Interview with Andy Cunningham

About Andy Cunningham

Andy (Andrea) Cunningham joined Regis McKenna in 1983, and was one of the principal McKenna consultants who worked on the Macintosh launch. In 1985 she founded Cunningham Communications, "a leading integrated marketing services firm serving high-technology companies." She is currently CEO of Cunningham Communications, and a member of the board of numerous companies and educational institutions.

About the Interview

The interview was conducted by Wendy Marinaccio. The transcript was created and edited by Alex Pang, and reviewed by Andy Cunningham. A final version was generated on 14 July 2000.

The original recording (an audio cassette tape) has been deposited in the Stanford University Library's Department of Special Collections.


Working for Regis McKenna

Marinaccio: Let's start with when you worked for Apple, and what you did there.

Cunningham: I worked for Regis McKenna, which was the company that handled Apple's publicity. I started there in July of 1983.

Marinaccio: Had you worked with Apple before the Mac intro?

Cunningham: No. It was my first project. I left in August of 1985, and started Cunningham Communication. So I was with McKenna just over two years.

Marinaccio: What was high tech marketing like in 1983 and 1984? Were there other companies that had done what Apple did with the Macintosh?

Cunningham: Well, I think that Regis McKenna is pretty much The Man: he is credited with inventing the whole high-tech marketing thing. There were a number of companies that did stuff prior to the Macintosh, and even Apple did some things prior to 1983: the launch of the Lisa computer was very similar, it just wasn't as successful of a product because it was too expensive for the market, and there were a lot of other issues.

Basically what Regis believed was that you could orchestrate the coverage of a new technology product. You did that by enabling journalists to see the stuff you were creating while it was being developed, and you put them under NDA. That was a practice that Regis had started before I got there. He did it with Intel, and had done it certainly with Apple before. I'm sure there were other companies, but I didn't have much involvement with them.

The Macintosh Introduction

Marinaccio: Do you see the Macintosh introduction as a watershed incident in high-tech marketing?

Cunningham: I do, for a number of reasons. Not because what we did was so different -- it was getting it perfected. The idea Regis came up with on how to orchestrate the coverage got much better and we got better at it. And also, it was a great product that changed the world. When you're working with a great product that changes the world, the marketing job is a whole lot easier. That was the case with this particular product.

The woman who worked with me was Jane Anderson, and together we did almost everything that was involved in the launch, from a PR perspective. Of course, the ad agency handled the "1984" commercial and promotional projects, and the "Test Drive a Macintosh" program, and all that sort of stuff. But the PR things were handled by me and Jane. Over time our team grew to about fifteen people, but for the planning and development it was just Jane and I.

What we did was, sit down and think about all the different stories that could be written about this kind of a computer. Then we orchestrated who we would give those stories to in the journalism community. We didn't give everybody everything: every pocket of journalists got a certain angle. At the time, some journalists came up with the phrase "multiple exclusive," which is an oxymoron and can't be done. That wasn't Regis' phrase, and it wasn't our phrase, but in a way, that's what it was: there were a lot of different stories with an exclusive angle to them, so people got certain information that others didn't get.

We gave over one hundred interviews to journalists that lasted over six hours apiece. That had never been done before. That had not been done in the case of the Lisa, and to my knowledge hadn't been done ever. It took us five months to get through all that. We created the story through those six hours. So Jane and I put together a plan by asking ourselves, what feeling did we want the journalists to leave the interview with, and then we figured out what the journalists had to see and do to come away with that feeling in the end. Certain things were pretty obvious. They needed to see Steve Jobs, so Steve Jobs spent an hour with each and every one of those one hundred people. They had to spend time with the design team, so each and every one of those one hundred people spent time with the design team. These were individual interviews -- they weren't done in groups. The journalists were brought into the Mac building, and we recreated the feeling of developing the Macintosh for them.

