For longtime residents familiar with the career of Brownwood native Roy Spence of Austin, the question is not so much “Where is he now?” but rather, “What’s he up to now?”
Spence, who in 1971 was one of four co-founders and continues as chairman of GSD&M advertising agency, has been making news as well has as shaping the international marketing business since leaving Brownwood to attend the University of Texas at Austin. Not only has he been a frequent visitor to his hometown, he has also been one of the city’s best ambassadors.
Before his father, Roy Spence Sr., died at age 95 in 2009, Spence spent every second weekend in Brownwood. He describes those visits as nothing short of a son’s privilege, and their close father-son connection has shaped some of Spence’s most recent efforts.
That would be Spence’s most recent in a series of books he’s authored. “The 10 Essential Hugs of Life” was published in 2013. The book, illustrated by Jared Dunten, took its inspiration from “Big Roy,” who had a habit of greeting people — friends and strangers alike — with a hug.
“Big Roy was the biggest hugger of all,” the website dedicated to the book explains.
Spence’s mother, Ruth Spence, died in 1998.
In “The 10 Essential Hugs of Life,” Spence shares inspiring lessons he learned from practicing one of the things his father taught him — anyone worth meeting is worth hugging —with the hope that others will put more joy in the lives of those they touch, including their own.
“We simply need to hug ourselves first, hug our faith and our flags, our friends and family, our fears and failures, our firsts, our futures, and our finals. When we embrace all of the people and events that make us who we are, we discover deep wells of love,” Spence wrote for the book’s jacket cover.
Spence in 2010 created “Royito’s Hot Sauce,” using the name he was called while growing up in Brownwood, and dedicated the product to his father. The hot sauce brand even promotes another lesson his father taught him, “Never do mild.” So the product is available only in a “hot” version. As the label announces, “We don’t do mild.” The idea, according to Spence, is to not “do mild” in life, but rather to follow your own passion and purpose.
Spence and Dunten were found at Whole Foods Market in downtown Austin on Valentine’s Day this month, giving out hugs and selling copies of their book.
Since leaving Brownwood after graduating from high school, Spence has hardly been a stranger. In recent years alone, he has been keynote speaker for the Brownwood Area Chamber of Commerce Economic Summit in 2012, was featured speaker at the American Red Cross chapter’s “Everyday Heroes” banquet in 2010, and in 2012 was inducted into the Gordon Wood Hall of Champions.
Spence graduated from Brownwood High School in 1967 and earned a bachelor’s degree in government from the University of Texas at Austin.
According to the GSD&M website, Spence and fellow UT students Judy Trabulsi, Tim McClure, and Steve and Bill Gurasich found clients for political advertising, and won the Southwest Airlines account in 1977.
GSD&M also created the landmark “Don’t Mess with Texas” ad campaign in 1985 that is credited with reducing litter in Texas by 76 percent.
Under Spence’s leadership, the agency has helped grow some of the world’s most successful brands like Southwest Airlines, Walmart, DreamWorks, the PGA Tour, BMW, the U.S. Air Force, Hallmark and the Clinton Global Initiative. Spence has been a trusted adviser to numerous business 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 and the Department of Defense.
In 2001, his firm created the “Brownwood Feels Like Home” campaign and community website that led to what has become the community’s largest project, the Brownwood Reunion Celebration.
Spence has been named Ad Man of the Year and Idea Man of the Century and has been interviewed by The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, U.S. News & World Report, Esquire, Fast Company, INC. and FORTUNE for his perspectives on advertising, marketing and finding and fulfilling an organization’s purpose. A popular keynote speaker, he regularly addresses audiences from throughout the business, government and nonprofit communities.
In 2008, Spence and Haley Rushing coauthored 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.”
He is founder of the Purpose Institute, and authored the inspiring compilation of Texans’ religious journeys published in 2008, “The Amazing Faith of Texas.”
Spence is founder of the Purpose Institute. He is a member of the board of directors of the Conscious Capitalism Institute, and the Lyndon Baines Johnson Foundation. He received the 2004 Distinguished Alumnus Award from The University of Texas.
Spence said he has a lot of projects on his plate as 2014 gets under way, and one of them in particular is expected to consume most of his time in coming months. But he already has an idea for his next book, when time allows, and it will revolve around his pet dog that died recently after years of faithful companionship.
With only a few sentences of description, it sounds certain to strike an inspiring chord with readers — again.