Apple's Post-Jobs Legacy is in the Hands of TBWA/Media Arts Lab

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"Steve leaves behind a company that only he could have built, and his spirit will forever be the foundation of Apple," wrote Tim Cook to employees last week, upon the death of Steve Jobs. And to continue the legacy of its founder, the newly minted chief must rely on the folks who understand "the Jobs way."

One of his biggest assets in that endeavor will be the institutional knowledge housed within the four walls of TBWA/Media Arts Lab.

Thanks to Mr. Jobs' respect for -- no, obsession with -- the craft of advertising, MAL has enjoyed a uniquely seamless relationship with its client, dictating the marketing strategy as much as it has executed on it.

The TBWA Pirate flag in L.A. flies at half mast in a tribute to Jobs.
The TBWA Pirate flag in L.A. flies at half mast in a tribute to Jobs.

Mr. Jobs was as loyal to TBWA as Apple was to him. The agency was first hired in 1983, launching the Macintosh computer with the famed "1984" spot. The account stayed there for a few years before moving to BBDO when Mr. Jobs was ousted. When he was asked back in 1997, he rehired TBWA, and "Think Different" broke in September of that year.

For a long time, that loyalty resulted from the marriage of top client executive and top creative, Mr. Jobs and Lee Clow, the ad man whose beard and flip-flops are as consistent as Mr. Jobs' black mock turtleneck and jeans.

But in recent years, the relationship extended beyond Mr. Clow -- the chairman of MAL -- to its chief creative officer Duncan Milner, a 20-year veteran of TBWA, and its president James Vincent, who joined in 2000. The same goes for Monica Karo, who runs media-planning and buying around the world for Apple as president of integrated accounts at OMD.

ALL THOSE YEARS AGO: Apple's Steve Jobs (l.) and TBWA's Lee Clow, circa 1984.
ALL THOSE YEARS AGO: Apple's Steve Jobs (l.) and TBWA's Lee Clow, circa 1984.

You could say all of them, like Mr. Jobs, are the "crazy ones." They each had a direct relationship with Mr. Jobs, fielding daily phone calls from him and have worked for years in step with Apple's marketing team.

MAL was born in 2006 after Mr. Clow envisioned a space with media, digital and production capabilities under one roof (in a building with fingerprint access that few have seen inside). MAL put media at the center of every idea, with the belief that the message is only as important as where and when the consumer interacts with it.

Conventional thinking holds that a shop built solely around one client can become complacent, and its creatives bored. Even if it takes 12-hour conversations to get there, at the end of the day, Media Arts Lab and Apple have the same values. They agree on the power of the product as the marketing, a flair for simplicity over flash, consistency over trend. They see the value of design and packaging and, above all, the importance of utility in what you're selling.

So while the exit of a founder often leads to cracks in an agency-client relationship, here's betting that in Mr. Jobs' passing, TBWA and Apple will be tighter than ever.

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