The other thing we learned early on was that because of the technology involved in the Macintosh, the only way to really understand technology is to sit down and actually use it. This was first time, really, that a mouse had been used in a commercial product, the first time that a graphical user interface had ever been used commercially, so people couldn't really grok the concept unless they sat down and did it. So part of the six-hour interview was to sit down for 45 minutes and actually use the computer. We found that once people actually touched it, it created a magical feeling, and they began to have a relationship with the computer. That was what led to the idea that you could have a relationship with a piece of machinery. So a lot of it developed as we watched how people reacted to things. But overall it was a very orchestrated launch.

Marinaccio: Can you explain how the creative process worked? Whose idea was it for the t-shirt, the sneaks--

Cunningham: I'll start with the sneak. That was part of the Regis McKenna way of launching products. That had been done before: it was done with Lisa, and God knows how many other companies. It was a typical Regis McKenna thing. What Jane and I did with the sneaks was we blew them up into these giant events. Each interview lasted six hours, and there were numerous people who came: they'd start with a meeting with John Sculley, and then they'd move into an hour with Steve Jobs to get the vision, then they'd have 45 minutes with the computer to get what it felt like, then they'd have an hour with the design team. In some cases we'd take them on a tour of the factory. We tried to create a very intensive, one-on-one feeling with each of these sneak interviews.

So that was Regis McKenna thing. I think the t-shirt thing was my idea, but I don't really remember. The press kit was pretty much my project. We gave the press kit out in the same kit with the Macintosh materials and the instruction manuals ­ so it all came in a little box. But the press kit was my project, so I think the t-shirt was my idea.

Marinaccio: Who suggested such an unusually large budget for marketing?

Cunningham: That's a very interesting story. It's kind of amusing. Jane and I wrote the launch plan. We wrote it on Lisa Project; we were using a Lisa to do all this stuff, and Lisa Project was basically PERT project software. I'm telling you, it wrapped around a conference room twice, after we figured out all the things we had to do, everyone we had to see, and all the things that had to happen. So we sat down and looked at this thing and said, "Oh my God, what are we going to budget for this, besides which, there's only me and you, Jane!" So we backward engineered how much it would cost, and we came up with half a million dollars just for the PR part of it. We had never heard of a company spending half a million dollars for the launch of a product before. But we said, "Let's just try it, let's just sell it."

So we went in, and we presented it to Mike Murray, who was the VP of Marketing at the time. Regis came to that meeting, but he had no involvement in the plan; it was the first time he got a look at it. But obviously his philosophy and his thinking, and what he had done with the agency, had been the foundation of it. And we presented this $500,000 budget, and Mike Murray said, "Do you need any more money?" [laughs] Jane and I looked at each other, and we thought, "We don't know how we're going to spend this money!" So it was pretty amazing.

We never had a budget problem. I don't think we even spent all that money. We didn't have enough people to spend it.

Marinaccio: You think it paid off?

Cunningham: I think the real credit goes to the product, because it was a world-changing product. It brought graphical user interfaces, and the mouse, and a whole different way of computing to the masses. By the way, if it hadn't been for the prior success of the Apple II, the Macintosh would have failed just like the Lisa, because the first year of that product was not a success. The only reason the company survived was the Apple II was generating a steady stream of revenue.

But yes, I think it did. I remember the day we launched it, on January 24th, 1984, I remember driving to work in the morning, listening to all the radio programs, and they're all repeating back the press materials that we'd sent out, and it was just the most amazing feeling. It was like everybody was talking about it. It had more covers than any launch I've known about before or since. And again, the product changed the world, but I think what Jane and I were able to do was translate that awesomeness about that product to regular people.

Influence of the Macintosh Launch

Marinaccio: A lot of people told me that Apple pioneered "event marketing" with the Macintosh launch. Do you agree with that?

