Tuesday, January 06, 2009

How could Apple have better managed stories about Steve Jobs illness?

While Morgan PR might be brimming with creativity, we've yet to be seduced by the mighty Apple.

Don't get me wrong, although we have marvelled at its marketing savvy many times - I've given up trying to explain that my Toshiba Portege was created before the Airbook and weighs less - for example! And I am simply not that enamoured with the iPod, not the iPhone while legions of people will corner you to expound their virtues.

With such a grasp of public relations and how to steal the headlines, I have been bemused by the way stories about the health of Apple founder Steve Jobs have been handled. With each scare story, firmly based on his very apparent weight loss, millions of dollars have been wiped from Apple's stock price as investors get panicky about the prospect of a Jobs-less Apple.

Leaving aside that it will almost certainly continue to thrive with its design principles outlasting any individual, the way they have denied or ducked these stories has only sought to fuel the rumours and driven bloggers into a frenzy with anxious sightings of Steve Jobs being reported online.

Yesterday I read about Steve Jobs and how relieved he is to have discovered the weight loss is due to a 'hormone imbalance' and is setting about getting better now he knows what was wrong. Great news - and it will be reported by a fraction of those who went with the scare stories. This is par for the course, but what could have been done differently?

How about 'leaking' the story so that an influencial publication revealed it first, letting everyone else chase it and get excited, before confirming the story. This would have attracted more coverage and the media would have been pleased with itself that it had 'found out' rather than simply been informed.

It may be this is what happened anyway, but the statement issued by Apple seems to indicate they chose to go live with the story.

What is the PR lesson here? Sometimes when you have something to say, it is better to be asked the questions that lead you to your statement, rather than take the traditional press release approach. It is not necessarily underhand either - we often present ideas to the media which they will run with knowing our pedigree for presenting genuine news opportunities - and that is they key regardless of what method you use, if it isn't a story, don't waste your time or the media's.

1 comment:

Graham Jones - Internet Psychologist said...

I suspect the problem runs deeper than mere PR. Apple lost Jobs several years ago and immediately went into serious decline. When Jobs was coaxed back, Apple looked good again. The real problem is that Apple IS Jobs and for the investment community that is a real worry. Without Jobs, Apple was a poor investment; with him, it all looks good.

So, the financiers don't want Jobs to be ill - especially as there is no real succession plan (unlike the departure of Bill Gates from Microsoft last year).

This latest rather bland and mysterious statement of "hormone imbalance" is probably designed to reassure the Wall Street crowd - though doctors are at a loss to understand what it really means.

The PR issue here is about the way the company is structured and run - it is too dependent on one man. That will inevitably lead to PR problems unless the company spends time on disassociating Jobs = Apple. They need to get more high profile names into the limelight - just as Microsoft did with its top executives in the couple of years prior to Bill Gates leaving.

As ever, a major company has failed to realise that PR is central to its business - and not just something you add on by throwing a few press releases around.