Sugarcoating the Apple agency layoffs

I am eternally grateful that no one ever asked me to write a PR release for a company in trouble.

It’s a thankless job, and nobody believes what you write—but write you must.

That’s why so many surrender from the start, dipping into a reservoir of classics like, “He’s leaving to pursue other opportunities.”

This was the challenge served up to the spokeswoman at Apple’s agency, Media Arts Lab, to explain the recent layoffs of 50 people.

Thankfully, she didn’t ask us to believe that those 50 simultaneously decided to pursue other opportunities. What she did ask us to believe was something equally absurd.

“Our relationship with Apple has never been stronger.”


Let’s start with the obvious. Layoffs don’t just happen. They only happen when money starts to flow out faster than it flows in. And it’s clear as a bell what’s happened to MAL’s bottom line.

Apple has now been building its in-house agency for several years. It’s hired two ad industry giants to lead its effort and hundreds to fill its ranks.

Put simply, Apple is doing more and MAL is doing less. Thus, the layoffs.

If you believe in the Steve Jobs school of management, this whole arrangement is actually a bit hard to swallow.

Steve drew a distinct line between the responsibilities of the agency and the in-house group. The agency developed the big campaign ideas and Apple’s team would leverage those ideas on and across many geographies.

Steve believed that each side should focus on what it does best. But his passing changed all of that.

The tension between the agency and Apple became public during the Samsung trial in emails between Phil Schiller and Tim Cook. Phil expressed frustration with the agency and the two discussed firing it.

The agency survived, but the relationship was changed forever. It now reported to people who had a history of grievances, and it no longer enjoyed the trust and support granted by Apple’s founder.

With Steve, the agency had a soulmate. With the “new Apple,” the agency had only a client. Huge difference.

It hurts to see a legendary relationship winding down, just as it did when John Sculley fired the same agency years ago, ignoring its talent and history of great work.

The fact is, Apple simply doesn’t need MAL like it used to—and this isn’t by accident. It’s by design.

I leave it to you to decide whether it’s a good idea for Apple to transition to an in-house agency. There are arguments on both sides. But it’s clear that the transition is happening—and it’s not hard to see where this ends.

Reading MAL’s positive spin on 50 layoffs, I’m reminded of the young Kevin Bacon’s classic line in Animal House: “Thank you sir, may I have another!” That’s what he’d say through gritted teeth with each painful strike as he’s being paddled in his underwear.

In putting a spin on the layoffs by saying the relationship with Apple is stronger than ever, MAL might just as well have said, “Thank you Apple, may we have another!”