Find Out What Drives Scotty Reiss

TW2ScottyfeatureScotty Reiss is a founder of the digital domain SheBuysCars, a magazine with the mission to change how automotive’s most powerful customers – women – view and shop for cars. Scotty began at Adweek as a reporter and editor before founding Luxe Magazine.  She has written for the New York Times, Town & Country, Entrepreneur and others. She co-authored the biography of entrepreneur Stew Leonard, Sr.  Scotty joins us this week to talk about her career experiences and why road-tripping is always her favorite way to travel.

Please share with us how you got started in your writing career and what the path has been like for you.

I majored in journalism at the University of Georgia Grady College of Journalism. I’d always been a writer and also an actor. I loved telling stories and engaging audiences. In journalism school I studied writing, reporting, photography, video and film and loved it all. But out in the professional world my first writing job was as a reporter at Adweek – I felt limited by only telling stories on one platform. I wanted to write and take photos and shoot video. Now I get to do all that and more.TW2Scotty&girls

I read that you co-wrote the grocer magnate Stew Leonard’s story. How did that come about and what was the experience like for you?

After a successful decade at Adweek I left to have my first daughter (actually, my job was changed when I was on maternity leave and I decided not to return). I started freelancing and had some good assignments—New York Times, Town & Country, Entrepreneur and more— but wanted a meatier assignment. One of the stories I wrote for the NYT was about the new Stew Leonard’s store in Yonkers, NY. As a customer there, I found it to be an oasis in a gritty world, and wanted to know more.

The founder, Stew Leonard, was a celebrated entrepreneur and studied in business schools, but he hadn’t written about his experience. I saw an opportunity, but it was a tough one. Stew had gone to prison for tax evasion and felt that this legacy superseded his success in business. I wrote to him, and when my letter went unanswered, I called and asked for a meeting. He graciously met with me to tell me he was flattered but not interested. We exchanged email addresses and began a correspondence.

Over a couple of years (while my kids were young and I was still freelancing) I made the case that he needed to frame his legacy in his own words, that he had paid his debt for his crime, that his customers and readers would not hold a bias but rather, see him for who he is. I also offered examples, when they arose, of people who wrote difficult auto biographies including Martha Stewart, Jane Fonda, Barbara Walters and Warren Buffett. Over time, and through many discussions (and a few lunches), Stew changed his mind. We began working on the book in 2006 and it was published in 2009.

The process of writing a book for many writers is methodical: they research, interview, write and edit. For us, interviews were more exploratory, sort of like therapy sessions. I wanted to know his motivations, how he got to the decisions he made – good and bad – what drove his success, his downfall and his passion. I used research to fill in facts that Stew had sketchy memories of (dates, public events, etc.) and to pose questions (I discovered that much of the reported ‘facts’ of his case were incorrect, too).

My goal for the book was for the reader to feel as if they were listening to Stew talk. He’s an engaging man, funny, personable, intelligent; it was important to capture that and I feel very proud that we did.TW2ScottySBC

You are co-founder of SheBuysCars, please share a bit about the site, how it came to be & your vision for growing the site.

After our book was published I went on to a series of what I called Content Development jobs. I planned the content for a series of Luxury Summit conferences and wrote white papers and executive guidance for consulting firms. But again, I wanted something meatier, something I could own, nurture and grow – something that would allow me to build a vision and mission.

When I was working on Stew’s book, I met Kim Orlando, founder of TravelingMom. Occasionally I would send her travel stories for the site, and when I had the experience of buying a car while on a road trip, I had to share it. I shared not just the experience of buying the car, but also, the process that I used to buy it: the apps, the research sites, the skills I developed—buying this car was a huge undertaking and there was no single resource I could turn to for help. I had to share this story.

fter publishing the story, Kim asked if I’d be interested in working on SheBuysCars with her.  She had also seen the need for a car buying resource for women and had bought the URL. But with the demands of TravelingMom, she needed a partner to develop the new site. We became partners in the new venture.

But I almost didn’t do it. My husband had been in automotive journalism for years and I felt the industries—auto journalism and automotive— were unwelcoming to women. Despite the fact that women buy or influence 85% of all car purchases, there were very few digital sites dedicated to women car buyers, and exactly zero legacy publications. I realized that this was an opportunity to create a conversation that welcomed women in and empowered them to be smarter, happier car owners, whether or not the associated industries were interested. Luckily, it was as if the car companies were waiting for us. They embraced us, have supported us and are very much cheering us on.

