There aren’t too many public relations professionals portrayed in movies. Then again, there aren’t too many folks who worked alongside Steve Jobs for years.
A PR flack, best known as a press agent, often creates the difference between an unknown start-up and a revolutionary brand. Andrea Cunningham managed to produce the latter result for several clients, including Steve Jobs.
The Work of a PR Flack
PR flacks use their skills taking action on behalf of clients for any matter related to PR. Employed mostly by public figures and organizations, this usually involves giving information to the media, setting up interviews, and basically acting as a liaison between the public and a client. These professionals ensure they handle the media and the public, so their clients don’t have to.
On occasion, PR flacks must act as “spin-doctors” requiring them to paint better pictures of clients to the public. Andrea certainly had her work cut out for her when she took on these responsibilities for Steve Jobs.
Yet, she succeeded in making his well-known tyranny in the office just a side effect of genius and contributed to Jobs’ reputation as one of the most respected entrepreneurs in the world. Some call this deception. We think her work shows true brilliance.
Who is Andrea Cunningham?
Andy Cunningham is a woman who likes a good challenge – the challenge of stepping into the very beginning of a big project and getting it to purr along beautifully. Having accomplished those goals, she probably begins to feel the need for a new challenge.
After first discovering her life’s work was not writing about trucking, she started work for Burson-Marsteller in their Chicago office around 1980. Her first tasks included the launch of Atari’s Asteroids, as well as launching both Equal and NutraSweet for G.D. Searle.
Meeting Steve Jobs
In 1983, she started working for Regis McKenna in Silicon Valley. Her first project there required working with a young techie by the name of Steve Jobs. She helped him launch Apple MacIntosh, then later helped with desktop publishing features for Adobe and Aldus.
If you plan to attend the new Steve Jobs movie in the near future, keep in mind that Andy contributed to information for both the book and the movie. The book was written by Walter Isaacson and the movie by Aaron Sorkin. In the movie, Sarah Snook takes on Andy’s role.
Branching Out on her Own
Andy left Regis McKenna in 1985 to start her firm, Cunningham Communications Inc. She continued to work with Steve Jobs, adding in Pixar and NeXT to the Apple brand. Her firm was considered the top tech firm in Silicon Valley during the 80s and 90s.
During this time, she became so well known in her business cards just said “Andy.” She also worked with Motorola, IBM, Kodak, HP, and Eclipse Aviation.
Eventually, Andy sold her firm and helped rebrand it as Citigate Cunningham. In 2003, she created a new firm out of Citigate called CXO, a brand strategy consultancy. The new company focused on positioning brands, rather than just traditional PR.
She left that company in 2010 and tried a few different options, before returning to another firm she started, called Series C. This summer, she renamed the firm, now called Cunningham Collective.
Some of Andy’s top clients currently include Synaptics, Color Science, Kabam, QD Vision, Yandex, Jumpstart MD, and Funding Circle.
Additional Bragging Rights
Andy works with several non-profit organizations including Menlo College and the Aspen Institute. She co-founded ZERO1: the Art & Technology Network. They are the fiscal sponsor for The Bay Lights project. She also served on the boards of Peninsula Open Space Trust and the Computer History Museum.
In speaking of her work with Steve Jobs, Andy said:
“It was never about publicity for publicity’s sake. Our work was always a means to create an emotional connection with the products and ultimately, the entire Apple brand.
“Steve knew that connection would enable the scale he needed to change the world, and publicity became a critical tool for building connection. Steve learned how to be a showman in the process and publicity fed the beast. So every appearance, every article, every mention had to be managed for a desired outcome.”
Now that’s a PR flack who made it!