ROY SPENCE, Co-founder & Chairman of GSD&M, Co-founder & CEO of The Purpose Institute


Nadine:                        Hello and welcome to CMO Moves. Today I have Roy Spence with me who is the co-founder and chairman of GSD&M and also the co-founder and CEO of The Purpose Institute. Roy, hi and welcome to the show.

Roy:                             Well Nadine, it’s great to be with you. I love your show. I love the idea of the CMO Moves and the whole idea of enlightening CMO’s and CEO’s on the ability of CMO’s to be a force for good. So, I'm a real big fan.

Nadine:                        Oh my gosh. Well thank you so much. Likewise, I'm a huge fan of yours as well. I remember when I had Tony Rogers on this show and boy, he could not say enough wonderful things about you and the work that you did with him and Walmart. I can't wait to dig into that. But before we get started, I was wondering, could you share a little bit about these two big roles that you have?

Roy:                             Well, they, they sound bigger than they are frankly. But, I guess the quickest story is that I grew up in a little small town, Brownwood, Texas, and I loved every second. And when I went to the University of Texas, I met four people and we did all these multimedia shows in the seventies, for students. Thousands of students would line up and pay us fifty cents and I'll say, this is America or a brownie a we didn't know. We realized that we were about to graduate, and we said, what the heck are we going to do; and one of my partners said why don't we go into advertising? And I said, great, what is that? Seriously, I was a government major. I was going to be president and quick story on that. So, I had a tie-dyed shirt and a pony tail I was looking awesome. I was 20 years old and went down to Citibank and I sat in front of a loan officer's desk and he wasn't there. And all of a sudden, somebody taps you on the shoulder and says, I'm sorry young man, but do you have an appointment? And I went, no, but you're not like busy. I didn't know, I was 20 years old. And he said, well, what do you need? I said, $5,000 to start GSD&M Advertising. He said, well great, what's your Business Plan? And I said, I beg your pardon. He's what's your Business Plan? True story can't make it up. And I went, well we want to like stay together, we want to stay in Austin, we want to make a difference and get really rich. And he loaned me the money and we started GSD&M in the button on this story is that 20 years later I was at a reception and somebody comes up to me and says, you see that older gentleman over there with a cane?

Roy:                             Do you know him? I said, yes, that's Robert Snead. He's been a mentor of me and my partners. And he said, you remember that $5,000 you borrowed 25 years ago? I went like it was yesterday. And he said, do you know that he co-signed that note, they never told you because he wanted you to believe that you got it on your own. And that's how it all started. We believed in each other and other people believed in us. And so, we built GSD&M and got lucky and you know, I got to live in Austin, Texas and represent clients like Tony at Walmart; Frito Lay, BMW, Southwest Airlines and the United States Air Force. So then, at some point we started realizing that advertising and marketing seemed to be a commodity. Everybody was doing the same thing and they just had a different spin on it or a different cut or different, whatever it might be.

Roy:                             And we did a campaign called “Don't Mess with Texas” and people know that slogan all over the world, but they don't know it was an anti-littering campaign. Texas was a littering state truly. And in 1985, the governor of Texas said, litter keeps going up. Why don't we try to stop litter? Anyway, we pitched against the agencies that did “Don’t Pollute, Give a Hoot” and crying Indians, awesome, amazing. But we decided that we needed to do something fresher, so we pitched the line, “Don't Mess with Texas” and Stevie Ray Vaughan, God rest his soul, did the first commercial then Willie Nelson, then Wayland and everyone else. In four years, we reduced litter by 79 percent and we stopped and looked at each other and we went, wait a minute, what did we do here? It was not regulations, there weren't fines. We just changed the culture of Texas through marketing. And we realized at that moment we weren't in the litter business, we were in the pride business and that's the moment we started launching purpose-based branding and that led me to farm The Purpose Institute, in which we help people, companies and hopefully countries rediscover their purpose.

Nadine:                        Wow. Roy What an amazing story and how timely for us to be talking about purpose driven marketing. So many people are talking about it. Lots of people are trying it, some have mastered it, but maybe you could just give us your definition of what it is.

Roy:                             That's great question Nadine. We did a book called, “It's not what you sell, it's what you stand for” about 10 years ago, bestselling book and truly we were out there wandering in the wilderness when we were talking about purpose. But two quick stories and I'll get to Walmart with Tony. A bunch of people really challenged us, but I kept telling Sam Walton, they were in the business to let people have a good life for less. And we kept talking through that and that's when we came up with the line “Save money. Live better”. So, we laddered out of the discount business up to the purpose business of helping people live better for less.

Roy:                             Southwest Airlines has been our client for 35 years, still is. I was 28 years old when Herb Kelleher had 28 airplanes and he called me and we've been doing business. We started realizing Southwest Airlines wasn't in the airline business. We were in the business to give people the freedom to fly. We're in the freedom business, so we started developing purpose. A couple of things about what is purpose. It's the definitive difference you're trying to make in the world. Lowe's has an awesome purpose. I didn't do it, but I tell people I did, but not on a podcast because people would call me on it but, think about this; I think it came from an associate; she said, I think we're in the business to help people love where they live.

Roy:                             Hmmm; changes everything. Secondly, it has to be authentic. Third, we outta change the name from just chief marketing officers to chief purpose officers because marketing is the carrier of the purpose. It reflects if you do it right and it's authentic. CMO’s when they take it and embrace it, they affect not only the consumer market, they affect the culture of the organization. And I always tell CMOs, if they will listen, you have the opportunity to be a force for good, especially when you are purpose driven. So that's what it is and that's where we find it. The best organizations are driven by purpose. And Jim Collins, one of my great friends, he'll be a neighbor of yours by the way, in Boulder. He wrote the book as you know, a bunch of books, but the two that affected me the most, was Built to Last and Good to Great. And we became best friends literally. And he has one thing - it's on my wall right now. And this was 10 years ago or so. The great visionary companies, the ones that are built to last, will always have a purpose beyond making money. And in the process will make more money.

Nadine:                        OK, so I knew this was going to happen with you today and it's going to be one heck of a ride for the rest of this podcast because you say something so quotable, like in every other sentence that you use. And sometimes in the middle of the podcasts when I'm recording, someone will say something to me and I'll be like, wow, OK, that's going to be the title of this podcast. And, I actually said it out loud a couple of times because it was just so obvious in your case. I've got four competing titles and I'm sure I'm going to have 18 at the end of this. But I do want to underscore something you said that gave me goosebumps; Chief Purpose Officers.

Roy                              Yes

Nadine:                        I love it.

Roy:                             My co-founder of The Purpose Institute is a woman named Haley Rushing who is the best in the world. I'm serious, in helping companies and organizations rediscover their purpose. And her title is Chief Purposeologist.

Nadine:                        Oh my gosh.

Roy:                             When people hear it there go… Tell me again what you just said. I said her title is Chief Purposeologist and I would just say when you're looking, and by the way the data is real clear; Gallup. I'm a senior advisor there and they do massive work on millennials in the workforce and all of this stuff and the new CMO’s that are coming up through the ranks we have to do a couple of things.

Roy:                             Number one, we got to inspire, purpose driven, talented, creative, young people to realize marketing can be a force for good. We got to get more purpose inspired young people in this industry because this generation is more purpose searching than any generation in the history of Gallup that we've ever surveyed, and in fact, one little quote here on one slide, Gallup is summarized millennials versus boomers. Boomers started with paycheck. Millennials start with purpose. We had bosses, millennials want coaches. We had annual reviews, they want to talk about development all the time. So, as we are looking at the next generation and new generation and the ones that are already there; if CMO’s could wake up in the morning and every day, I don't care what your title is, but you have got to become the champion of finding the purpose, marketing the purpose, enculturating the purpose. Because if you don't have a purpose in your organization, I don't think you'll be around. I mean that honestly; CMO’s have a chance to lead companies through the power of purpose and not politics inside or anything else. And therefore, if you're the Chief Purpose Officer, then you will talk to not only marketing people in there, you'll talk to operations people and HR because purpose has to be enculturated through all organizations. So, it's a thought as we're looking to the future where marketing people actually come in as Chief Purpose Officers.