Cunningham: Yeah, I do. That was a John Sculley innovation, and I think it was something he had done at Pepsi. I think it was something consumer companies had done, but John really brought it to Apple. You make a big event out of something, and it creates more stir around it, and more people talking about it. If you have a little mystique, people talk even more about it, and the particular launch event we did at De Anza got more people whispering about it-- it was like the worst-kept secret on the face of the planet! [laughs]

Any time you're trying to market something, the whole point-- especially these days, with the Internet-- you really want to get people talking, you want to own the conversations that are going on out there. And we did with the Macintosh: we absolutely owned the conversation. So it was more than just getting journalists to cover the product the way we wanted: it was about creating this mystique, this coolness, and this "I'm on the inside" kind of thing.

Marinaccio: Why do you think so many of the things you used in the Apple launch were picked up and used in the industry?

Cunningham: It was a hugely successful launch; like I said, I think it got more publicity than any launch that has occurred before or since, so it obviously worked. That, and the wonderful "1984" ad. The combination of those two things was just phenomenal.

But again, it's like the Beatles: all the right things came together for the Macintosh. And in another combination those same right things may not have succeeded: John Sculley did not succeed at his next company, NeXT didn't succeed, but Jane and I were lucky enough to have been at the center of the whole thing-- at the center of the PR piece of it.

Marinaccio: Was there anything that didn't work?

Cunningham: [pause] I don't think so. I don't think there was anything that didn't work.

But if you look at the whole launch, the one thing I might point to was that the PR messages were going out in one vein, saying that this Macintosh was a business computer, and the advertising messages were saying that it was a home computer. If you remember the "Test Drive a Macintosh" program, the whole point was to take it home, and see how it works: they were pushing on home, home, home, and we were pushing on business, business, business.

Working with the Macintosh Developers

Marinaccio: You mentioned earlier that you were trying to recreate in the press events some of the feeling of working on the project. How did they choose who to include? There were about a hundred people who made substantive contributions to the Mac project, and obviously you couldn't include everyone; but how did Hertzfeld, Atkinson, et al get chosen to represent the project?

Cunningham: The people who were chosen from Apple to participate in the press work pretty much had to do with their seniority in the group they represented. For example, engineering was headed up by Bob Belleville and he was the most often used spokesperson. When we did interviews on the "Design Team" we focused on about seven people; that's where Atkinson and Hertzfeld came into play. Steve Jobs made the decision who was to be the core of the design team. But it was made up of one person from each aspect of the design: software, hardware, user interface, etc.

Marinaccio: Were there challenges in doing media training for the design team? The conventional wisdom is that managing software people is like herding cats, what with their inclination for pranks and anti-authoritarian attitudes. On the other hand, being cast as the tech equivalent of rock stars might have had its appeal. Did they take the media events seriously? Were they hard to work with, or to keep on message?

Cunningham: We never actually did formal media training for all these folks. We gave them key messages and outlines of what to say beforehand and helped them "study." We also attended each and every interview and helped it along in a million ways. We helped out the journalists in what questions to ask, we helped out the spokespeople when they didn't know how to answer a question and we steered the interview depending on what we wanted the coverage in that publication to be. We also followed up with each spokesperson after each interview to give feedback so that we could improve the next interview. Lastly, once the Mac was launched, we had thousands of journalists calling and we then assigned an additional number of spokespeople and provided them with extensive Q&A documents to help them answer questions over the phone. We assigned a certain group of journalists to each spokesperson to help improve relationship- building and maintain consistency in the messages. When there was an urgent press call (as most of them always were), we put a bright red note on the chair of the spokesperson indicating who should be called, what the deadline is and what the key message should be.

The team of spokespeople took the media calls and visits extremely seriously, which I'm sure came directly from Steve. He always took them very seriously. These guys were gems to work with and easy to keep on message. One of the great things about working on the Mac launch was that it was a real team, with each team player knowing what his/her job was. Ours was messaging and press. Theirs was software and hardware. No one ever questioned anyone else's expertise. Except Steve, of course, who questioned everyone's expertise all the time!

Document created on 14 July 2000;