Ty Montague, author of True Story

About Ty

Co-CEO, co:collective

After 20+ years in traditional advertising, Ty and his partner Rosemarie Ryan joined together with two other seasoned experts from outside advertising, Neil Parker (business strategy) and Richard Schatzberger (technology experience) to launch co:collective in September of 2010. Co:collective is a growth and innovation accelerator that specializes in inventing and re-inventing products, businesses and brands. Co: has been engaged by YouTube, Google, Microsoft, GE and Kohl's among others. Ty is happiest when things are under construction, which is why he has spent his career as an innovator and agent of change.

As Co-President, Chief Creative Officer, JWT North America Ty and his partner Rosemarie Ryan helped lead a 5-year transformation of the agency. This effort culminated with JWT being named Adweek magazine's 2009 Global Agency of the Year—the first award of its kind for JWT and parent company WPP.

Prior to that Ty launched and helped build the New York office of Bartle Bogle Hegarty, ran the New York office of Wieden + Kennedy and worked at the New York office of Chiat Day.

Ty is an author and frequent speaker on the topics of innovation, leadership, business transformation and the power of story. He has also been a speaker and guest lecturer at many leading business schools, including the Wharton School, NYU Stern School of Business, and Columbia Business School. His first book True Story: How to Combine Story and Action to Transform Your Business (2013 Harvard Business Press) launched on July 16, 2013. Creativity Magazine has named Ty one of the 50 most influential creative minds of the past 20 years, Advertising Age named him one of the Top 10 Creative Directors in America and Fast Company Magazine named him one of the Top Ten Creative Minds in business.

Ty has two sons, Miles and Mackinnon and lives in Westport, Connecticut with his wife Dany and their beagle Jerry.

My Story

I am a student of story and storytelling, having spent 25 years in the storytelling business for companies and brands, specifically, creating traditional narratives about brands through the communications mechanism of advertising. I remain convinced of the power of story in business to this day. But about 10 years ago, as the Internet really got going, I began to feel a change taking place. I had a growing sense that traditional paid advertising (digital and non-digital) was becoming a less and less efficient way to tell stories and create meaning for consumers.

Simultaneously, there were some really incredible things happening in storytelling, as the Internet allowed stories to become networked and social. I was fascinated by entertainment phenomena like The Blair Witch Project and by the immersive online world created as marketing for the Steven Spielberg film, AI. These were great early examples of what today is referred to as trans-media storytelling and alternate reality gaming, but back then it was just a few smart people hacking story, playing with it in this new arena called the Internet. I was lucky enough to work with some of the people involved in those projects in subsequent years and count several of them as friends to this day.

I also became interested in the philosophies laid out in a book called The Cluetrain Manifesto, written way back in 1999. The Cluetrainers were early evangelists for the radical transparency that the Internet would bring (and now has brought) to business. They espoused a marketing philosophy that was much more journalistic and social in nature, something that made a huge amount of sense to me then and still does today. The decade between 2000 and 2010 was a period of learning about and experimenting with these concepts. I worked on several transmedia projects as well as several Cluetrain inspired projects—helping clients like Jetblue, Microsoft, ESPN and Ford create greater transparency in their businesses and tell their stories using social tools. I read widely on the topic of story and based in part on a Harvard Business Review article by Peter Guber, some of my advertising colleagues and I began tinkering with a framework for breaking down stories into their constituent parts to arrive at a repeatable process for helping companies understand their own story and how that story needed to be told moving forward.

This was all incredibly fun and inspiring, but as the decade unfolded, I continued to feel uneasy about the growing inefficiency of paid communication for brands, and evidence continued to mount that something more fundamental was changing. For example, there was a sudden explosion in the number of brands in the world. In 1997, based on the number of trademarks in force, there were approximately 2.5 million brands. By 2011 there were nearly 10 million. That's a quadrupling in the number of brands in the world in 12 years. Simultaneously, the average paid media spend per brand was down nearly 25% from 1996. So the job of standing out and standing for something distinctive as a brand or business has become much harder. And using paid media to do it has become much more expensive. More importantly, for consumers the world has become an incredibly noisy, crowded and confusing. It is much harder today for them to distinguish between products and to understand how a product might help advance their own true story. Perhaps not surprisingly, the average CEO today is still pretending that it is business as usual—80 percent of CEO’s believe that their products are clearly differentiated today. Only 8 percent of their customers agree.

Further evidence of change began to appear. First, a handful, and then a growing flood of companies were building large and successful businesses using little or no paid media. Starbucks was the oft-cited example in the 1990's and 00's. But today there are dozens of these companies. Amazon, Zappos, Facebook, Redbull, and Method are but a few. And there are more being born every day.

At the same time, I heard a growing chorus of people proclaiming the death of advertising, and something about that proclamation struck me as wrong. After all, advertising is based on the power of story. And story is something that is innate to all human beings. How could story and storytelling go away? That didn't seem plausible to me. As I turned this paradox over in my head and thought about these new companies and how they worked it began to dawn on me that the future was still about story. But in the future, for businesses, it was less about story telling and more about story doing. Social media and the rise of the networked world were creating opportunities for companies to become much more efficient, not by communicating differently, but by actually behaving differently—taking innovative action and letting the network spread their story. By understanding their own metastory, and then acting on that story in new and innovative ways, companies could reduce or even eliminate their expenditure on paid media.

This realization for me was like discovering the unified theory. It reconciled the paradox that people are not changing, that story is a fundamental part of all human beings, but telling those stories through action, not communication was what the future was about. What was missing was a simple playbook for harnessing the emerging tools of social media and the older but still vitally important tools of product design, packaging design, software design and retail experience into a coherent whole—a process to help any business change its behavior and create richer more meaningful relationships with their customers. A framework to help companies first understand their metastory, and then act on that story in innovative ways. A framework like that would help companies embrace the future rather than fear it.

This realization caused me to decide to leave the business of making advertising in 2010 and, with three partners, Rosemarie Ryan, Neil Parker and Richard Schatzberger, to set up a new company focused 100% on helping companies grow more efficiently by understanding and managing their metastory. We set about developing a rational and repeatable process—a process that can be applied to a company of any size, from a global conglomerate to a tiny start-up. As we refined the process and began to apply it inside companies it became clear to us that what we were learning could become standard practice at most if not all companies in the future. You shouldn't have to work with us to learn about it. Which led to the desire to write a book.

That book, True Story, is our view from the trenches, what we have been seeing and learning every day as we apply the metastory framework and as we encounter and work with the issues that all companies large and small face today—the need to work differently both internally and externally to become ever more efficient, ever more responsive, ever more inclusive and collaborative with their employees and their customers. Hopefully it is a practical book full of tangible examples of how to (and in some cases how not to) do it, built around the proposition that this is something that any modern businessperson ought to be able to understand and act upon in their own company.

Copyright © 2013 Ty Montague