Bill Cleary, a Buffalo State College graduate who taught high school social studies at Lake Shore High before leaving for California to work in marketing for high-tech clients such as Apple and Amazon, is returning to Buffalo for a lecture Tuesday in the Burchfield Penney Art Center.
Cleary, who worked at Apple in the early 1980s and later started a marketing and advertising firm, will discuss “How Apple and Steve Jobs Changed Marketing.”
The Northern California resident lived here for about a dozen years while studying anthropology and secondary education at Buffalo State and then teaching high school.
“I haven’t been back in more than 30 years. I’m looking forward to it,” Cleary said in an interview.
Cleary got his start in advertising as a freelance copywriter, making extra money in the summers, before leaving teaching in 1978 for a full-time job with Mainspring Advertising, where his clients included Welch’s and Standard Brands.
In 1981, after a stint at an advertising firm in Syracuse where he worked on the “Pepsi Challenge” campaign, he applied for a job with Apple after reading a Time magazine cover story about the company and the charismatic Jobs, who died in 2011.
He started out in sales promotion and eventually headed up all of the marketing communications for the Apple II line of products, including the IIe and IIc computers and related software.
Apple sought to differentiate its products from the competition, Cleary said. “It was always about radical ease of use, and making computers accessible for the masses,” he said.
Cleary said Jobs “Version 1.0” – he was in his first go-round with the company and not yet the legend of the iPod, iPhone and iPad – was a brilliant, self-assured young man who already was instrumental in Apple’s rise as a corporation.
“He was certainly a spiritual and intellectual leader of the company,” he said.
Cleary left Apple in 1985 to work at a startup, International Solutions, before launching Cleary Communications in 1987.
The company, later named CKS Group after he joined partners Mark Kvamme and Tom Suiter, went public in 1995.
“We were known as the Web company,” said Cleary.
Their clients also included eBay and Yahoo, and CKS did pioneering work in the mid-1990s on building company websites.
Many of CKS employees were ex-Apple workers, and the agency’s work for the tech giant included the marketing campaign for the Newton, an early PDA that was a rare flop for Apple. “The product wasn’t successful, but the marketing was great,” Cleary said dryly.
He left CKS in 1998 and later served as chairman of the board of Matchmaker.com. Most recently, the semiretired Cleary has consulted, volunteered, coached lacrosse and lectured at Santa Clara University.
He said he’ll enjoy revisiting the Elmwood Strip, where he tended bar at J.P. Bullfeathers while in college, and seeing some former Lake Shore High School colleagues who plan to attend his lecture.
Cleary will speak at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Burchfield Penney’s Tower Auditorium, 1300 Elmwood Ave. The lecture is free and open to the public.