Dave Shaw talks at the speed of public relations–which is to say, he’s very fast, prone to amusing anecdotal digressions and very conscious of how his words will be interpreted. Still, you don’t have to read in between the lines of what he’s saying to understand his commitment to community building and his unique connection to the LGBT community.
At an early age, Shaw displayed a propensity for telling the stories that others might shy away from. As the editor of his high school weekly newspaper in Plano, Shaw penned a center-spread story on HIV/AIDS that was published in the spring of 1987. Needless to say, with Rock Hudson and everything else that was happening nationally, groundbreaking work for a 16-year-old. He interviewed caregivers, medical professionals and people living with the disease. “It was newsworthy, on a purely journalistic level, and it was the right story to tell,” Shaw said.
Growing up in Plano, Texas, Shaw recalled the strength of his bond with his father’s brother, who is gay. “My uncle has been with his partner longer than my parents were together, probably 45 years,” said Dave Shaw. “Having grown up with that, it’s hard for me to fathom when we hear people who want to discriminate against the gay and lesbian community. It’s like discriminating against my family.”
His sixty-something uncle, who was a familiar face along with his partner at family functions over the years, is also the family historian and keeper of its genealogy.
In June 2005, Shaw founded the marketing firm Russell/Shaw, which has now merged with another firm and been rebranded. Arsenal–a full service firm offering advertising, public relations, marketing, digital and social media solutions for its clients. Their motto, ‘We build your brand, for good,’ pretty much says it all.
“I would much rather try to persuade someone of an idea than simply sell them a product,” said Shaw, adding that his team of 10 coworkers are “consummate professionals, committed to the craft of what they do and caring for one another.”
His firm’s abilities range from more traditional consumer marketing for places such as Torchy’s Tacos and Seton Family of Hospitals, to more community-building campaigns with folks like H-E-B and St. Edward’s University. Shaw is particularly passionate about the synergy of bringing larger, corporate clients and worthwhile nonprofits together. One case in point was their nationwide “Spread the LUV” campaign for Southwest Airline’s 35th anniversary.
“We created a virtual food bank online on the front page of Southwest.com and wanted to have 35,000 jars of peanut butter donated to food banks around the country in a partnership with Feeding America,” said Shaw. He added that since the campaign was online, they were able to track donations via IP addresses and funnel money the goods directly back to needy communities. In the end, over 100,000 jars of peanut butter were donated in a month.
“I’m passionate about community service and being deeply engaged,” said Shaw, who received his bachelor’s degree in speech from the University of Texas and his master’s in communication studies from the University of North Carolina. “I like to take a consumer brand and tell its story through giving back.”
That ethos of giving back extends to Shaw’s personal commitment to a wide range of nonprofit organizations in the city over the years. He’s worked with organizations that impact the nonprofit world on the systemic level, such as Greenlights, which supports thousands of nonprofit groups throughout Texas. He also served as the past president of the Austin Library Friends Foundation, working during his tenure to get the $90 million bond initiative passed by the voters in 2006, a portion of which is funding the new downtown Central Library set to be built on Cesar Chavez. “Some of the people who are my most trusted relationships or friendships,” he said, “I’ve met in the context of volunteering for a cause or sitting on a board.”
A longtime resident, Shaw is a natural connector and if the byproduct of his ability to introduce relationships ends up making the world a better place, he’s a happy man. “I don’t want to live in a world where we let people fall through the cracks,” he said. “If you have the ability to do well by doing good, then that’s a win for everybody. We try to do that at Arsenal.”
Describing himself as the kind of guy who eschews grand, five-year plans, Shaw said that his main goal moving forward is to continue to grow brands with compassion and kindness as his guide. “When you’re an entrepreneur and you have the opportunity to start a business, you’re only going to be as good as the people you surround yourself with,” Shaw said. “I have been able to surround myself with people who are smarter and better looking than me.”