Agency Execs Recall Working With Jobs in the Early Days

Puris, Hayden on a marketer in the making

Martin Puris remembers meeting Steve Jobs for the first time back in the late 1980s. The Apple co-founder arrived at Ammirati & Puris’ Manhattan offices, in his signature mock turtle neck, jeans, and tennis shoes, carrying a duffel bag. Jobs asked to borrow an office before talking to agency execs about taking on the account of his then-new company NeXT. Minutes later, he emerged from the office in a suit, tie, and sneakers.

Those were the early days of Jobs’ education as a marketer, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who was eager to prove his seriousness to an agency which had been working for high-profile marketers like BMW, Club Med, and UPS. After leaving Apple to create NeXT, a manufacturer of computer workstations, he had studied the agency’s work and analyzed the business problems of those advertisers and A&P’s solutions to those challenges, amazing Puris about details he had even forgotten in some of the campaigns. 

“Steve Jobs’ real genius was not technology; it was in consumer insights. It came from gut, and he had a real clarity about it,” said Puris, now CEO of Engine USA. “He could certainly be difficult, no doubt about it, but he always appreciated what we did and was very involved in it. He was not just a ‘thumbs up, thumbs down’ kind of client.  He was a true genius, even in failure (with NeXT.) He liked intelligence, elegance, and attention to detail.”

Another agency exec who knew Jobs early in his career was Steve Hayden, then a creative director at Chiat/Day where he worked on Apple’s "1984" commercial. He recalls bringing C/D Los Angeles account people up to Apple’s Cupertino offices where they first thought Jobs was some kind of a delivery guy before introductions were made.

As iconic as the "1984" commercial would become, Apple’s board hated it and even Jobs had some doubts.

“Steve always loved the demo: ‘Show it. Don’t talk about it,’” said Hayden, now chief creative officer Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide. “It was (Apple co-founder Steve) Wozniak who fell in love with ‘1984’ and was willing to pay for half of its cost out of his personal checking account.”

Even in those early days, Apple invoked intense loyalty among the brand’s fans, in this case the young Macintosh team at C/D, aged 30 or younger.

“We all had the will to buy into ‘1984.' We thought we were changing the world, and it was something we would later remember in the rest home with a blanket over our knees eating gruel,” Hayden said. “We were in Vegas once (at an industry event) with Steve and the team, and we felt sorry for Bill Gates. He was going to be rich, but he wasn’t going to change the world the way Steve was.”

Jobs expected that loyalty. After Ammirati & Puris picked up Nikon, the agency’s new client requested it resign NeXT because one of its investors was the camera company’s rival Canon. Given the disparity in account spending, Puris complied after working on NeXT for more than two years. That bristled Jobs, and the two didn’t stay in touch until after Puris heard that Jobs married and had a new baby. The New York adman called Jobs to congratulate him and asked, “Does this mean you’re going to mellow?” Jobs immediately said “No” and hung up. That was the last time the two spoke.