While I had known Scott Monty beforehand (the photo above is from Blog World Expo 2008), my first clear memories of interacting with him stem from CES 2009. He was running social for Ford then, and he somehow got both the CEO and President of Ford to do video interviews with me at some blogger event at the Venetian.
The episode showed a lot about Scott — namely how some of the world’s most prominent business leaders put their trust in him, and how he has always looked out to create opportunities for others.
I’ve become better friends with Scott over the years, and I’m all the more a fan thanks to his Timeless & Timely must-read missives, among his other pursuits. A little while ago, I interviewed him for this fair outlet, and while it took me a bit longer than I’d have liked to publish this thanks to some changes you’ve read about in this newsletter (plus some holidays and the most recent CES), his words are indeed timeless.
For those of you, like me, who can’t get enough of Mr. Monty, here he is in his own words.
David: How did you come up with the Timeless & Timely brand?
Scott: My newsletter wasn’t always Timeless & Timely. And while I’ve been blogging since the mid-2000s with an RSS-to-email solution, I didn’t have a true newsletter until the early 2010s, when I began what I called This Week in Social Media.
That was from a round-up newsletter I wrote for my colleagues at Ford; I simply expanded it and made it public. And then, because so many other interesting things affected us besides social media — autonomous vehicles and mobility solutions, regulatory and legal developments, the collaborative economy, and more — I changed it to This Week in Digital.
And then, when I left Ford, Scott Stratten (@UnMarketing) suggested I rebrand it as The Full Monty. The name was a good fit not only for the obvious reason, but because the newsletter was so full of links — usually 70-80 links per edition.
And frankly, it became a slog. But there was one element to the newsletter I enjoyed more than the rest: the opening essay that identified a theme of the week.
With the rise of so many high-quality daily round-up newsletters (The Hustle, Morning Brew, and multiple verticals from the likes of the NYT and WSJ), I realized I couldn’t compete with on news. So I focused on making it more like a column, with a storytelling twist.
Timeless & Timely came about because I’ve always been a complex combination of the classic and the modern: I explore cutting-edge media technology, but I love fountain pens, letterhead, typewriters, and bow ties.
But I took it a step further: I realized that because many of the challenges we experienced at Ford and mistakes I saw brands making time and again, there were fundamental underpinnings of human behavior that needed addressing.
When I combined that with my love of literature and history (I was a classics major as an undergrad and I’m an avid reader), I knew I could tap into storytelling about leadership and communication to link the successes and failures of the past with challenges of the present.
Thus Timeless & Timely was born.
David: You incorporate a slew of sources spanning history, literature, and so much more. How do you keep track of it? Do you have a photographic memory? An effective organizational system?
Scott: Like all of us, I remember a good story. But memory’s not always reliable. What I do have is a viewpoint about leadership, and that allows me to put a lens on whatever it is that I happen to be reading, watching, or listening to.
As you might expect, I have an analog method for jotting down notes when I come across them: I carry a pocket leather jottter and keep it loaded with vertical index cards, where I can quickly make a note of something on the fly.
When I get home or when I’ve got links that need saving, I use OneNote. That allows me to create folders or categories, and I begin to see trends emerging or themes taking shape.
But I’m always on the hunt for a good story from history or books that I’m reading.
Being armed with examples of how humans behaved in certain moments does two things:
- Gives me a wellspring of material to use as examples;
- Helps me compare and contrast current leadership behavior with well-told or well-known examples from the past.
David: How often are the quotes and inspirational sources based on what you’re currently reading versus material you’ve digested in the past?
Scott: There are certain quotes that just stick with me over time. And, as you might imagine, I have a whole section in OneNote devoted to quotes.
I go back and revisit those and ensure I’ve got the proper wording or, even more importantly in the age of misinformation, the proper source and date. Quote Investigator is a great resource for sorting that out, and The Yale Book of Quotations as well as every issue of Lapham’s Quarterly are excellent analog resources.
But like my hunt for stories, my quote radar is always on high alert.
David: When do you write, and when do you read, and when do you record? In other words, how do you find time for all of this?
Scott: I have time every morning set aside for writing, but what it usually turns into is research: reading and cross-referencing.
I like to do most of my writing and recording late at night, when it’s quiet and I can concentrate.
In reality, I grab time to write whenever I’m inspired. It helps to have a flexible schedule.
David: What are you reading right now?
Scott: As you might imagine, I have a number of books going at the same time. I favor history and biographies for my newsletter, and current works for the Timeless Leadership podcast.
Ann Handley’s new edition of Everybody Writes has my attention for the show.
