On Tuesday, at the iMedia Agency Summit in Lost Pines, Texas, Roy Spence, chairman and co-founder of GSD&M, shared what he believes to be the most important thing you can learn in this industry: You must have a purpose.
Spence's journey in advertising is a unique one: He and his three partners started their agency after graduating from University of Texas at Austin with only bank loan and three simple goals: To stay in Austin, to get rich, and to make a difference.
Throughout his 45-year journey, Spence has learned many lessons from family, friends, and even clients. One of his first clients, Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines, hired him at 28 years old. From Kelleher, Spence took away two important things:
- Lighten up! It's only business, have fun.
- The only thing every religion in the world has in common is some version of the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.
Years later, Spence and his partners pitched an ad campaign that you may have heard of, "Don't Mess with Texas." What you may not remember is that this was an anti-litter campaign. The approach they took was very unique at the time, and spoke to the specific demographic they hoped to reach. While many older people didn't understand their idea, it clearly worked: Litter in Texas went down 76 percent following the ad's release.
But before you discover purpose in business, you must find purpose in your life. Spence said that he believes in one primary principle for a life with purpose: "In the words of Aristotle, 'do good and be happy.' Do good with your job, your family, your friends, etc. And, if you think you're doing good and you're not happy, you have to get off that road."
How do you find out what your ability to do good is? Aristotle also covers this question: "When your talents and the needs of the world intersect, therein lies your vocation." Spence explains that despite being a good writer, he is a terrible speller. In school, his mother told him, "Don't spend another second of your life trying to be average at what your bad at. Spend the rest of your life trying to be great at what your good at."
This is where the idea of purpose comes into business. You can make a living doing what you want to do, and what you're great at. "When you hire people, make sure they're playing to their strengths," said Spence. An example he gives is that of the "doers" and the "dreamers" within your organization -- if you're able to put the two together, you'll have a winning combination.
As for your clients, ask them what their purpose is. If they don't know, don't work for them. Companies that have no purpose beyond making money won't last. When working for Lowe's Home Improvement, the purpose actually came from a cashier, who said "When we're at our best, we're helping people love where they live." In other words, your purpose in business is the definitive difference you're trying to make in the world.
Building upon this, the best relationship you can have with your clients is that of a confidant. To foster this relationship, Spence offers a few tips:
- You have to do whatever it takes to "lather up" this relationship
- You must base the relationship on integrity
- Remember that nothing is impossible
- Never break your promise to this person
- Always have their back
- Make sure that nothing bad can happen
- And build a relationship where goodness rules
All that goes into creating your purpose and these relationships is a choice. Spence recalls a popular Robert Frost poem, "The Road Less Traveled" While he didn't understand it when he was younger, Spence recently discovered that the true meaning behind the two roads in the poem: "You become what you look for in life." If you're looking for the negative, you'll find it. But if you take the other path, you'll find friends, love, hope, and more.
Finally, Spence ends with a quote from George Bernard Shaw. "This is the true joy in life, being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one, being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap, being a force of nature instead of a feverish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy."