The Power of Purpose

November 5, 2019

Entrepreneur, author and “ad man” Roy Spence ignited ALTA ONE attendees’ “epiphany of purpose” during the opening Omni Session.

Spence is known for his culturally uniting marketing campaigns during America's most challenging moments. He and his teams created the powerful and healing "I Am an American" PSA after 9/11, as well as PSAs with former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton during the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Spence also united former presidents across party lines after the massive earthquakes in Haiti in 2010, and again to rally Americans behind the victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma with the One America Appeal video, which made history by featuring five living former U.S. presidents.

“Thank you for being a force for good,” Spence said during the opening of his keynote. “You and your colleagues and partners and this association wake up every morning with a purpose—ensuring that every homeowner and person who wants to buy property can pursue the American Dream and ensuring it doesn’t turn into a nightmare. You give homebuyers and property buyers in this world of chaos one less thing to worry about.”

Spence encouraged the industry to tell its story because “there’s a story behind the story for all great marketing.”

Co-founder of GSD&M advertising and marketing agency in Austin, Spence also is co-founder and CEO of The Purpose Institute. The Purpose Institute is focused on discovering the higher calling and core values that define and shape an organization’s culture and the central purpose that captures the difference an organization makes in the world. Its purpose is to help businesses discover and fulfill their purpose.

Spence highlighted a series of his previous advertising campaigns to effectuate his point that “when you get purpose in your life, more purpose comes into your life.”

“America needs to be driven by purpose not politics,” he said.

Spence shared when he found his purpose. His sister Susan was born with spina bifida. Spence said he pushed Susan in a wheelchair to and from school for eight years. They spent countless hours together, often listening to the Dallas Cowboys games.

“After she passed away, I had this epiphany that all these years I thought I had been pushing her. I realized she was pushing me. You don’t need legs to fly. That’s what purpose is all about.”

Spence also told a few stories about how his agency came to work on campaigns such as “Don’t Mess with Texas” and “Bags fly free” for Southwest Airlines. It was the Southwest campaign that captured the attention of Wal-Mart’s Sam Walton, who requested a meeting with Spence.

Arriving in Arkansas alone, Walton asked Spence where the rest of his staff was at.

Spence replied: “There is an old saying in Texas. One riot, one ranger. What kind of problem have you got?”

Walton smiled and hired Spence on the spot.

Not gifted for having strong grammar, Spence recalled a paper he had written in middle school with rife with misspellings. He received a C-minus on the paper. A year later, he wrote another paper with multiple misspelled words. This time he got an A-minus. His mom had made a bargain with him.

“She told me she didn’t want me spending my life being average at what I was bad at,” Spence said. “She wanted me to spend time at what I was great at.”

His ability to write compensated for his lack of spelling. Spence’s core message was that sense of purpose drives every decision in life.

“Everyone wants purpose in their life,” Spence said. “Every day, you get to protect the American Dream. People want to buy a home or piece of property. You get to help them build their life. You don’t say that often enough. You’re in the American Dream business.”


Contact ALTA at 202-296-3671 or communications@alta.org.

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