Nadine:                        I am so excited to hear you say all this because in almost every podcast I've done so far, culture comes up all the time and we've been toying around with titles like is a Chief Marketing Officer, the new Chief Culture Officer. And Jeff Jones said it the other day, it's all about behaviors. What behaviors are leading or role modeling that fosters and continues to develop this culture but taking it one step further then is purpose. If you don't know what the purpose is of your brand, how do you know what culture you're trying to foster?

Roy:                             Let me tell you, I really do believe that the marketing groups need to be leading the purpose and the culture. If you don't have purpose, the old days you had vision, mission, blah blah, blah, blah, and you had to go to your business card to remember it.  The truth is, right now, the great organizations, the ones that are thriving in chaos, and it is chaos in so many ways. We’ll talk about that later, are the ones that wake up every morning saying, this is the purpose of the organization. This meeting's about giving people the freedom to fly. Everybody on everybody get it? Yes. OK, you build your culture around that too, and I call them, and I've discovered them, love cultures.

Roy:                             Stay with me. Loves hard but let me tell you what love cultures do. Number one, you have people loving what they do every day. You know why? They get to play to their strengths. So many organizations want you to be average at what you're bad at. Excuse me, I'm not going to live my life trying to be average. What I'm bad at. Why don't you become great at what you're good at? Chief Culture Officers can say, we're going to do strength finders or whatever it is. Right now, in my office, every one of our associates have the top five strengths on their desk. Number two, people not only love what they do, they love whom they are doing it with. They do it with because they're playing to their strengths in a love culture, you also love the positive impact you make every day. It’s not only your customer's life, but your internal audiences’ life, your communities, life your nations life. Marketing can do all of this. We can help find people who love what they do. They're playing their strengths. Surround yourself with the kind of people who are values driven, purpose driven, and then when you do your marketing, you have a chance if your purpose inspired to make a difference in people's lives.

                                    So, it's just going to get more and more intense in the chief marketing culture and purpose officers should put their arms around it, not because of power at all, but because of purpose. We're not seeking power. We're trying to spread purpose. And if you don't have one person in one group in charge of that, it won't get spread, I promise you.

Nadine:                        OK, let's talk about spreading purpose. Because that is exactly what you're doing, not just through the work at GSD&M, but also with this new organization called The Promisedland Project. Can you talk about that a little bit?

Roy:                             Real quickly; I got lucky and I got it. This is important to my story. I don't tell it all the time, but I got lucky and I got on the road to purpose early in my life, although I didn't know it. My sister was born, she was four years older. In my little town, she was born with a terrible birth defect called Spinal Bifida and Spinal Bifida, for those who don't know what it is, it actually can be cured in the womb now, but it couldn't be back then. You're born and all the nerves that are supposed to go into your legs, ball up on your back in an open wound. She was four older than me, it was late forties and early fifties and she was supposed to live to be 4 years old and she lived to be 49 years old because of my mom and when I could see over her wheelchair, I'd push her to school, push her home every day with my friends and me.

Roy:                             We'd push her to the school, push her home. She graduated from high school. She went to a little community college, which are my heroes by the way, all over the country. I'd go every Saturday, push around that little campus in Gonzales, Texas, and then she moved closer to me and my wife and every Sunday I'd push her and don't be mad and we'd listen to the Dallas Cowboys and eat Whataburger. When she passed away, sorry, I've had that epiphany all these years. I've been trying to push her. I thought it was me pushing her, but she'd been pushing me, and she used to always say, you don't have to have legs to fly. And I didn't know this as one of my business; then it goes to this whole idea of, you know, we have The Purpose Institute and now decided to launch this thing called The Promisedland Project.

Roy:                             It was about a year ago, I was watching Apollo 13 for the hundredth time and I heard Tom Hanks say that great line “Houston, we have a problem”. I was halfway up Sopris mountain and that's outside of Carbondale, you know, where it is. And it was snowing, and I had my snow shoes on. I stopped to look around to make sure people weren't around and I said I loud as I could America, we have a problem, and I realized at that moment in time we have a marketing problem. Stay with me here. Marking people know this right now, the only messaging Americans are getting is the political divisive messages on all sides of us versus them. We are in a cultural war and Gallup has proven it, the cultural divide in this country has never been greater since they'd been polling for 40 years. So, I decided to take America as my client pro bono and we're going to market the best of America to America.

