A Taste of the Apple

It was my last day. My letter of resignation had been accepted by the store manager. I had already removed my name tag from the cord I wore around my neck. The blue t-shirts with white logo were on a pile in the recycling box. I emptied my locker of business cards no longer valid. Now, it was time to say goodbye to a job I had coveted for more than 6 years, a dream job I felt incredibly fortunate to have won.

I opened the door that led from “back of the house” to retail and found myself staring at staffers lined up on either side of the product displays. An Apple tradition for all departing members, my coworkers were clapping and smiling as I slowly inched down the gauntlet. Customers, who had never before witnessed this leave-taking, looked to each other to figure out what this older woman had done to deserve such treatment. Those that had previously seen an Apple goodbye, joined in the applause.

As for me, I cried. From the rear to the front, I cried. I paused to hug team members who had welcomed this woman -- old enough to be their mother or grandmother -- to the Apple store in Old Orchard. These “kids” who had listened patiently whenever I raced to their side, pulled on an elbow, and asked, "How do we...? What do you suggest..." or other questions.

Now, rewind the scene to three months earlier when I first learned my application, audition at a recruitment event, and responses during three interviews, won me a spot. When I received that phone call, I believed I was the luckiest woman alive. Imagine, to work in a wonderland of iMacs, iPods, iPhones, iPads; to learn the credo and policies, to understand the lingo; to wear the blue t-shirt.

Mind you, I have had impressive jobs in the past. I was a press aide to a Chicago mayor (Jane Byrne), a communications director for a Chicago school superintendent (Ruth Love), an account exec at a prestigious public affairs firm (Jasculca/Terman), and owner of my own public relations business until I retired to write a memoir. But none of those posts filled me with the awe I felt at becoming an Apple Specialist.

And as I suspected, I loved the job. Selling was easy because I truly believed (still do) that Apple products are superior to its peers. I relished taking customers on "test drives" and showing them how to operate the computers and mobile devices. Older customers were my specialty because I was able to say, "if I can do it, you can, too." They would stare at my grey hair and be willing to listen to my enthusiastic spiel.

So, why did I leave Apple? Because when talking to business customers, I found myself asking, “so, how are you promoting your company?” I couldn’t stop my PR background from leaking out. I realized I missed being my own boss, and decided I wanted to take another stab.

So, after exiting Apple, I re-entered entrepreneurship. I printed business cards, announced the launching of Elaine Soloway Public Relations, built my own simple web site, wrote blogs, and became active on Facebook. I hired myself to promote my business, and used the hook, “Is It Risky to Reveal My Age.” Amazingly, that pitch garnered an almost immediate story in the Chicago Tribune.

While the column brought me attention and business (PR works!), more importantly, it proved I did know a good story when I saw it, I could write an effective pitch letter, and that relationships cultivated through social media could help get my e-mails opened.

ESPR is over a year old now and I’m proud to say I manage a handful of clients -- just enough for this small shop to handle, and enough to supplement income drained away when the economy did a nose dive.

But, coupled with the satisfaction I had made the right decision in leaving Apple, is the feeling of nostalgia whenever I enter its stores. When I visit North Michigan Avenue or North Avenue, it takes me a minute to reveal, “you know, I once worked at Apple.” And, if I’m in the Old Orchard mall, my visit isn’t complete until I head to my old home, pull on the elbows of former coworkers, and win hugs.

Happily, the kids haven’t forgotten me. As for this former Apple Specialist, I’ll never forget them, my blue logo t-shirt, and the best job I ever had.