Apple’s Tor Myhren On Making Agency-Client Relationships Work

The vice president of marketing communications at Apple shares his thoughts on what matters the most in making great creative work

“Agencies are forever,” asserts Tor Myhren, the vice president of marketing communications. “Whether it was the rise of the internet, data, or the likes of Google and Facebook replacing agencies, or streaming, the ad model has won again and again. Agencies have a superpower.”

Myhren says that no one is better at concise and engaging storytelling than agencies. Agency partners can sometimes be outsiders who see things more clearly. “Marketers can get caught in a vortex,” he adds. 

Marketers pay agencies to challenge them. “Anyone can agree with you, that is not very interesting. It is easier to pull back than push further,” he says.

Precision in Strategy

Myhren’s advice to planners is to “get to the point”. The more agencies set something up, the less it will be trusted by marketers. It may be more valuable to be reductive as a planner.

“Strategy is sacrifice. You have to eliminate everything to get to the crux. The best strategies are narrow and tiny. You cannot work on a creative brief or get great work done without it,” Myhren states. He quotes the example of the Apple watch, which in its second year decided to focus on health and fitness only. This approach of ‘truth of the product’ makes an impact on the product, people and the ecosystem.

Taking Control

Myhren believes that future creative organisations will have some form of production in-house. Agencies would be able to show things than just speak about them and have more control. “We become too reliant on other people for our work. From a production standpoint, making your things in your company is very helpful.”

Apple’s production facility helped during the Covid period, where its virtual events attracted more viewership than the Oscars, Super Bowl and Netflix’s most-watched shows. The production value of these was widely acknowledged.

“Making is a mindset. If you work in a creative organisation, it has to be part of your culture. Layers are killers. Remove as many layers as possible between where the idea is presented and the decision maker,” he advises.

The Big Picture

The senior marketer advises agencies to take the brief that “no one wants”. There are good and bad briefs and the ones that have lesser eyeballs on them. Apple’s brief for business-to-business that were to include all its products could be considered one such that eventually won the Grand Prix at Cannes Lions.

“The answer is inside the product. You don’t need to look at pop culture or a trend but to do this, you need great design. That can be the idea,” Myhren says.

For him, “media is art”. Nothing is seen out there without media but if a brand is going to put itself out in the world, it should try and make the space better. Citing the work at Apple’s retail stores for its Airpods, Myhren explains, “Reinvent the demo. Show what a product is doing in a very interesting way. Each ‘shot on iPhone’ ad is a demo.”

The Right Choices

One has to be brutally objective about what actually worked and then break down with the team what was not great and what should be done. 

He also advises that decision-makers should surround themselves with people with great taste and trust them. 

Speaking on cause-related work, Myhren explains that it helps to change the world, taking on major causes but it should also be true to the brand. 

“Just connecting with a cause is a recipe for disaster. The cause has to be baked into your DNA otherwise it is just advertising and it is fake. Our values are designed into our products. Privacy is designed in the products. All of our products have it. In every Apple product, there is accessibility. The products drive the film but it is really about the people,” Myhren says.

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