Roy:                             I've got CMO’s already joining up. We launched it at South by Southwest, Matthew McConaughey came over and part of The Promiseland Project is our mission and our purpose, is to start narrowing the cultural divide. And Gallup will be tracking this. It's an eight-year program Nadine, because it is going to take time, but more than that, in 2026, eight years from now, America will celebrate her 250th birthday. The Promisedland Project is going to work, so we can also re-celebrate the birth and the rebirth of a culture of us as in the U.S. A. It's hard work and is called a project because like the Manhattan Project in World War II, the Kennedy's call for man on the moon and Reagan's call to take down the wall and Clinton's call to build a bridge to the 21st century; it’s going to take a lot of hard work because the enemy is not on the outside, it's on the inside.

Roy:                             We have got to bring this culture together. CMO’s marketing people. We can do this. We're going to market America and we're going to do it pro bono. Couple of quick things. We’ve got to walk in each other's shoes again. The fact that my sister never got to walk. I worked in a factory, I drove an 18-wheeler, is how we have to get people, and so Matthew came onstage at the middle of the speech that day and he said, all right, all right. He had a dart and a map of the United States; on the stage. He says, you want to walk in somebody's shoes? I'm throwing a dart and wherever it is we're going, he threw it and hit North Dakota. I've never been, he hadn’t either. But we're going to start for the next eight years, we're going to have these traveling performance labs going into schools and churches and community college.

Roy:                             We've got to also stop the myth that a four-year college degree is the only path to success in this country. It is wrong. We have thousands and thousands of jobs. We need welders, we need electricians, we need skilled workers, and we got to quit picking winners and losers in the ninth grade. Oh, you're college material. You're not. God made us all different. We judge our kids just on standardized tests. That's wrong. We've got to look for talent in these kids, whether it's strength finders. So, The Promiseland Project is not for the tired of the timid, it is for the marketing community to rise up and say we're going to mobilize ourselves to reinspire the purpose of this country and by the way, if you think about America and they'll stop. America was born different, it wasn't born perfect and it wasn't born better, but I'll tell you what, it was born different. It said we don't care what your classes are, what your mama and daddy's last name is or what society you are but if you're willing to risk the seas and come over here and start fresh. Everyone who was willing to work hard and be responsible has a chance to live up to their God given potential, but we're not doing that in America anymore because the war of us versus them has got to stop and I think it's up to the marketing world to help bridge that divide.

Nadine:                        Wow, okay. That's phenomenal. I don't even know how many questions we can still fit in here, but I'm going to ask as many as I can.  First of all, such a big hats off to you because of this effort and it's just truly amazing. I mean, I love that you've taken on America as your client pro-bono. It needs you.  

Roy:                             It need us by the way, everyone on this podcast.

Nadine:                        It needs all of us and I want to talk about two things: the role of the CMO in impacting and changing the American's culture for the better. But tactically I want to start with one thing just because I want to get clarity around this and then let's come back to that one because it's going to be a big one. What is a performance lab? Just so I know what that is.

Roy:                             Basically, we worked with the Air Force. We developed a performance lab. It's a traveling show, van, big, huge show. And we'd go to NASCAR races and schools and you walk in there and take all of these amazing tests. You fly a jet airplane, you'd work on an airplane and at the end, they come back and give your assessment scores and say; oh, you ought to really think about being a doctor in the Air Force. Or, you really ought to think about being a pilot.

Roy:                             It's been remarkable how many young people have come in and said, God, I hadn't even thought about this. So, we're going to take the performance lab on the road and we're going to have things like every young person can take strength finders from Gallup. Every young person; we're partnering with the homebuilders and they could talk about maybe you ought to think about being a carpenter or a welder. Community colleges too, we're going to take this out there and it's going to be an eight-year show.

