Relearning the Fine Art of Proactive PR

Ian Betteridge is a UK base technology blogger/journalist. He's posted a very good article, "No, Apple isn’t patenting developers’ work. But it still has a bigger problem" I would encourage you to read. His described "bigger problem" is what I'm going to talk about.

He says:

I’d put a lot of the blame for this firmly at the doors of Apple’s marketing and PR policy since the return of Steve Jobs. Essentially, Apple’s PR policy can be summed up as “say as little as you can get away with to the press. Be professional, courteous, but as essentially give away nothing.”

Any time someone talks about "Apple's great PR machine", I have to literally hold back laughter and assume the person talking doesn't have to deal with Apple's PR on a regular basis. Don't get me wrong - the people who work there are great. Steve Dowling, Nathalie Harrison, Katie Cotton, all (and many more) are nice people, happy to talk to you - as long as it's not about Apple.

Betteridge goes on to say:

This...contributes to the overall secrecy which...makes it possible for Apple to do its fantastic event marketing, which makes each product launch something that attracts worldwide coverage. But the flipside is that the relationship between Apple, the press, and other influencers is remarkably shallow. The kind of face-to-face, deep, personal relationships that encourage trust for a company from the media simply isn’t there.

Those of you who listen to Your Mac Life or who have talked to me know this is an issue I've had with Apple for years - their (seeming) disdain for the people whose job it is to report on the company's workings, actions and announcements.

When it comes to Apple, the job of the media is to talk/report about the company. But that reporting isn't directed by Apple. The media chooses what aspects of the company they want to tell their readership about.

Granted, there are times when the media reports about Apple hurt the company to varying degrees. But the vast majority of media coverage Apple gets is overwhelmingly positive. On the other hand, the vast majority of the media's dealings with Apple are overwhelmingly negative.

Every member of the media covering Apple can tell you horror stories about dealing with Apple PR. And it's not just the "minor" media like myself - I spoke to a national CNN correspondent a few years ago who told me that, during the introduction of the original iPod, he wanted to show it live on CNN during a broadcast. The Apple PR rep, a name you'd recognize, wouldn't let it out of their hands long enough to be shown on camera.

Betteridge says:

Consider this: Why did it take a major PR foobar like the iPhone 4 antenna for Apple to open up and show off its state of the art antenna design and test labs? Had Apple shown this off at the iPhone’s launch, with a press tour and techies on hand to talk about how proud they were, the press would have taken the whole iPhone 4 story with a much bigger pinch of salt.

YML listeners will remember I said this exact same thing on the show. If Apple had been more proactive about dealing with and managing the media, I believe the issue would have gotten much less press. Or, at least, the press tone would have been greatly muted.

Finally, Betteridge makes this point:

This kind of thing is basic, proactive PR – but it appears that basic, proactive PR is just not on the agenda at Apple. Instead, the concept is that the only thing that anyone should care about is the end product. That’s a fine aim, and it avoids the elementary mistake of attempting to use marketing and PR as “lipstick on a pig“. But the problem with it is is that if a deeper story needs telling, you’re forced to tell it reactively, putting you on the back foot and making you look like you’re not in control of the situation.

PR is easy - be nice to people. Help them do their job. Apple PR is even easier. The majority of media already feel some empathy for Apple. The "Apple Story" is, in and of itself, a fascinating one that is interesting to tell. Other companies in the market aren't nearly as compelling as Apple.

All the media asks is for Apple to be as open as they can be. Steve Jobs asked during last month's press conference:

Apple’s been around for 34 years. Haven’t we earned the credibility and trust from some of the press...?

There are many, many members of the press who have been around a long time too. Don't they deserve the same consideration that Jobs is asking from them? Leaving aside the fact that longevity does not automatically earn you "credibility and trust" (how long has the Mafia been around?), trust is a two way street - it must be given to the other party, too.

I'm not suggesting for a second that Apple treat the press like their feet never even touch the ground. What the media does ask from Apple is more comment than ignoring the media's questions completely or simply issuing a blanket No Comment every time the media asks the questions.

Yes, there are times when "no comment" is the best answer Apple can give for any number of reasons. But there are many times, Antennamageddon being a perfect example of this, for Apple to say, "Yes, we are looking into this. Once we are sure of the issue and the solution, we'll have more of a statement. But we are not ignoring the issue."

Of course, that won't satisfy everyone. There will always be the more rabid elements in the media willing to take any statement from Apple and use it for their own linkbaiting devices. But those people/media outlets can be safely ignored and shut out. But Apple, for the most part, lumps *all* the media into the "Ignore" column.

When Apple ignores the media, they forget the media needs to write something. There isn't a technology reporter in the world who can go to his editor/bosses and say, "Apple has no comment. I have no story to write." They'd be unemployed pretty quickly after a few rounds of that.

The media has to write something. Wouldn't it be better for Apple to assist the media in writing the story Apple wants them to write? Now, there are no guarantees the media will toe Apple's company line - nor should they. But Apple will eventually get the "trust" they ask for from the responsible members of the media when Apple trusts those same members with a story.