Steve Jobs and the Legacy of Katie Cotton: Reflecting on Apple’s PR Legend

Katie Cotton, the high-profile public relations expert who helped shape Apple’s image during her tenure as vice president of communications, passed away at the age of 57 last month on April 6.

A New York Times obituary for Cotton has been published nearly a month later and includes commentary from those that dealt directly with the former head of Apple PR under late co-founder Steve Jobs.

Cotton worked closely with Jobs to maintain a tightly controlled public relations strategy, promoting revolutionary products such as the iMac, iPhone, and iPad.

Well-known Walt Mossberg, a former technology columnist for The Wall Street Journal, said Cotton was “formidable and tough” and that Jobs trusted her implicitly.

Cotton was known for being protective of both Apple’s brand and Jobs, especially during his battle with pancreatic cancer. She was instrumental in crafting the company’s public image and controlling the media’s access to Jobs. She was known for her terse responses to reporters, but was willing to help when speaking off the record or on background, says the Times.

One anecdote related to Jobs includes a moment when Cotton invited Newsweek reporter Katie Hafner to watch the first commercial in Apple’s “Think Different” advertising campaign alongside Jobs. Hafner recalled that Jobs was moved to tears by the commercial, showcasing Cotton’s ability to provide access to the legendary CEO.

A former managing editor of Time magazine, Richard Stengel, said that Jobs “would call me five or six times in a day to tell me I should do a story or not.” Cotton would then “frequently call right after and gently apologize or pull back something he had said.” Stengel added, “She was very loyal, but she saw him in an unvarnished way.”

Cotton continued to work at Apple until Jobs’s death, subsequently working with his successor, Tim Cook, until her retirement in 2014.

Greg Joswiak, Apple’s senior vice president of marketing, praised Cotton’s impact on the company, stating, “When Steve came back, he didn’t just put key engineers in place. He put the right people in place to lead us around the company, and Katie was a big part of that.”

Last month, Apple reacted to Cotton’s passing by saying, “We’re deeply saddened by Katie’s passing,” adding, “She was an extraordinary person and she made countless contributions over the course of her two-decade career at Apple. Our thoughts are with her loved ones and everyone who had the opportunity to work with her.”

You can check out the full obituary on Katie Cotton over at The New York Times.