

“Brand” is a word that can be used as both a noun (a new brand of cola) and a verb (they branded each calf).
While Roy Spence is technically a noun (person, place or thing) most people would agree that “The Reverend Roy” (as he is affectionately known) is truly a verb (action).

From dawn to the wee hours, Roy is constantly in motion. At an age when some men would consider slowing down, Roy is ramping up. There aren’t enough hours in the day to expand his horizons – meet new people, gather new ideas. There are not enough days in the week to set in motion all of his ideas, which multiply as he speaks. The Mayor of Idea City has a mission. After four decades building one of the most successful advertising agencies in the country, Roy has added speaking engagements and a project that moves him to “higher ground.” Filled with passion and purpose, he founded the Purpose Institute to help people and organizations discover and live their purpose. His energy and certainty is infectious. In his presence, people become verbs or as Roy likes to say, “doers and dreamers and no in-betweeners.”

Roy is well-known and often chided for his enthusiastic ‘Royisms’ which he delivers with the zeal of a fundamentalist preacher:

  • Walk the walk. Talk the talk.
  • Drink tonight for tomorrow we ride at dawn.
  • There’s a ‘can’ in every ‘can’t.’
  • Grow big by acting small.
  • We are not in the advertising business.
  • We are in the idea business.
  • Ideas are the currency of the 21st century.

He takes it all in stride and is well known for his antics as well as a creative sense of humor. Roy Spence just can’t help himself. He was born to communicate and to help people articulate their purpose, live life with gusto and make a difference in the world. Like the slogan for his latest entrepreneurial venture, Royito’s Hot Sauce, Roy Spence “Does NOT Do Mild.”

Growing up in the small town of Brownwood, Roy learned what the Spence brand stood for – love of family, Texas, country and people in general; hard work and compassion; recognizing and combining unique strengths and passions to honor your calling. He learned about leadership and teamwork as the quarterback of his high school team, taking them to win the state championship in his senior year. He learned compassion and respect for differences from his sister, Susan. Born with spina bifida, she was wheelchair-bound throughout her life. In Brownwood, Roy learned the values that would become the basis for his value-based branding strategies that would define his personal life, as well as his business.

With no other purpose than to create work that they loved and stay in Austin, GSDM was born over beers at Scholz Beer Garten. Positioning themselves as specialists in the ‘youth market,’ the agency began with no money, no experience and no accounts. The team pitched accounts with enthusiasm and no small measure of naiveté, believing that big ideas could make a difference – a hallmark of the GSD&M brand today. From a humble beginning representing Contessa West dormitories and working on the unsuccessful U.S. Senate campaign of civil rights pioneer Ralph Yarborough, the agency grew to become one of the most successful advertising agencies in the United States, helping brand corporations and industry giants from Southwest Airlines to Walmart to BMW to Dreamworks, to the U.S. Air Force to the PGA Tour and the Clinton Global Initiative. GSD&M campaigns such as “Don’t Mess with Texas” and “The Freedom to Fly” are legendary. In 1997, Idea City was built on the corner of Sixth Street and Lamar, a self-contained, city-within-a-city and a tribute to Austin as a place for visionaries looking to make a difference. The core values, which guide the agency, are literally carved in stone in the rotunda of the post-modern building – Community, Winning, Freedom & Responsibility, Curiosity & Integrity.

Along the way, Roy never met a stranger. In the early 1970s, Roy met a passionate young couple working on the McGovern presidential campaign. They would go on to become President of the United States and Senator from New York as well as Secretary of State. Bill and Hillary Clinton remain two of his closest friends, and he serves them as a trusted advisor. Early this year, Roy accompanied President Clinton to Haiti to assess the situation and continuing needs of the stricken nation. His creativity, loyalty and sense of humor helped Roy make friends of clients including industry giants Sam Walton, Red McCombs and Herb Kelleher.

Embracing the credo It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For, Roy has written a bestselling book of the same title sharing what he has learned in 40 years in the ad game as well as ways to utilize his purpose- and values-based approach. He has received many awards including Ad Man of the Year and Idea Man of the Century. He is a Distinguished Alumni of the University of Texas and sits on the board of the LBJ Foundation.
He is a highly sought-after speaker doing what he loves most – spreading the gospel according to ‘Reverend Roy.’

Bill Clinton

Former President on Roy’s Book

”Great leaders are leaders of great purpose, in the world of public service and the business world. If you’re looking for a way to inspire people, mobilize the talent and energy of your organization and make a real difference, the roadmap and case studies in this book will help you do it. I know because Roy and the principles in this book have helped guide our work at the Clinton Global Initiative. Having a clear and compelling purpose has enabled us to unite leaders and citizens from all over the world in order to convert pioneering ideas into solutions with tangible results.”

