Andy Cunningham's "Adventures in Wonderland"

MEF packed the house for its Breakfast with Champions at 1871’s hip presentation space in the Merchandise Mart. More than 150 guests attended the breakfast to hear marketing guru and former Steve Jobs’ PR manager, Andy Cunningham, speak of her journey from Villa Park, Illinois, to the booming Silicon Valley. Guests enjoyed a Potbelly breakfast and filled the space eager to hear Cunningham’s presentation.

Cunningham spoke of her entrepreneurial spirit starting at a young age. She opened by displaying a letter she wrote to NASA in grade school asking if they were accepting kids for their training program. Throughout her presentation, Cunningham interspersed ten life lessons while telling tales of working at McDonald’s flagship restaurant, being a Music major at Northwestern before switching to English, writing for a fleet maintenance magazine, and eventually working for MEF’s Bob Kornecki in Public Relations at Burson-Marsteller.

“I knew I could write, but whodathunk I would have the opportunity to shape opinion about a product that would change the world?”
— -Andy Cunningham

It was at Burson-Marsteller where she fell in love with technology, specifically an early model of an Apple computer. She quickly became an expert on the machine and even started a consulting company to implement technology to help companies run more effectively. In Cunningham’s words, “I never foresaw a computer on every desk! Or in every lap, or part of every phone, for that matter!”

Following the burgeoning technology boom, she ventured west and landed a job with Regis McKenna, a firm that handled PR for many tech companies. One of these companies was Apple, a fledgling company at the time, with an ‘impossible’ leader, Steve Jobs. At just 25 years of age, she was an honorary member of the early Apple team, charged with getting press coverage for their computers. Regarding this stroke of luck, Cunningham states, “I knew I could write, but whodathunk I would have the opportunity to shape opinion about a product that would change the world?”

She went on to describe a tumultuous relationship with the brilliant, albeit difficult, Jobs. She worked alongside Jobs throughout Apple’s formative years and was fired and rehired at least five times, and finally left the company when Jobs was eventually ousted as its leader. Around this time, she also opened her own PR firm, Cunningham Communication, and went on to represent NeXT (Jobs’ new company), Pixar, Taligent, Motorola and more.

Cunningham, who now heads an innovation-to-market consulting firm, wowed the audience with insights about the field. Speaking of her upcoming book, tentatively titled, “Mothers, Mechanics, and Missionaries: Decoding Your Company’s DNA,” Cunningham detailed the importance of identifying a company’s positioning before moving forward with its branding. In identifying position, she breaks companies into three categories: Mothers (customer-oriented), Mechanics (product-oriented), and Missionaries (concept-oriented). Through this lens, identifying a company’s category and DNA becomes the key to achieving its competitive advantage.

Throughout her talk - from her childhood letter to NASA, to calling in friends to fake a bustling office space to impress a client – Cunningham’s entrepreneurial spirit prevailed, displaying her ability to seize opportunities, and at times, create opportunities where she saw potential. She encouraged the audience to be insanely great, or in her own words, “just be crazy enough to change the world.” After hearing Cunningham’s journey, this was sound advice for everyone in the crowd, from PR students to MEF friends and leaders trying to change Chicago for the better.

A special thanks to 1871 for hosting and helping promote the event, and to Canon Solutions America and all of the breakfast sponsors.

To obtain a copy of Andy’s remarks or slides, contact Bob Kornecki.

Cunningham’s Top Ten Life Lessons:

1.   Think big and go for it!
2.   If you’re gonna play a wrong note, play it loud!
3.   If there’s time to lean, there’s time to clean.
4.   All the news that fits, we’ll print.
5.   If it isn’t working, lubricate it.
6.   80% of life is showing up.
7.   Speak truth to power.
8.   Bubbles burst.
9.   Use your superpower to fuel your passion.
10.   Human ingenuity will prevail.