Wolff Olins Global CEO Karl Heiselman Leaves to Join Apple

News Comes as Apple Nears Hiring Four Digital Agencies

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Apple's Fifth Avenue store in New York City.
Apple's Fifth Avenue store in New York City. Credit: Apple

Wolff Olins Global CEO Karl Heiselman is leaving the branding agency to join Apple next month in a marketing communications role, he told Ad Age Friday.

Mr. Heiselman confirmed by email that he accepted "an exciting new role at Apple after 14 fantastic years at Wolff Olins," but referred further questions to Apple. An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment.

"After an amazing 14 years at Wolff Olins, seven as Global CEO, Karl Heiselman is moving on to join Apple in California," a Wolff Olins spokeswoman said in an email. Mr. Heiselman will be succeeded by Ije Nwokorie, who currently runs Wolff Olins' London office, effective April 17. Wolff Olins is part of Omnicom Group.

Mr. Heiselmen was a design contractor for Apple in the early 1990s, before Steve Jobs returned to save the company. "It was a bit of a weird time, they were trying to find their way," Mr. Heiselman told The Guardian in 2009. "The big lesson I learned was they were trying to be somebody they weren't and Jobs came back and said very clearly, 'we are going to go back to who we really are'."

Once it was back on top, Apple sometimes felt "a little too cool for its own good," he said in the Guardian article. "I think it might be in danger of becoming too cool, maybe not too cool, but too slick."

He is now returning to an Apple trying to find its way after Steve Jobs and in a much more crowded market, where brands like Samsung are quickly gaining share and marketing prowess.

After the stint at Apple, he was creative director at watch-maker The Swatch Group and later opened his own shop called The Farm. He joined Wolff Olins as creative director in 2000, where he's served for the past 14 years in a handful of roles. He assumed the CEO position in 2006.

Apple's move to hire yet another creative leader is a sign that it's still on the prowl for in-house creative and design talent, a strategy it ramped up last year. Apple was initially hiring ad execs to help brands and agencies create better ads for its iAd network. But last year, it shifted that approach to seek high-level creative directors to work on the brand itself. At the time, one executive familiar with the company told Ad Age that Apple could even expand its in-house team to 500 or 600 staffers from 300.

The company has made a habit of turning to the agency world for design talent, according to a number of agency executives who have complained about the practice. It's impossible to compete with Apple, a sexy brand and resume-builder, as well as a company that can pay higher salaries, industry executives said.

The latest hire comes as Apple is under pressure to ramp up its digital marketing and compete with Samsung, which tends to take more risks marketing on social media and experiential platforms.

It also comes on the heels of Apple's digital agency hiring spree. The shop is set to add WPP's AKQA and Interpublic Group's Huge on the West Coast, as well as small, New York-based indie shops Area 17 and Kettle, Ad Age reported this week.

"It's an exciting new chapter at Wolff Olins," said Brian Boylan, chairman of Wolff Olins, in an email provided by the agency spokeswoman. "Ije is a natural choice to carry on the tremendous impact Karl has had on our business; creating a platform for us to do our best work on behalf of an incredible roster of clients, achieve healthy growth for the business and see that our people and culture continue to thrive."

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