Clinton Relies on Soul-Searching Message Guru

Branding whiz Roy Spence has taken on a bigger role in the Clinton campaign.


Jan. 10, 2008 — -- The Texas advertising guru and branding whiz, who spent most of October on a spiritual soul quest, trying to reconnect with "the heart of America," has been tapped for a bigger role in Sen. Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.

Roy Spence, 60, a longtime friend of the Clintons, is the quirky Austin-based advertising legend who coined the phrase "Don't Mess With Texas," and developed the Southwest Airlines slogan, "You are now free to move about the country."

He was with Clinton at her Chappaqua, N.Y., home yesterday, after she flew in overnight from New Hampshire and met with her team to develop a campaign strategy for the next four weeks of key primaries.

Spence was active early on in the campaign, but will now take on an even greater role, inputting how to rebrand Clinton's message to voters.

"Hillary wants somebody in there that is going to comprehend what messaging conversations are being had, and how things are being formulated," a Clinton campaign insider told ABC News.

Referring to reports of infighting among Clinton's top-tier messaging staff, the insider suggested Spence wouldn't be directing changes in messaging, but will have input on what top level staffers are doing.

"You've got different camps looking out for their backside. They're looking for a grown-up to help," said a Clinton camp insider.

One person familiar with Spence's political work told ABC News, "He's an interesting guy, probably one of the more offbeat guys to come up through the Democratic ranks."

In the fall, Spence began an intermittent seven-year spiritual/patriotic trek to "reach out and celebrate the goodness of America," blogging along the way about the people he meets and places he visits.

"My plan is to walk for one month per year, for seven years, or until I've crossed this great country," Spence wrote in a September e-mail to his employees.

"I want to pay my respects to America. To get out of the planes, trains and automobiles, and into the hands, hearts and soul of this country," he wrote. "To participate in the shared purpose and promise of the American people and this great land. This will make me a better marketer and a better person."

And the Clintons have reportedly told Roy they'll join him for part of the journey.

"Roy has said Bill or Hillary said they are going to walk with him along the way," Spence's spokeswoman Melanie Mahaffey told ABC News.

"He pops up every time there seems to be a problem with imagery," said Matthew Dowd, a former Bush team campaign strategist and current ABC News contributor, who has known Spence for 20 years.

In the face of Sen. Barack Obama's charisma and inspirational message of "hope" and "change," and his victory in the Iowa caucuses, Clinton has already begun to retool her "ready to lead" message, arguing she, too, is "ready for change." Her campaign may even be trying to rebrand Clinton, highlighting her softer side.

Clinton said she thinks her rare display of raw emotion Monday may have been the reason so many women turned out for her in New Hampshire.

"Well, I think it could well have been," Clinton said on ABC's "Good Morning America," Wednesday. "Certainly, people mention it to me."

During her New Hampshire victory speech, Clinton was surrounded with young faces, instead of the older coterie of Bill Clinton-era advisors that surrounded her during her Iowa concession speech

Clinton met Spence while working on George McGovern's failed 1972 presidential bid, counting Spence as among "the best friends I've ever had," on page 58 of her 2003 autobiography, "Living History."

"We would sit outside at the end of 18- or 20-hour days, trying to figure out what else we could do in the face of ever-worsening poll numbers," Clinton wrote.

Fast forward more than three decades later, and Clinton is the one running for president, facing a formidable opponent touting an inspirational message.

Spence has been tapped to help.

He is known in advertising circles as the "Idea Man," even renaming his Austin-based ad firm "GSD&M's Idea City." The firm is owned by media giant Omnicom.

Spence's clients have included Southwest Airlines, Wal-Mart, and BMW, and he's done pro bono work for Bill Clinton's Global Initiative.

"He's a great pitchman, a big concept guy," said Dowd. "He can really create enthusiasm, a sense of purpose."

Spence declined to be interviewed for this story. But his company boasts an endorsement from the former president on its Web site: "Thanks for the creative solutions you bring to life, not just for your clients, but for our country and the world," reads a quote from Bill Clinton.

In October, the ad firm Spence founded 36 years ago hit a rough patch, laying off almost 120 people, after losing AT&T, one of their biggest clients.

The layoffs coincided with Spence's first installment of his spiritual trek across America. Spence walked from New Hampshire to Pennsylvania, logging about 20 miles a day, for 10-hour stretches, hoping to become a "better marketer and a better person."

The Clinton campaign may be more interested in whether the trek worked on his marketing skills.

Spence is one of several new faces getting a bigger role as Clinton gears up for key primaries in Nevada, Michigan, South Carolina and the big Super Tuesday primary states on Feb. 5.

Before the polls closed, Tuesday, the Clinton campaign tapped Maggie Williams, Clinton's former chief of staff from her days as first lady, to take the reins of the campaign, and will be in charge of day-to-day operations.

"Maggie brings a comfort level," a Clinton campaign source told ABC News. "She is a woman. She's a minority. She can talk the talk, and she understands the field operations."

Disappointed in their stunning third place loss in Iowa, and euphoric over their narrow New Hampshire victory, the expanded roles for trusted advisors are a sign the campaign is throwing everything they've got into wooing voters for the next critical phase of the primary race.

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