The news that Tor Myhren, one of the advertising industry’s most respected creative leaders, is leaving Grey to join Apple isn’t all that surprising. More brands are turning to advertising agency talent to bolster their internal creative resources, and Myhren has accomplished more than most in the agency business. At 43, Myhren has built a stellar reputation for both his creative and business expertise and is credited with driving one of the greatest turnaround stories the industry has seen — turning Grey from a dusty, irrelevant brand into a modern creative powerhouse.
When Myhren exits Grey at the end of the year, he is leaving an entirely different agency than the one he walked into in 2007. And he’s stepping into a creative leadership role at one of the most revered companies in the world. As vice president of marketing communications at Apple, Myhren, who will be reporting to CEO Tim Cook, will take responsibility for the advertising and marketing efforts of one of the world’s most celebrated and respected brands—a dream job for any creative in the industry.
"Apple has had such a positive influence on my life, and has helped shape and inspire my creativity more than any other product on the planet," said Myhren, in an email statement about his career shift. "I am humbled to be joining Tim and the team."
Here’s what the celebrated adman brings to Apple from his agency career:
A creative backbone
Myhren is leaving the agency world on a high note. Recognized for not only igniting the creativity of the agency’s New York headquarters, Myhren, who was also president of that office, has helped lift the creative pedigree of the entire network. Two years after he was elevated to a global role, Myhren enjoyed an outstanding performance at Cannes, with Grey winning more than 100 Lions from nearly 20 different offices, including four Grand Prix: two for Volvo’s "Life Paint," one for Volvo’s "The Greatest Interception Ever," and one for SoundCloud’s "Berlin Wall of Sound."
"Tor is the kind of person who has proven time and time again that he can come into any environment and rally troops and get teams together to do great brand building creative work," said Susan Credle, the incoming global chief creative officer of FCB.
Myhren’s agency experience includes a notable run as executive creative director on General Motors at Leo Burnett Detroit, which attracted the attention of Grey management; a creative director position on Infiniti at TBWA\Chiat\Day, Los Angeles; and a founding role at Wongdoody in Los Angeles.
As brands like Apple continue to invest in their internal brand-building capabilities, it becomes all the more important that they bring in leaders with track records of success. "There has always been a blurred line at Apple, the creativity inside and outside the company — there was always a dance together," said Credle. "Tor does very modern, current, interesting work, and is a good steward of that kind of creative."
While it is unclear exactly what Apple’s plans are for its agency relationships — particularly its long-standing partnership with TBWA — it has been producing more advertising in-house and with other agencies of late. "If you’re going to bring work in-house, you are going to have to have someone working in-house that has the kind of experience that Tor has," Credle noted. "If you use multiple agencies, you have to have a creative center at the core and you can use more resources if you have that kind of person in place, in-house."
Gerry Graf, founder of Barton F. Graf 9000, concurred. Apple has "been bringing in a lot of people, but now they have a real leader in advertising, someone who knows the business and can make great work," he said. "He’s had very tough clients who never traditionally did any great work, so he obviously has a lot strength and knows how to push through whatever he thinks is a great idea, so he has serious backbone."
Myhren has had many creative hits throughout his Grey career, but the first one that caught the world’s attention was E-trade’s talking baby. A surprise Super Bowl hit in 2008, the campaign spurred dozens of popular commercials and turned the precocious infant into a 21st century advertising icon. This proven ability to create culture-defining work, exemplified by his provocative efforts in recent years to influence the gun control debate, surely helped put him on Apple’s radar.
"His grasp of pop culture and his knack for knowing what it is that creates waves, makes news and creates cultural conversation is something that is a huge strength of his," said Fred Gerantabee, director of creative technology at Grey. "It’s evident in the work that the agency has done under his tenure, but it’s very much characteristic of who he is. He’s hyper-aware of what’s going on and what the conversation is, and he is willing not only to piggyback on that but to also create that conversation. That’s very valuable."
His work has even made fans of former presidents. President Clinton cited the DirecTV work, starring Rob Lowe and the alternate cable version of himself, as one of his favorites during a talk at Cannes a few years ago.
An outsider’s perspective
Even the world’s strongest brands can use a little fresh perspective. The news of Myhren’s appointment came amidst the company’s announcement of several senior management changes, including the naming of a new chief operating officer and hardware technology lead. Apple said Myhren, who replaces an 18-year veteran of the company, will assume responsibility for all of "Apple’s advertising efforts," a move that could help bring Apple — which in recent years has seen its usually celebrated advertising come under criticism — a more consistent return on its creative investments.
Myhren has a "creative energy, drive and relentlessness" that "any brand can use," said Grey’s Gerantabee, but will be particularly beneficial to Apple at this point in its evolution. "Apple is a dynamic company that is constantly defining what the industry is doing, and I think they are at a point now where they can use an outside perspective," he said. "Advertising is a very dynamic industry. We bring a lot of energy to so many different things. He can bring that energy to Apple."
Even though Apple has been a brand that constantly redefines the industry, it is in a bit of a plateau, he noted. "All brands of that stature are in danger of becoming complacent, and that’s why it’s great to have a fresh perspective," Gerantabee said.
"Someone like Tor, he is larger than the advertising industry, he’s just a creative force. His creativity and energy are not defined by the industry, and not confined by it either."