Cheryl Childers is a corporate shaman (see: Wisdom Arts Leadership), a mentor with the Elevate program, and the co-founder of TBWA\Media Arts Lab in LA. Which is all to say she’s a total rockstar. We asked Cheryl to share more about her time at Media Arts (aka Apple’s ad agency) and of course, Steve Jobs.
How did you become a co-founder of Apple’s advertising agency?
I was working at TBWA\Chiat\Day and there were a few of us working on Apple. We worked in a very small conference room with blacked out windows. We spent all day in the room together, only leaving for the restroom. This was back when boxes of CDs arrived in the mail, and we would all sit in the room and listen to them together, looking for perfect tracks. We weren’t allowed to discuss what we were doing for Apple with anyone else in the agency due to the strict confidentiality. As you can imagine, that room became like a clubhouse…we carved our names on the table, and we all became very close…spending hours discussing ideas, listening to music and ordering food.
Eventually, five of us were asked to start our own agency in another building. At first, it seemed like a bit of a pipe dream. But we started planning and writing proposals and envisioning what we would create. I remember I got up at 6am one morning and, after too much coffee, wrote this crazy plan for building shoot spaces, and sound stages, and edit bays and photo facilities, and recording studios, and wardrobe and prop facilities… This was back in the day when no one would bring those kinds of things in house at an agency. It was literally nuts at the time. We saw ourselves as a lab. We wanted to give everyone a camera and let them go try stuff. I thought, ‘Well, if only 10% of this happens, that would be incredible.’ Ultimately, we did it all and much, much more.
You were in charge of every piece of production in all media that left TBWA\Media Arts Lab. What was your most rewarding project?
It’s was all extremely rewarding, so that’s a difficult question.
I like to pride myself on performing the impossible, so there are a lot of those kinds of memories — the times we challenged ourselves in ways that were inconceivable.
The iPhone launch was quite amazing, I was pregnant at the time and perhaps overly emotional. I remember seeing the videos coming in from all over the world, people standing in line and camping out to get their iPhones. That was pretty rewarding. And astonishing, really.
And the iPad as well. I remember the New York Times and Wall Street Journal saying no one would buy a tablet when they already had phones and laptops. We agonized over the campaign for more than 9 months, and ended up just saying what we believed…that technology should get out of the way.
The success of that launch blew the media away. So that’s always rewarding, ha ha.
But the best and craziest memories for me were also the executions we pulled off. Like, Bono calling us at the agency and then meeting them in London 36 hours later, with a full shoot ready to go. Or calling Michael Bay to borrow his private jet on a Sunday night to meet Bob Dylan the next morning in South Carolina. Or shooting in 30 different countries with 30 different crews simultaneously and having it all fed to us in real time, editing while we go. Those kinds of things just can’t be made up.
The question we’ve all been waiting for: what was it like to work with Steve Jobs?
Well. So much has been said about Steve, and my experience on Apple was very personal to me of course. He pushed us to be better at everything, and I mean EVERYTHING. Mostly, I think, because he was fully present with what was in front of him. He was fascinated with details, while simultaneously ALWAYS looking out to the big picture. That’s almost impossible for most people.
So after a while, it rubs off on you and you begin to live your own life that way. You see the details. You look for things no one else is paying attention to. You start to look for connectivity between disparate things. Your perception shifts.
I enjoyed being pushed and challenged to be the very best that I can be. For me personally, my own brand of craziness worked within that system.