Apple’s PR Nightmare

Recently Apple reported one of the most incredible earning results on record.  In the last quarter of 2011, Apple made a $13 billion dollar profit, meaning that the company more than doubled its earnings in the same period in 2010.   This is amazing news for the company, a true business and PR coup and yet if you were to do an internet search for Apple during the past few weeks, its earnings would most likely not be the story you’d be reading about.

According to several news reports, investigations into the conditions of Chinese workers have revealed the deplorable conditions that workers labor within to produce the seemingly ubiquitous iPhones and iPads.  Until very recently few knew the human suffering involved in the creation of this uber-cool, “must have” devices.

The research that was carried out by NGOs revealed alarming allegations of draconian workplace conditions at two major plants in southern China.  The investigation offers a disturbing look into the lives of the approximately 500,000 workers at the Shenzhen and Chengdu factories.  The factories are owned by Foxconn, a huge firm which produces millions of Apple products each year. The report accuses Foxconn of treating workers “inhumanely, like machines”.

This story is not completely new. Nor is this problem specific to Apple; Foxconn also helps build electronics products for other brand names including Amazon’s Kindle and Microsoft’s Xbox.

But Apple has been the main focus in these stories, causing the company that Steve Jobs built to have lost quite a bit of its luster.  In the U.S., owning an apple device is a status symbol; the products are cool, hip, cutting edge.  They are products that help define the user.  People proudly display their iPhones and iPads and often look down on those poor mortals who own anything else, as inferiors.   Apple has worked hard to define a lifestyle, a point of view, a sense of creativity and thinking outside of the box.  One would have hoped that the company would have thought outside the box in its approach to manufacturing.

So what should Apple do now?  From a PR or media relations perspective they should act and act swiftly.  They should take responsibility, define in concrete terms how they are going to rectify the problem, do it in a transparent manner, and then actually do so.  This is a problem that can be solved and needs to be dealt with; it is not one that can be swept under the carpet.

Copyright © Anthony Mora 2012

Palis, Courteney. “A woman checks her cell phone while…” Photo. The Huffington Post. 07 Feb. 2012. 08 Feb. 2012. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/07/ipad-trademark-china-apple-proview_n_1260741.html&gt;

The Steve Jobs Factor

Although I never really realized it, I’ve been talking about Steve Jobs on almost a daily basis for the last several years.  Whenever I’d talk to a prospective client or review a campaign with a new employee or teach an intern about how PR really woks, Jobs is who I’d point to.  He’d be the one I’d use to illustrate how to successfully launch and sustain an effective media relations campaign.

The thing about Jobs was not just that he was an expert marketer but that he was the best at what he did and he showed such passion for his work that it was infectious.  When Steve Jobs launched a new product, it wasn’t just a launch, it was a news story; it was an event.  The media and the public would wait with baited breath for a Steve Jobs launch.

I always marveled at how he melded creativity and vision with business and marketing.  Few if any have done so at such a high level.  Jobs didn’t only brand Apple, he branded Steve Jobs.  It was genius, the campaigns mirrored each other.  If you read an article on Apple, you’d immediately think of Steve Jobs and if you saw a TV interview with Jobs, Apple would be at the forefront.  His focus was on style, design, as well as function and usability.  He created a coolness factor unlike any other.

His story is truly a thing of legend, a visionary who co-founded a company in a garage and built it into the world’s leading tech Company.  Although no company’s success can be attributed to one person, it’s safe to say that without his vision, drive and passion Apple would not be the company we now know.  It’s incredible, what he accomplished.  He introduced the concept of the personal computer and of navigating by clicking a mouse.  From the Apple 1 and the Mac he went on to the iPod,  iPhone iTunes and the iPad tablet — all of which changed how we communicate and consume content.

As the story goes, Jobs dropped out of Oregon’s Reed College after one semester. He returned to audit a class in calligraphy, which influenced Apple’s aesthetic.  He launched the first Apple computer in 1975, selling his car to help finance the minuscule company.  After a successful run, the company hit some rough patches and Jobs was forced out of Apple in 1985.  He founded NeXT and went on to form Pixar.  In 1997, he returned as CEO at Apple.  Although money never seemed to be the driving force behind Jobs, it certainly was a motivating factor.  In the summer of 2011, Apple listed more cash reserves than the U.S. Treasury and for a bit surpassed Exxon Mobil as the world’s most valuable company.

Hard to beat that success story.  From the public relations perspective it’s difficult to think of a more successful sustained campaign.  To be sure Apple and Jobs had their media glitches.  His personal image was not always the best.  His reputation for micromanaging and riding herd over those who worked for him was also legendary.  But overall the message was that of Steve Jobs being able to turn his visions into reality and change the world as we know it.  His PR focus was not on price point, but on innovation, design and excellence and that’s how Apple is viewed.

He’s gone now, but he’ll still be the one I bring up when talking about how a public relations campaign should be run and what PR can accomplish.  His campaigns were a mixture of entertainment, information and elegance.  Until someone else does it better, his approach remains the gold standard.

Copyright © Anthony Mora 2011

Livingston, Geoff. “Steve Jobs- Products”. Photo. Ragan’s PR Daily. 06 Oct. 2011. 07. Oct. 2011. <http://www.prdaily.com/Main/Articles/9700.aspx&gt;

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