Katie Cotton, Apple’s Vice President of worldwide communications,
is retiring after 18 years with the company. Although not widely known to the typical Apple enthusiast, Cotton shaped Apple’s communications strategy—one that stayed unwaveringly on message but often frustrated journalists seeking greater details about the company’s operations and plans. She was also widely viewed as the gatekeeper who controlled access to (and the image of) the late Steve Jobs.
According to re/code, she intends to spend more time with her children.
The question for those of us who cover Apple is whether this will significantly change the way the company deals with the press and handles events. Cotton and Apple have largely turned public relations on its head with regard to technology. Rather than release a new product and beg for coverage, Apple presents products and announcements as special events—which the world at large (and journalists in particular) then clamor to learn more about.
To help this strategy along, the company was very selective about who it gave information to. If you covered technology for the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, or USA Today, you were on the inside track for information; if you weren’t on that special list, that information remained stubbornly unavailable. That policy has been relaxed a bit lately, to the extent that Apple has added some more outlets to its most-favored list. (Though once-preferred journalists can be dropped in an instant should they publish anything the company views as unfavorable or unfair.) But crumbs of information about the company and its products remain a valuable commodity.
With Cotton’s departure, members of the press have to wonder if that restrictive strategy will change. Under Tim Cook, Apple has adopted a more approachable mien, one that allows Apple’s CEO to talk openly about environmental concerns and human rights. While it’s unlikely that Apple will entirely abandon a communications strategy that has elevated its work to such lofty heights, it’s possible that it may leaven that strategy to give it a softer edge.