Our mission—to empower women to be smarter, happier car owners— is a gravity force in our growth. In everything we do, from the stories we tell to the writers we work with and the social platforms we connect with our audiences on, our goal is to engage women in the conversation by talking about cars – the way they view cars. Cars are a lot of fun! They aren’t just a gearhead thing. Or a performance thing. Or a racing thing. They have personality, they have character, they enrich our lives. As SheBuysCars grows, we are rewarded when women jump into the conversation, feel engaged, feel smart and enriched by our community. TW2ScottyGMCEO

What organizations or associations to you belong to and how do think they help you with your career?

When we started SheBuysCars I joined the International Motor Press Association. I started going to their regular monthly lunches and twice a year drive events. Again, I was intimidated; I felt like a novice and worried that I’d be out of place there. But as I got to know people I found out that many of them shared the same challenges I had: reaching an audience, making a living, getting the attention of car makers for content. When I joined, I discover that a friend I had worked with at Adweek, David Kiley, was the president of IMPA. He was welcoming and introduced me to many of the members.

After my second year as a member David noted that his term was coming to an end and suggested that I run for the position. I wondered if this 500-member organization that includes writers for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Consumer Reports and others – many of whom had known each other for decades – would vote for me. But I also saw needs and opportunities.  Many members were worried about the future, how the content landscape was changing and their ability to adapt. Others worried about attracting new talent to the industry and yet others worried about the continued shrinking of the publishing industry. So I assembled a platform (I might have been the first candidate to do this!) and asked the committee to share it with the membership. The other candidate, Bill Howard, who is now a VP, did the same. At the Detroit Auto Show in 2015 I learned that I’d been elected the new president of IMPA, the first woman to serve in this role.

As president, I set about making good on my promises: In July 2015 we held our first professional learning and growth conference (our second will be this July) and we formed a formal relationship with the New York Auto Show, which partnered with us to hold a media reception at the auto show (and was attended by more than 500 people!). We also began to survey members, we changed the structure of our monthly luncheons so that it costs members less to attend, we added track time and driving instruction to one of our drive events and we stepped up our social media presence. My term will end in January, when I’ll become president emeritus. However, I’m committed to the efforts I oversaw and look forward to helping grow the organization in whatever capacity I can.TW2Scottycars

What are some of your most memorable travel experiences?

It’s not surprising that I love road trips! I love time in the car with my kids, I love the accomplishment of getting someplace, and I love not being reliant on (or victim to) the travel establishment. From the time my kids were young I’d pack them up, fill the car with necessities and set out. I’m fine driving long distances, even if I’m the only driver, and love the end of the day when we can break bread, have a laugh and plan out our next day.

My kids were great travelers from an early age. When my daughters were six months old and three years old, we embarked on a several year journey. My husband was working in California but we lived in Connecticut. So we decided to pack up the kids and go to Los Angeles with him on his business trips. We did that a few times, but after I enrolled my oldest in preschool in Connecticut, his work schedule became even more involved – he really needed to be in LA full time. Not wanting to keep my daughter from her friends and school, we decided I’d make the trek to LA and back again with the kids every two weeks. We boiled it down to a routine: the packing, flight planning, hotel, activities. We had a fabulous year; we found a hotel that treated us like family (and still do all these years later!), we made friends, took classes, traveled like tourists and lived like locals: The best of all worlds. We did this solidly for a year and then on school breaks for three more years. That first year my daughters and I were back and forth to LA 20 times while my husband came home only a couple of times. We were all Platinum on American Airlines and loved the status of upgrades, the Admirals Club and early boarding. And we got a chuckle when our two-year-old started getting credit card solicitations in the mail. TW2ScottyRoadTrip

Any bucket list destinations you have yet to visit?

Yes—-lots! I had the chance once to drive in England—right hand drive stick shift—and loved touring the country by car. I also rented a car once and toured the French wine country; that was also an amazing adventure. I’d love to tour Spain, more of France and Italy by car, and someday, tour Africa in a Jeep. I love how cars are adapted for their native terrain, and feel that a key part of seeing a place is learning to get around the way the locals do.

Scotty Reiss produced The Luxury Summit for American Express Publications, produced a learning series for the Luxury Marketing Council and collaborated on thought leadership initiatives for LRN, the consulting firm behind the New York Times bestseller “How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything.”  In 2013 she partnered with TravelingMom founder Kim Orlando to start SheBuysCars, an innovative community of influencers and writers who empower women with information, conversation and advice about cars, drawing women to events around the country as well as to content on the SheBuysCars site. In 2014 Scotty was elected president of the International Motor Press Association, the preeminent automotive media organization, helping to harness members’ passion for content in even more powerful and rewarding ways.

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