If Simon & Schuster wanted to make a few extra bucks off its book Steve Jobs, it could bundle up the parts about advertising and turn it into the definitive manual on how to be a client. Jobs sure made plenty of time to for advertising — three hours every Wednesday afternoon, during which time he’d meet with Lee Clow and James Vincent and others from their agency, TBWA Media Arts Lab, and his own staffers from Apple. Afterwards he might take them to Apple’s design studio to look at forthcoming products.
That level of involvement is kind of amazing when you consider that he was spending the rest of his time running one of the most valuable companies in the world.
A selective speed read of Walter Isaacson’s book, which went on sale Tuesday, showed Jobs to be everything you would want in a client: a visionary who knew when to allow others’ vision to win out and a supporter of creativity without ever being a “yes” man. He loathed “typical ad agency stuff.”
The book is a portrait of someone who innately got marketing but also worked hard at it, putting time and effort and money and passion into the work and the key relationships behind it. Sure, he reamed out ad and PR folks left and right, but he never let short-term anger interfere with the long view.
As such, the Apple-TBWA union has been an outlier in a world where the client-agency relationships are dominated by impatience, fear of risk, bean-counting procurement processes, and tenures of marketing executives that barely outlive a fruit fly.
Here are a few highlights from the sections about advertising:
Jobs’ appreciation for the work of advertising and marketing went way back. Mr. Isaacson details an early meeting when the Silicon Valley publicist Regis McKenna that went very badly, mainly because Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak didn’t like the idea of a PR man touching his brochure copy. Jobs manages to the save the relationship, an important one and not only because Mr. McKenna knew all the right journalists. The ad operation of McKenna’s PR firm would eventually be purchased by a firm called Chiat/Day, one of whose creative minds was, in Mr. Isaacson’s words, a “lanky beach bum with a bushy beard, wild hair, goofy grin, and twinling eyes.” That, of course, would be Lee Clow.
While “1984” went down as one of the greatest ads of all time, Chiat/Day foundered the next year with “Lemmings,” an ad that depicted blindfolded middle managers marching off a cliff to the tune of “Heigh-ho, Heigh-ho” from “Snow White.” Based on Mr. Isaacson’s account, no one really seemed to like the creative, which basically made fun of Apple’s target consumer. Apple executive Debi Coleman threatened to resign over it, and Jobs and Mr. Sculley asked for other ideas from Mr. Clow, who, according to Mr. Sculley said. “I will put my whole reputation, everything on this commercial.” The success of “1984” gave the agency enormous sway and, despite all the hemming and hawing, “Lemmings” aired in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl. After it was widely panned, Apple kicked around the idea of buying an ad in the Wall Street Journal to apologize. Wrote Mr. Isaacson, “Jay Chiat threatened that if Apple did that his agency would buy the facing page and apologize for the apology.”
As you’d expect, the relationship between Mr. Clow and Mr. Jobs comes off as one of mutual reverence. Mr. Jobs calls the beach bum “the best guy in advertising” and Mr. Clow asserts “There’s not a CEO on the planet who deals with marketing the way Steve does.” That didn’t mean that Mr. Clow eluded Jobs’ famous temper, and there are at least a few tales of the creative director getting reamed for picking a less-than-perfect picture of Gandhi or getting the wrong shade of blue in an iMac ad. But anger wasn’t the only emotion in play.
In order to get Mr. Clow to work on “Think Different,” Mr. Jobs had to convince him to pitch the business. In 1997, he had just returned to Apple, which booted Chiat/Day right after Jobs left the company in 1985. The account was in review and Apple was talking to agencies like BBDO and Arnold. Mr. Jobs called Mr. Clow to see if he’d take a shot at the account. At first, Mr. Clow declined on the grounds that the agency didn’t pitch for new business and that Mr. Jobs already knew what they could do. Mr. Jobs countered that he didn’t want to seem like he was favoring an old crony. Mr. Clow relented and when he flew up to Cupertino to pitch “Think Different,” Mr. Jobs broke down. Here’s Mr. Isaacson quoting him: “Every once in a while I find myself in the presence of purity — purity of spirit and love-and I always cry…. I cried in my office as he was showing me the idea, and I still cry when I think about it.”
To read the original story, go to Advertising Age.