ExFord Visionary Scott Monty Tells You His Social Secrets

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It's not every day you get to sit down with an "an unstoppable force of nature" — a guy Alan Mulally, the CEO of Ford Motor Company, described as "a visionary."

But those effusive words seem less important to Scott Monty that a few simple realities. He describes himself as a husband, a dad and "generally nice guy," who enjoys writing about the changing landscape of business, technology, communications, marketing and leadership.

Monty is executive vice president of strategy at SHIFT Communications, a public relations firm with offices in Boston, San Francisco, New York City and Austin. He's also editor and co-host of I Hear Of Sherlock Everywhere, "news and information about Sherlock Holmes in popular culture in one convenient site and podcast."

Socially Unstoppable

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In broader terms, he's an internationally recognized leader in digital communications, social media and marketing.

Since joining SHIFT last July, he has been helping the firm with strategic elements of new business, client assignments and agency direction.

From 2008 to 2014,he headed the social media function at Ford. As the company's Global Digital and Multimedia Communications Manager, he earned a reputation for his expertise on numerous digital technologies, including blogger relations, digital customer service and product launches.

Ranked by Forbes as one of the top 10 influencers in social media, Monty has a lot of interesting things to say. He shared some of them recently in an interview with CMSWire.

Sobel: At Boston University you got your BA in Classical Civilization, an MA in Medical Science and an MBA in Healthcare Management. How did you end up at the Ford?

Monty: Like many unconventional leaders, my trajectory was a zigzag rather than a straight line. I earned dual degrees in the business and healthcare fields so I could have enough working knowledge of each to be effective in the coming wave of managed care.

After business school, I landed a job in marketing at a PPO network, where I learned that healthcare transformation was anything but certain and immediate.

I joined the corporate development arm of a consultancy that helped early stage biotech and medical device companies partner with larger entities to bring their products to market.

After September 11, the deal making market dried up, and I eventually found a B2B advertising and marketing agency that specialized in healthcare and high tech, which is where I began to explore this fascinating new world of social media.

Forging a new path, I then joined a strategic consultancy that helped big brands understand and establish social media strategies, which is where Ford found me.

Throughout my career, I’ve been fascinated by the sociological and psychological aspects of business, and the rise of social media helped me tap into the reserves of my classics education.

I began to realize that people really haven’t changed over the course of human history. They still want what they’ve always wanted – they want what’s in it for them, to be acknowledged, to be part of something bigger than themselves and to make an impact on the world.

That basic tenet has been the grounding for everything I’ve advocated for in social media.

Sobel: You left Ford and joined SHIFT last year. Can you talk a bit about working on the “other side” shifting from Ford to SHIFT?

Monty: It has been quite a shift, actually.

While there was never a lack of creativity or variety of products at Ford, now I really have an opportunity to be exposed to many more businesses, products and people that are on the cutting edge of technology, healthcare, consumer and business-to-business services.

I’ve regained some of the entrepreneurial mojo that was such a strong part of my early days at Ford.

Sobel: In one of your most recent blog posts you talked about Ello, an ad-free social network that is basically billing itself as the anti-Facebook. You cited a quote from Henry Ford: "The competitor to be feared is one who never bothers about you at all, but goes on making his own business better all the time." Can you tell us more?

Monty: While it’s tempting to base a business premise on being something that the other guy isn’t, it’s a very risky strategy.

All a formidable competitor would have to do is start doing that thing that it isn’t, and suddenly your business model goes up in smoke.

When I was at Ford, I spent very little – if any – time focusing on what other automakers were doing. I looked at other industries entirely to try to get fresh ideas and weave them together. That’s exactly what Henry Ford did when he revolutionized the auto industry.

Sobel: Brent Polhman, marketing director at Midwest Laboratories, wrote: "When I think of Scott Monty, I think of Ford. I know he left Ford, but that brand connection is so strong. When you introduce yourself to someone, do you just tell that person your name or do you also mention the company you work for? The two need to be tied together.” What are your thoughts?

Monty: Ultimately, people do business with other people, and people have strong emotional ties with other humans.

While that’s not enough by itself – a business should also have remarkable and emotionally engaging products – putting the two together is a winning combination.

Traditionalists balk at the notion of a non C-level executive being widely recognized as part of a company. Such people would rather keep personalities out of it and only focus on the business.

Personally, I think that’s a missed opportunity. Everywhere I go, online and offline, I’m told how people thought differently of Ford because of my very public and personal connection with the brand – including scores of them who purchased or pledged to purchase a Ford because of our interactions. People like Alan Mulally understand it.

Sobel: There’s been a lot of talk about the new Apple Watch and your spin recently was more about the cultural ramifications as opposed to the technology. You tweeted:

Can you amplify your thoughts?

Monty: Here you’ve got a company that, through its remarkable influence in personal computing, music and mobile devices, has essentially made watches a thing of the past for a whole generation of people.

And now it's introducing yet another device that replaces the very thing it ousted.

Just as we see the cultural phenomenon of incessant phone checking at social gatherings, perhaps the raise-your-wrist action will encourage people to go for a nice vintage wristwatch instead. It’s a stretch, I know, but I was raising two points: one of irony and the other of Apple’s massive influence culturally.

Sobel : You are a huge Sherlock Holmes fan. Do you have any thoughts about the writing of Arthur Conan Doyle and your work?

Monty: Sherlock Holmes was a consultant. People approached him, told their stories and he solved their problems.

He did two things that bear directly on what we do at SHIFT. He spent a great deal of time studying and memorizing criminal cases from around the world.

And he never guessed or jumped to a conclusion before gathering data, asking questions and making observations.

As a progressive communications agency, it’s our job to be up to speed on industry trends and developments. And we can impress clients more by asking the right questions than by pontificating to them.

Sobel: Any final thoughts for our readers?

Monty: The most powerful tool we all have at our disposal is the ability to listen to our customers and to understand their needs.

While you’ll occasionally have the visionary CEO like Steve Jobs who identifies a need that customers didn’t even know they had, most business issues can be handled by being responsive and prescriptive based on customer pain points and feedback.

Our client T-Mobile, self-styled as the “Un-carrier” is delivering a model of no contracts, unlimited data, streaming music and more for customers who are tired of the usual roadblocks put up by the other major wireless networks.

And its CEO John Legere is on Twitter engaging with customers relentlessly.

I saw the results of this every day first hand when I was at Ford. When you engage on behalf of the company, the company's reputation turns around.

There’s obviously a connection there – one that other leaders could learn from.

Images of Scott Monty by Joe Venuto for www.SoPlat.com.