Now she's moving into a top marketing job at the company that defines high-tech hipness: Apple Computers. And the main challenge likely won't be the marketing itself, but rather, working with Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who famously keeps a fanatical eye on all Apple marketing efforts.
Ms. Johnson moves to take up the reins of Apple marketing next week as VP-global marketing communications, after more than five years at HP as senior VP-corporate marketing under now-deposed CEO Carly Fiorina. She'll be trading in a $420 million ad budget for one that's just $120 million. At HP, she worked closely with Ms. Fiorina to adopt cutting-edge creative and inventive partnerships with companies such as Apple, BMW, Bose and Dreamworks.
a sweet trifecta
It was her work on the Apple-HP collaboration that led to her current move. But some wonder why Mr. Jobs even needs a marketer of Ms. Johnson's stature. After all, Apple is enjoying an extremely sweet trifecta of marketing, innovation and profitability.
Apple owns the product of the decade with its iPod, gets wide acclaim for its ongoing advertising created by TBWA Worldwide, was applauded for its recent entry to the lower end commodity computer space with the Mac Mini, and has repeatedly blown past Wall Street revenue expectations.
Still, Apple has plenty of reasons for recruiting Ms. Johnson. The first is to relieve some of the marketing pressure on Mr. Jobs, who has handled top marketing duties since 2000 (and some would say since the company was created) in addition to running both Apple and Pixar.
"As long as I have covered Apple, Steve has had a hand in the way Apple promotes itself. So there is no question he will have a major say in any advertising and marketing. But the fact that he's willing to part with even any of that responsibility shows great growth on his part-and great regard for Allison," said analyst Tim Bajarin of Creative Strategies.
Upcoming challenges for Apple include the introduction of an iTunes phone in conjunction with Motorola; the integration with several luxury car brands for iPod; and a potential partnership with Sony after Mr. Jobs publicly said the two could work together on music and computers
Ms. Johnson will also likely be called upon to push Apple's retail advertising strategy forward with its entry into the low-cost computer commodity space, as well as fending off increasing competition in the digital music space.
focus on consumers
"The goals at Apple are a lot easier to define," said analyst Gary Peterson of Gap Intelligence. "At HP, she had three different challenges: to make them known as a great enterprise company like IBM, a great seller of computers like Dell and a great consumer electronics company like Sony. That was extremely challenging. At Apple, she'll be able to concentrate just on consumers."
Mr. Jobs discovered Ms. Johnson's talent for marketing during last year's deal between Apple and HP to create, market and sell the Apple iPod from HP. While it may have been Ms. Fiorina and Mr. Jobs hammering out last-minute details just hours before the announcement, Ms. Johnson played an important role in initiating and piloting the idea.
"Allison was a key component of that discussion. And what Apple and Steve discovered is that she is a big thinker with a very creative side," said Creative Strategies' Tim Bajarin.
Ms. Johnson, who prefers the nickname A.J., proved a loyal ally to Ms. Fiorina, defending the CEO's record even after her resignation. Described as several people as fun-loving and personable, Ms. Johnson is also known to be a determined and serious businessperson, adept at marketing brands as well as herself.
Apple released a statement which said Ms. Johnson would report directly to Mr. Jobs, and "will work with Steve on Apple's advertising, [marketing communications], and creative services." An Apple spokesman declined further comment. Ms. Johnson also declined comment for the story.
But anyone who knows Apple's history knows that her biggest challenge in her new job may be the man who brought her in. Mr. Jobs is known for his genius and vision, but also for his uneven, and sometimes volatile, temperament.
"Steve is pretty good at hiding the Mr. Hyde part of his personality in job interviews," said one former employee. Mr. Bajarin agreed Mr. Jobs personality can be overwhelming, but added, "There is no question Allison will have to understand how to work with Steve, but other executives there have figured it out. He's an incredibly flamboyant personality, but Carly was probably a good test case for Allison. I have no fear of her being able to stand up to Steve."