Kevin Cassis is not the kind of guy who leaves his work behind at the end of the day, and that’s just fine with him. To say that he loves what he does would be an understatement. Cassis, president of TWG Plus (known as the Whitley Printing Co. until this February) and president of the Austin Advertising Federation, has an almost geeky glow when he talks about printing, advertising and building successful business models for the future.
In fact, as much as he clearly feels warm and fuzzy about the Austin Ad Fed, he says one reason he’s been looking forward to the end of his term as president this June is that he’ll have more time to concentrate on his profession. “Ad Fed, like many nonprofits, is a passion that sometimes interferes with your profession,” Cassis said. “I’m looking forward to getting back to focus on work.”
But make no mistake, his time at the helm of Austin Ad Fed has been hugely productive. When Cassis became involved as a board member in 2006, the organization had fewer than 500 members, a figure disproportionate to the number of advertising professionals and businesses in Austin.
Austin Ad Fed, which is affiliated with the American Advertising Federation, is dedicated to the myriad professions that make up the advertising community. It offers networking, workshops, and speakers and puts on the annual ADDY awards to showcase the best of the area’s talent.
Cassis was dismayed that the Austin division, which serves an area with more advertising businesses than other Texas cities, had far lower membership numbers. With his help, the board reached out to members in an effort to get more involvement from their employees, restructured membership dues, and developed a direct mail campaign to attract new members. Those efforts paid off quickly, and Austin Ad Fed became a Division 1 branch when its membership rose above the 500-member mark. Today the organization’s membership is even higher.
“How many ways can I say ‘he hung the moon’?” asked Scott Van Osdol, executive director of the Austin Ad Fed. “He’s smart, funny, innovative, and incredibly dedicated…his business sense and professionalism helped the Ad Fed grow from 450 to 1,363 members in just two years and helped the Austin Ad Fed win Division 1 Club of the Year from the 50,000 member American Advertising Federation two years in a row.”
He’s also extremely generous, Van Osdol said, joking that he has to remind Cassis to sit on his hands and not volunteer for everything that crosses his path.
“He gives his time and pro bono printing to the Ad Fed and the ADDY Awards,” Van Osdol said. “He’s part of the team that helped the Hill Country Ride for AIDS grow donations from $186,000 to $687,000 in just five years (Austin Ad Fed members have donated service toward the ride for the past eight years). Donated creative, design, PR, printing and paper means that more of those donations go directly to help Austinites living with HIV/AIDS. It’s a huge donation, and has helped the Ride grow to become the second largest AIDS ride in the country.”
Cassis got involved in Austin Ad Fed through his work at TWG, which has done business with ad agencies for decades, he said. Printing has been part of his life since high school, and it’s clearly something he excels at. In his time at TWG, he has moved the company from dependence on an older print model, with days that are numbered, to the implementation of new technologies that offer clients more comprehensive marketing. The company now has a national client base, focused on education.
“Maybe it’s depressing that I have no passion greater than my work,” Cassis said with a smile. “Right now, the thing I’m most passionate about… I’m focused on paving the way for printers who are traditionally not businessmen, they’re creative…What we’re doing is ahead of the curve for our industry, and I’d like to think it will prove itself a solution for printers.”
Cassis is out at work, which in and of itself has been an interesting journey. He left TWG, then Whitley, for a short time when it became clear that he and the conservative son of the founder weren’t connecting. He got a call from that same man a few years later, offering him a job.
“I decided if I was going to come back, I would come out to him,” Cassis said. “He said ‘OK, let me think about that, I’ll get back to you.’ He finally calls me back…and said, ‘I have to be honest. I didn’t know how to take news you shared with me. I talked to my pastor about it.’ I thought, ‘there goes my chance.’ But his pastor said that if he made business decisions based on religious beliefs, he wouldn’t be successful in business.”
Don’t get the impression that Cassis is a boring guy, though, just because he loves his work. He and his partner, Ethan, have had some adventures en route to Austin.
In the 1990s he was back in the suburban Washington, D.C. area where he’d grown up. But in 1999, the company in which he was an equity partner sold at about the same time Cassis had come out. He decided it was time for a life change, and so he hit the road in a 36-foot RV.
Using the RV as his home base, he explored Albuquerque and Flagstaff and then traveled to meet friends in Las Vegas. There he met Ethan, his partner of 12 years. Together they struck out for Key West and then made their way back to Las Vegas, where they opened a coffee shop.
“Then a year into it, I remember thinking ‘why are we here?’,” he said. “The Strip is great, but it’s not a city off the Strip. It’s basically one giant bedroom community for people who work on the Strip. Their art museum was a room inside a public library. Everything was geared toward tourism.”
Texas had not been on the couple’s radar, but they had been hearing great things about Austin. So they headed toward the Lone Star State and immediately fell in love with Austin. “I’m not very political, but when I hear the state does certain things, I’d say it’s hard for me to be in Texas,” Cassis said. “But we’ve been around a lot, and there’s no other place we feel compares.”