Cameron Craig: We used communications to turn around Apple

There are few brands which are more beloved than Apple. And when it comes to leadership, few inspired more than Steve Jobs. One person who had a front-row seat at Apple, and who worked alongside Jobs was Cameron Craig.

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Cameron worked with Apple for 10 years during the company’s dramatic turnaround period under Steve Jobs. Starting in 1997, Cameron led agency efforts for Apple with Porter Novelli Australia before moving to Singapore to lead Apple’s communications in Asia-Pacific. The company then relocated him to California, where he played a senior role on the product PR team.

Cameron will be heading to the Middle East, to speak for the first time at IABC’s EMENAComm communications conference this February in Bahrain. He spoke to us about his time at Apple, the lessons he learned from Steve Jobs, and why communications was central to Apple’s turnaround.

Event: IABC’s EMENAComm communications conference / February in Bahrain

Q: Can you tell us about your Apple journey?

Cameron: I worked on the agency side in the mid-1990s. We won the Apple business, and I joined Apple a couple of months later as the Asia Pacific lead. I was there for three years, and then they transferred me to the mothership, to Cupertino in California. I was part of the product communications team during a really exciting time for Apple. I started at Apple a year after Steve Jobs returned. The first thing I worked on was the Think Different campaign, and my last project was the iPhone. I got to see a company’s journey from the brink of destruction to this massive company which emerged.

Q: What are your learnings from that time at Apple?

Cameron: I will be talking about five lessons that I learnt during my ten years at Apple that I reapply every single day. Since Apple I’ve held a number of senior global roles, including with Yahoo, Paypal, Visa and Polycom. These five lessons are the base on which I’ve succeeded in my profession.

Q: Can you share one of those lessons with us now?

Cameron: Keep it simple. You look at the press releases for Apple’s products, and they were so easy to understand. Take for instance, the communications around the iPod. It was all about,” 1,000 songs in your pocket. Listening to music will never be the same again.” Short words and short sentences packed with emotion and meaning. There were no clichés, no jargon. As Steve Jobs used to say, if a mere mortal couldn’t understand our communications, then we’d failed. And you didn’t want to fail if you worked for Steve Jobs. Simplicity is a lost art. I get districted and tempted to use complex wording, techno mumbo-jumbo, and it’s not easy following this rule. I’ll be sharing tips on how to do this during my talk at EMENAComm. The issue of simplicity was my biggest learning at Apple. And that is even more true today, when we live in a world where English isn’t everyone’s first language. Keep it simple, and your communications will be more effective.

Q: Apple has always been great about talking to people’s emotions, about product benefits. How did you do this so well?

Cameron: Steve Jobs was an amazing storyteller and he put so much effort into getting these keynotes right. There was always a villain, be it a rival operating system. There’s always a hero, which is Apple, and there’s always tension in the story. Steve had great storytelling techniques. Look at Think Different, here is Apple at the brink with no products on the horizon, and yet this campaign is packed with emotion and hope which resonates with people all across the world. You can count that day as day one of the rebirth of Apple. A story which is rarely told, which I’ll be sharing at the conference, is what this did for the employees inside Apple. I don’t think that Steve and the team at Apple get enough credit for their employee communication.

Q: We’ve talked about Apple, but you’ve also worked with other global firms. What do we do if we don’t have a communicator like Steve Jobs at the top of our organization?

Cameron: I believe firmly that everyone has a great story to tell. One example of this is Polycom, and I met the founder of the company a couple of days into my new role. It was at a kids at work day, and he had these 11 and 12 year-olds completely engrossed. He was talking about when he walked into a RadioShack store, bought a 99 cents book on how to make speakers, and that book led to the creation of this two billion dollar company. Every single company around the world has a Polycom speaker phone in their conference room. It’s an incredible story and yet it had never been told. We changed that, wrote a Havard Business Review article, and started sharing his story widely. To repeat, we all have a story inside of us.