Last weekend, I pulled out the Fall 2020 edition of Lapham’s Quarterly, titled “Democracy”.
At a recent book fair, I found a nice copy of of The Daniel J. Boorstin Reader, which has 75 excerpts from his books The Americans, The Discoverers, and The Creators, along with standalone essays.
And just today, I received a copy of the autobiography of comic singer Anna Russell, titled I’m Not Making This Up, You Know, which was a signature exclamation she used to make toward the end of her 20-minute version of Wagner’s Ring cycle.
David: What is the business model like for you as a publisher? How much do you monetize all this directly (or try to)? How much of it is marketing that helps your pipeline and keeps you relevant to prospects? And how much of it is purely a labor of love, doing it because you want to, regardless of what the return is?
Scott: I’ll say this right up front: I do a pretty crappy job of monetizing my content.
I publish primarily on Substack (and to my own site), where I have a paid subscription option. Paying members get extra content as well as the ability to do chats and Q&A with me, and access to the archives.
I’m reviewing the archives to bundle some essays and make them available as standalone ebooks, and I’m considering turning some of them into mini-courses.
I’d like to develop regular sponsors of the newsletter, but I’m picky about who I’ll work with. I feel as if sponsors need to be a good fit with the publications rather than just random ads that are inserted. I’m certainly open to any introductions to brands that reflect the values of the podcast and newsletter.
By and large, I choose the topics to write about and the people to interview because I find them fascinating myself. And I believe that if I can make that interesting for other people, they’ll enjoy them too.
David: To a lot of your peers and followers, you’ll always be associated with Ford. From where I sit, it was one of the best matches between a brand steward like yourself and a leadership team that could make the most of your talents. Would you ever want to go back to a role on the brand side? And if you could be an in-house brand steward for any company or brand, which would be at the top of the list?
Scott: First of all, thank you for that, David. I truly enjoyed my time there, and I think that’s the case for a few reasons: the company had a plan, it had great discipline in communicating its progress on the plan, and we had one of the most inspiring and remarkable business leaders of the early 21st century in Alan Mulally.
I wasn’t a car guy before Ford (I’m still not, really), but I was able to convey my sense of wonder, excitement, and belief in the company to an external audience in an authentic way. And that’s why I think it worked.
So, linking to my previous answer, this kind of association has to be intensely personal and visceral. I don’t think it could work if it were just a random brand for which I had no affinity.
I don’t have an answer on specific brands, because there’s so much to take into account: I’d like to work with leaders who have integrity and emotional intelligence (which includes empathy, humility, and self-awareness) and are committed to inspiring and growing a new generation of leaders, in an industry that contributes to making the world a better place.
David: Unless someone scrolls to the bottom of your LinkedIn profile, they may not know that you cut your teeth early on as a writer with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Are there any aspects of writing or lessons from back then that you continue to hold on to?
Scott: Those were interesting times. I worked for the Director of Medical Research, and our group was tasked with writing the report for the VA National Health Care Reform Project.
The director, Dr. Martin Albert, was a funny little man. He’d regale us with stories from Washington or from his earlier days, we’d go to lunch at the Village Fish not too far away in Brookline Village, learning so much from him and about him in the process.
Much like Bert Cooper, he’d wander around the office in his socks and when he needed something, he’d softly approach my desk and ask in the most vague terms, “Scott, can you write me a speech on [whatever topic was on his mind]”?
When I asked him for more specifics, or what he envisioned, he’d invariably reply with “I don’t know. But I’ll know it when I see it.”
Frustrating, for sure. But when I’d hand something to him, he’d wander back into his office, spend about 20 minutes with it, and come out and almost as invariably reply with, “This is exactly what I was looking for.”
The lesson I took from that has guided me since: know your audience. Know who you’re writing for and what they’re looking for from your work.
David: Your career spans so many kinds of brands, agencies, consultancies, and even the public sector, as we just discussed. What advice would you give to someone who’s starting out in marketing or advertising as to where they could best begin?
Scott: Always be open to learning something new. This is why I try to read widely and keep a curious attitude. Because you never know where the next opportunity may come, or when a particular piece of information may come in handy.
If you’re open-minded and constantly learning, you’ll be ready for anything.
Thanks so much Scott for the thoughtful responses and letting us all take a look at the craftsmanship behind the work.
PS: Speaking of showcasing your skills to others, I got an idea the other night to try a Skill-a-Thon as a series of virtual sessions where professionals teach others about a skill relating to marketing, broader business pursuits, or even life. Have a skill you can share with others? Make a proposal at skillathon.live, or go directly to this form. Dates TBD but I’ll share more soon.