According to Ad Age, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) is planning to build an internal team of close to 1,000 advertising and creative executives to compete with the company's external marketing partners, including longtime ad agency TBWA\Chiat\Day.
Color me displeased. Why? I'm having a hard time seeing the benefit of bringing on so many people just to keep external agencies honest. And yet that seems to be precisely what CEO Tim Cook and team have planned. From the Ad Age article:
Amid criticisms that it has failed to innovate, Apple is increasingly taking marketing into its own hands. It's madly building an internal agency that it's telling recruits will eventually number 1,000 -- the size of Grey Advertising. It's pitting TBWA/MAL against this internal agency with "jump balls" to mine the best creative ideas, a controversial tactic with outside agencies, let alone an internal one.
Of course, Apple should beef up its advertising. Recent campaigns haven't resonated with consumers at the level investors are used to. Nevertheless, I'm unconvinced that paying up for a small army of Madison Avenue talent amounts to a good use of capital.
Where will they add value?
I'm a former PR and marketing executive and I've worked at agencies, so I know the value of what Apple is proposing. Competing for business is par for the course. And yes, it's always smart to test ideas with a wide range of people inside and outside the company. Hiring 1,000 to get a quorum is probably overkill.
As an investor, I wonder if Cook would be spending like this if Apple didn't have $150 billion in cash and investments socked away? The whole affair has a "we're Apple and we're loaded" feel to it. To me, a longtime shareholder, it comes off as unseemly.
And we shouldn't forget that it wasn't long ago that Cook was playing a game of PR chicken with Carl Icahn and David Einhorn over uses for Apple's obscene sum of cash. And while returns on equity and capital are good, they're also falling. (Down from 42.8% and 35.4%, respectively, in fiscal 2012 to 30.6% and 23.7% last year.)
Fortunately, excessive hiring isn't likely to mean much at this stage. Apple has far too much capital on hand for that. Yet the pattern is still troubling. Money is great, Mr. Cook. Just don't let it make you stupid.