I had some brief insight to Apple’s transition from a flailing, near defunct company in the mid-90s to the giant it is today. Some time ago, back in 1995 (and back in my PR days), Apple UK approached a PR agency I worked for with an opportunity to pitch for the UK account. For competitive reasons we couldn’t pitch as the existing agency. Five of us came together from around the world to present to Apple UK — armed with mocked-up business cards — and told them that if we won the pitch we’d set up a new agency to do Apple’s UK PR. It was a huge risk for Apple, we were the total outsiders, but they took a punt on us and we won. 16 years on the agency, Bite, still exists (a bite of the apple of course).
I worked with Apple as a client in the post-Jobs-founding era and during his return in 1997. For all Apple’s troubles in the mid-90s — with CEO’s passing through the company like corporate flings — Jobs had, from the beginning, co-created a brand with an incredibly loyal following. The people who worked for Apple from the outset were passionate about the brand and the technology. The creative community was extremely, and sometimes undeservingly, loyal – including musicians, artists, designers, and celebs among them. I think we won the pitch because, even though we had no history, we passionately wanted to work for the brand. And that passion has always been a part of the Apple brand. It is something to which many consumer brands can only aspire.
But passion alone couldn’t turn around a business. As Apple’s communications agency in the mid-90s we so often banged our heads trying to convince the press of its worthiness. In the mid-90s Apple represented about 5% of the market share of personal computers. Microsoft was the dominant force, and eventually we realized that there was little point in trying to shout louder. Our best tactic was to work with the fans (and press) that still believed in Apple, even when the company looked like it was going to the wall.
Jobs’ return to Apple, as CEO without a salary in 1997, really marked the beginning of Apple’s transformation from a company to the success it is today. It seems hard to believe now that, at the time, every computer was square, beige and seriously ugly. Along with his brilliant head of design, Jonathan Ive, (who had been in the company before Jobs’ return) Jobs introduced a radical innovation that fundamentally changed the technology market for good: the candy coloured all-in-one iMacs. It was unprecedented. It actually made you want to show off your home computer. It was simple. And that was even before the creations of the iPod and iPhone.
Perhaps one of Jobs' best moves was to work closely with Ive. It seems like a logical coupling for a company where design is critical, but it is unusual. How many CEO’s work alongside — or even understand — design? How many companies refuse to conduct endless market research before launching products?
The introduction of the iPod radically changed things again. This time it made die-hard Windows users actually consider a switch to Apple as a platform. By the mid-noughties the backlit glow of Apple laptops was everywhere. It stood for beautiful design, easy technology, inspirational thinking.
The cult of Apple that has emerged in recent years is sometimes hard to believe; the sheer ‘coolness’ of the brand is almost bemusing. Yet, essentially the brand’s essence has never changed — from the beginning, die-hard Apple customers always loved its simplicity.
What did change, however, was that in a matter of years, Jobs succeeded in converting the way people felt, viewed and connected with technology. His achievements have fundamentally changed the way we live. His company certainly changed things in a little agency in a corner of London, thousands of miles away from Apple HQ in Cupertino, that built itself — and many careers — from working with Apple.
RIP Steve Jobs. And thank you.