Roy:                             One of the things we talked about before, Nadine, is that I’m so passionate as you are, we've got to get a lot of whole new generation of Americans, to go into marketing. They don't think about that anymore. They think about engineering or they think about science or finance. But marketing has the ability to be a powerful force for good, not only good within their own organization, but also uniting behind opportunities to improve lives and improve America. So, I just believe that what you're doing with this podcast, and we've got to keep dialing it up. We've got to get the best and brightest, the next generation to think about marketing as a force for good. So that's why I love what you're trying to do, and we ought to keep pushing it hard.

Nadine:                        Well, thank you so much for that. Roy. You know I’m so fortunate I talk to so many incredible CMO’s who are really rolling up their sleeves to represent their brand in a whole new way and they're doing it by taking ownership across a lot of different areas. And especially when it comes to encouraging and growing the talent on their teams. Also helping at the university level, just even getting in there and telling people what marketing all about is so that there's an awareness, but when you're able to connect the dot between what the role of a CMO is today with an aspiring CMO, not just on the functionality of the role but on the purpose of the role and you're saying that it can be a force for good. I think you're right. I think that will appeal to the new generation. So then, the question is how do we continue to showcase those that are doing it well? You have my commitment on this show to keep finding folks that do that well, but how do you help CMO’s achieve that goal?

Roy:                             You know that is a great question and I don't know if I have the answer to it. But let me go back to that question, that hasn't been asked enough; we need to talk to associates that represent marketing and associations that represent advertising and CMO’s that are doing a great job but at some point, if all those organizations would come together.  They keep doing their own separate thing, but anybody in the marketing advertising, digital media space to say: look people, marketing needs to be elevated to its rightful place. We've done a really good job of degrading it and you know, we’ve done all the wrong things perfect, but anyway, if you really want to do it has to be a collective messaging out there. We've got to get to universities, professors that are teaching marketing, advertising, radio, television, digital, whatever, and we got to get purpose embedded there, everywhere. Because if we look at right now, what's going on in this country of ours and around the world, but especially in ours. Marketing is being used for a force for bad. It is being used as a force to divide is being used to create a us versus them; not fake news, fake culture where we were not born in America to be us versus them. By the way, the first motto of the United States of America was E pluribus unum “Out of many, one” that was the first month of this great country. We're going to differ, that's what politics is, the business of freedom. But if we're going to be different, we've got to find common ground, higher ground. Marketing can do that because we can control a positive, enlightening message. And right now, those messages that are out there, they're hitting the American people. It's all bad. It's all us versus them. I'll stop it by The Promisedland Project. We're going to do our best to bridge that cultural divide through the power of marketing.

Nadine:                        I'm really fascinated by this and we definitely could go on talking about this a lot more and I want you to promise me you're going to keep me posted over time on how it's going.

Roy:                             I promise you that from The Promiseland founder.

Nadine:                        Oh, there you go. It's like a double promise. So, and I promise you that I'll help in any way that I can because I think it's a really valiant and important needed effort. But with the little time that we have left, I want to talk more about you, Roy. It's interesting, before we jumped on the recording here, we were talking about great leaders are great people. And, you're a great leader and you've shared a few stories with me and every time I hear a new story I'm like, wow, I mean, and I’ve go to say thank you so much for sharing that story about your sister. Very meaningful and really incredible how you were able to see that, you know, that she was really your strength. She was, she really was, you have this incredible desire and passion to just embrace life and enjoy it and, you know, tell me a little bit about your life, like some of the things you've done. I think of Forrest Gump, I think of this, it’s crazy. Like tell me about some things that you've done in your life that had been pivotal.

Roy:                             Well thank you and It's a real treat to be with you and your listeners. A couple of things that sort, what inspired me was, I was a huge fan of Emerson, Ralph Waldo Emerson and my mom was too. And a quick story on that is that I was studying Emerson in eighth grade. I don't know if y'all remember cursive, but anyway, I turned in a test and I got it back and I had eight misspelled words and it was a C minus and it was a paper on Emerson and my mom was a school teacher so C minuses we're not celebrated at my house.