The Best Advice on Branding & Developing a Purpose-Based Business or Organization You Will Ever Get:

Entrepreneurs today have to make a difference. It is not enough to set out to make money. Money is a byproduct of the process. If you have purpose, you will never have a job, you will just have work to do.
Discover the reason you want to start a business and write it down. Your purpose is a definitive statement about the difference you want to make in the world. Write it down.
Then, answer the following questions by tackling the three circles in my friend Jim Collins’ book, Good to Great:

  • What are you most passionate about?
  • What can you be the best in the world at?
  • What is your economic engine?

Build your organization or business with your purpose and passion in mind. Articulate your purpose and bring it to life by building an organization that makes a difference. This will enable you to “find the thrill.” Ask yourself, “What am I  being called to do?” Aristotle said: “Where your talents and the needs of the world cross, therein lies your calling.” Question the status quo and test things other people say can’t be done. Find a solution that only you can create. Do not imitate. Be the best YOU can be. Follow your dreams by using your unique strengths and talents to achieve your purpose and you will have a full life.

The Reverend Roy On the Choices You Make in Life:

The following came to Roy during his walk across America:

In life, there are many choices.

It seems there are many foods you can enjoy; many friends; many ways to worship. There are many careers and jobs you might enjoy; many ways to raise kids; many sports and activities you can enjoy. There are also many choices in cars, drinks, homes, watches, clothes and yes, even perhaps, many different kinds of people you can love, date and marry. I know that there are those who will argue with some of these analogies. In fact, there are many ways to go through life as we know and live it.

There are those, of course, who deeply believe that there is only one way to “have everlasting life” or only one way to “save your soul” or only one way to “find the right soul mate.” I shall not (for I am neither a scholar in these fields nor do I wish to) enter the debate in these highly personal and deeply spiritual and cultural arenas. I want to and I am going to walk – literally – into a discussion of what I am sure is one highly debatable and philosophical arena. I want to go on record that I have not had any kind of formal educational studies in this field, but I have made a lot of “in the field” observations.

  • You become what you seek.
    If you seek enemies, they will find you.
    If you seek hate, it will bring you down.
    If you seek gossip, it will consume you.
    If you seek fear,
    it will follow you all your life.
    If you seek friends,
    you will be befriended.
    If you seek love, it will lift you up.
    If you seek the truth, it will set you free.
    If you seek hope,
    it will lead you to higher ground.

Roy on Austin:

I love Austin because it is forever young. You can’t make it old even if you want to. When you have the energy of 45,000 young people coming into the city every year, we refuse to grow old. In Austin, you can be young or young at heart. You can start your life here or relaunch it here.
Austin has talent, it has technology, it has tolerance, but mainly Austin has vitality. That is the brand.

A group from Stanford came to Austin and they were meeting to discuss what cities were going to be like in the 21st century. The predictions were fascinating. Austin was the smallest city in the study and we determined that Austin would be the city of ideas. A year later we launched the campaign labeling Austin “The City of Ideas.” A brand is your sacred promise. People are brands. When we are at our best in Austin, the brand includes being forever young, having great vitality, believing no one is too good and everyone is good enough. In Austin, no idea is too good and  no idea too bad. People might not always be right, but their opinions and feelings are always valid. So I pray that the city leaders will not screw up the brand and make Austin a class society and lose the focus on creativity, entrepreneurship and vitality.


Roy on Branding the Austin Man:

Austin men embrace this city. They embrace the idea of what is new and what is next. I think Austin men are big on love – we love the Trail, we love the lake, we love the University of Texas, we love our families, we love our friends, we love our partners, we love our work, we love to walk down Congress Avenue. We love this city. When we are at our best, we are in love with our surroundings and we are in love with the totality of our life. We are doing what we love to do in a place where we want to be. When I travel, people say to me, “I love what I do but I hate where I live.” That is not true of Austin. I love what I do and I love where I live. People who live in Austin are in love with their life here. In Austin, you are free to use the word “love” and it is such a powerful word. “I love you.” “I love what you are doing.” I hear it all of the time.

There are a lot of loves in your life. Love keeps you alive. In general, Austin men love a lot of things and feel free to show it. You can’t stay disconnected in Austin. The people here will not allow it. We worry more about our self worth than our net worth. We worry more about our friendships and connections than social standing.

Austin men are spirited, not mean-spirited. Everyone here wants to see you succeed. No one is looking to steal your ideas. The spirit of Austin allows you to be collaborative and open about ideas. Austin men are a curious bunch. Curiosity is the search for the truth and Austin men are open to a lot of ‘out of the box ‘ ideas when searching for their truth. The spirit of Austin fosters and celebrates creativity and encourages entrepreneurial types to take a risk and try something new. We are a city of dreamers who happen to have a lot big ideas. Austin has an indomitable spirit and that spirit brands the Austin man.


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  1. I have admired the “stand for” of GSDM for 30 years. I continue to wish them well. It is very comforting when the good guys win!

    Peace On, & Do Good,

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