For years, Apple's brand has been one of its biggest assets. The logo is one of the most recognizable in the world — indeed, it graces Apple's more than 400 stores, its shopping bags, its boxes, and more. Look at nearly any other store or company and the name is spelled out prominently. Perhaps only Nike's swoosh is as recognizable.
As such, Apple's public image is worth billions of dollars, and the company is in the process of totally changing how it's seen in its advertising and through its relationships with the press.
Earlier this year, Apple's longtime public relations head, Katie Cotton, retired. She had served for more than 20 years under both Steve Jobs and Tim Cook and ran an extremely tight ship — she, under Jobs' instruction, was a strict gatekeeper to the company's executives and parceled out exclusives and special treatment to a handful of select reporters and columnists.
Her strategy undoubtedly worked. Under her reign, Apple got millions of dollars in free mentions, and Apple product introductions — nicknamed "Stevenotes" — got fervent press and customer attention, and they were nearly always executed flawlessly.
Now, with a new CEO, Apple is looking for a new public relations head from outside the company, even though Cotton had several capable deputies who could take the reins. Re/code said last month that Cook is personally overseeing the search and is looking for "high-profile external candidates," hoping to put a "friendlier, more approachable face" on Apple's PR. It's something of a polar shift for the company, one where journalists joke that sending emails or phone calls to its public relations apparatus is akin to shouting off a rooftop.
According to Re/code, one name being bandied about is former Obama press secretary Jay Carney. Tossed into a piece about black car/taxi service Uber looking for a new head of corporate communications, Kara Swisher says Carney is being considered by both Uber and Apple for the position.
It's unclear how serious the rumor is, as it amounts to something of a throwaway line in a much longer story — but nonetheless, Apple-focused blogs picked up the story.
Carney was been a spokesperson and director of communications for the White House for three years and for Vice President Joe Biden before that. He was previously the Washington bureau chief for Time magazine before making the jump into political PR. A spokesperson who is used to dodging reporter questions could fit in quite well at Apple, though it remains to be seen what Cook's "friendly, more approachable face" for the company will look like.
Separately, the New York Post says Apple may be preparing to put its multi-billion dollar advertising account up to bid. The company, which has used TBWA Media Labs as its primary agency for some 30 years, appears to have grown disillusioned with the agency in recent years, as aggressive advertising from competitors like Samsung has apparently driven some mindshare in customers.
The report goes on to note that Apple's recent purchase of Beats, a company that's basically a marketing juggernaut for expensive headphones, could play into the role, with Beats head Jimmy Iovine expected to play a big role in the development of future Apple advertising campaigns. Some recent reports from inside the secretive company have suggested that it's hiring hundreds of creatives for its own internal ad agency.
Beats released a five-minute long online ad spot titled "The Game Before The Game" ahead of the World Cup, a spot that has received more than 23 million views on YouTube, and numerous shorter versions aired during the World Cup coverage. The company also managed to secure several athlete endorsements, and many World Cup teams used Beats headphones during public appearances (like walking from their team buses to stadiums), which resulted in countless impressions for the brand.
If Apple is looking to reshape its public image under Tim Cook, an image that Steve Jobs carefully crafted over 20 years, a key PR hire and a new ad agency will definitely do the trick. Do you agree? Share your opinion in the discussion thread below.
Jordan Golson is an Apple Columnist for TechRepublic. He also writes about technology and automobiles for WIRED and MacRumors. He has worked for Apple Retail twice and has been writing about technology since 2007.