Roy:                             Mom didn’t say anything.  Ninth Grade I'm studying Emerson again and I said, mom, I can't turn it in. I'll make another C. She said, do the best you can. And I turned it in. They weren't eight misspelled words. There were 11. The whole paper was red and at the top was a tiny A minus. I sat down with my mom and I said, I don't get this. She said, you can't spell, but Mrs. Levesee thinks you can write. That's why you got an A minus. At 14 years old, my mom looks at me and she said, I don't want you to spend another second of your life trying to be average at what you're bad at. I want you to spend the rest of your life trying to come become great at what you're good at.

Roy:                             That changed my life. I was in New York about 10 years ago. I just got back from Haiti. We did all the work for the Papa Bush and Bill Clinton. We did all the work with W. Bush and Clinton, PSA work for free. We just got through doing all five former presidents in one spot.  With my daughter Courtney Spence, was called to go out there and just dare to do things that are good. And I was in New York and I was listening to one show and everything was bad. So, I decided to walk across America.

Roy:                             You can see the logic there. I'm a walker. Not a dead man walking. And I had decided to take a picture, something good every mile. I had day jobs. But I started in New England, went through 11 states, 20 miles a day. And every time the beeper went off on my pedometer back then, I had to find something good. And all of a sudden, my mom's Robert Frost poem, two roads diverged in a yellow wood and sorry, I could not travel both and be one traveler. I didn't know what that meant until that road to goodness. You can't travel on two roads. And I found out if you look for enemies, you'll find them. If you look for hate, you'll find it. If you look for gossip, you'll find it. If you look for fear, that's one road, but on the other road, if you look for friends, you'll be befriended.

Roy:                             And if you look for love, that will lift you up. And if you look for the truth, it will set you free. And if you look for hope, it'll take you to a higher ground. So, part of my journey was Ralph Waldo Emerson's about do not go where the path may lead; it’s on my wall. I'm looking at it. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. And right next to that is mark Twain's quote right here. I'm looking at 20 years from now, you'll be more disappointed in the things you did not do, the things you did; cast away the bow line, set sail, catch the trade winds, dream, explore, discover. Those are the two things I look at every day and it kind of kicked me and by the way, marketing people out there. You need put your computer down. You need to go walk in other people's shoes. If you had a big heart along with big data, you'll make a big difference. I just made that up. That's good.

Nadine:                        I’m going to say that's another headline right there,

Roy:                             But it's true that you have big data and big heart. You can make a big difference in marketing and culture and purpose, but you can't do it with just one. You have to have both.

Nadine:                        I love it. Oh my gosh. Well Roy, I could ask you a million more questions. I'm laughing because I really don't want to end this. I really, really don't, but we are out of time. I'm going to ask you if you have anything in the world, for young professionals, let's go there for a second. Young professionals that are thinking about what they want to be when they grow up. What would you say to them?

Roy:                             Well, it's a great question about what I would say, but I got to say something that George Bernard Shaw actually said, and he was a bit strange, but God, if you read his stuff it’s amazing. He said, the real thrill of life is to be used by a purpose that you yourself diem as a mighty one, and then he said, to become a force of nature. If you decide to go into the marketing business to be a force for good, you will be driven by mighty purpose and you'll be a force of nature and you will never look back and say, did I do everything in my power and my talent, to touch a life, touch a heart, make an improvement, solve a problem? Because at some point marketing people have this uncanny ability to see things other people don't see and they have the most ability if you do it right and you ladder yourself up to purpose and culture and marketing, when we are at our best, we never predict the future. Marketing people can create it. And I think if we will spread that word if you want to be in the business to predict stuff, go be a weatherman or weather women or go wherever else. If you want to be in the business of creating the future marketing ain't a bad place to spend your life.

Nadine:                        Wow. Ok. That is an amazing way to end this podcast.

Roy:                             Thank you, Nadine

Nadine:                        Thank you, Roy.  Very enlightening and wonderful discussion and again, so many kudos to you for taking on America as your client.

Roy:                             Well, thank you. We need help and marketing people. Let's mobilize.

Nadine:                        All right. Excellent. I'm sure we'll be talking again soon. Thank you and have a wonderful day.

Roy:                             Thank you. You too.