Katie Cotton, Who Helped Raise Apple’s Profile, Dies at 57
Katie Cotton, who as Apple’s longtime communications chief guarded the media’s access to Steve Jobs, the company’s visionary co-founder, and helped organize the introduction of many of his products, died on April 6 in Redwood City, Calif. She was 57.
Her death, in a hospital, was confirmed by Michael Mimeles, her former husband. He did not give a cause but said that she had experienced complications from heart surgery she underwent a few years ago.
Ms. Cotton, who built a culture of mystery by saying relatively little, if anything, to reporters, joined Apple in 1996 and began working with Mr. Jobs the next year, soon after he returned to the company after 12 years away. Apple was in poor financial shape at the time, but Ms. Cotton worked with Mr. Jobs to engineer a striking turnaround.
Together they crafted a tightly controlled public relations strategy as the company recovered from steep losses and turned out one successful product after another, including the iMac desktop computer and innovative digital devices like the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad.
“She was formidable and tough and very protective of both Apple’s brand and Steve, particularly when he got sick,” Walt Mossberg, a former technology columnist for The Wall Street Journal, said in a phone interview, referring to Mr. Jobs’s diagnosis of pancreatic cancer in 2004. He added: “She was one of the few people he trusted implicitly. He listened to her. She could pull him back from something he intended to do or say.”
Ms. Cotton spoke tersely, if at all, when reporters questioned her, but she could be helpful when speaking off the record or on background.
“She was accessible, she was a point of contact, but sometimes it was hand-to-hand combat if they wanted to convey a story to the world and it wasn’t the story I wanted to tell,” John Markoff, a former technology reporter for The New York Times, said by phone.
Ms. Cotton also chose which reporters could speak to Mr. Jobs (even though he would occasionally speak, on his own, to journalists he knew well). In 1997 she invited a Newsweek reporter, Katie Hafner, to watch the first commercial in Apple’s new “Think Different” advertising campaign, along with Mr. Jobs.
A tribute to “the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels and the troublemakers,” a narrator intoned as the commercial opened with a still picture of Mr. Jobs holding an apple in his left hand and continued with clips of people who changed the world, among them Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso, John Lennon, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Thomas Edison and Muhammad Ali.
“I looked over and Steve was crying,” Ms. Hafner, who wrote about Apple for Newsweek and later for The New York Times, said in a phone interview. “I looked at Katie and I couldn’t tell if she was moved or feeling triumphant — I don’t know — but I was filled with admiration for her, because she knew how to play this and to give me access.”
Richard Stengel, a former managing editor of Time magazine, said in an email that Mr. Jobs “would call me five or six times in a day to tell me I should do a story or not,” and that Ms. Cotton would “frequently call right after and gently apologize or pull back something he had said.” He added, “She was very loyal, but she saw him in an unvarnished way.”
Kathryn Elizabeth Cotton was born on Oct. 30, 1965, in Washington, N.J. Her father, Philip, worked for a telecommunications company. Her mother, Marie (Cuvo) Cotton, held various jobs, including caterer.
After graduating from the University of Arizona in 1988 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, Ms. Cotton worked at Dav-El Limousine in Los Angeles in sales, marketing and public relations before moving to the public relations agency Allison Thomas Associates. The company’s technology clients included Mr. Jobs, who was then running Next Software. But Ms. Thomas and Mr. Jobs had a falling-out before Ms. Cotton was hired around 1994.
“She was great at what she did,” Ms. Thomas said in a phone interview, “but it took a while for her obsessive work habits to become clear.”
In mid-1996, when Gilbert Amelio was Apple’s chief executive, the struggling company hired Ms. Cotton to help with its public relations. “Katie did tech P.R. before it was hip and cool to do, and Apple needed someone with her experience,” Mr. Mimeles, her ex-husband, who also worked at Apple, said in a phone interview.
In late 1996, Apple acquired Next, which brought Mr. Jobs back to Apple as an adviser. He would become the company’s interim chief executive in 1997 and chief executive three years later. That year he elevated Ms. Cotton to run Apple’s public relations and communications and eventually named her vice president of worldwide communications, a title she held for many years.
“When Steve came back, he didn’t just put key engineers in place,” Greg Joswiak, Apple’s senior vice president of marketing, said by phone. “He put the right people in place to lead us around the company, and Katie was a big part of that.”
She continued to work for Mr. Jobs, while saying little publicly about his health problems, until his death in 2011, and then worked for Tim Cook, his successor, until she retired in 2014.
One measure of her influence was a headline in Macworld magazine: “Apple PR’s Cotton departs: What it could mean for the press.”
Ms. Cotton never held another corporate job. She did some corporate consulting and mentored young people at Menlo-Atherton High School in Atherton, Calif., which her children attended, and at the Riekes Center, a nonprofit educational organization in Menlo, Calif.
Ms. Cotton is survived by her mother; a daughter, Isabelle Mimeles; a son, Ethan Mimeles; her partner, Jim Wells; her sisters, Lori Ann David and Patty Stewart; and her brother, Richard Cotton.
After Mr. Jobs died, the advertising agency TBWA/Media Arts Lab screened a proposed commercial for Ms. Cotton and two other Apple executives.
“It’s sad when a founder dies,” the commercial began, Tripp Mickle wrote in “After Steve: How Apple Became a Trillion-Dollar Company and Lost Its Soul” (2022). “You wonder if you can make it without him. Should you put your brave face on for the world, or just be honest?”
When it finished, Ms. Cotton was weeping.
“We can’t run this,” she said. They never did.
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