As both a business and a brand, Apple is frequently invoked as a role model for design, technology innovation, and, yes, public relations and marketing. Its “1984” campaign is still regarded as a watershed moment in advertising, and more recently, its marketing and PR are credited with producing glowing reviews, long lines at stores, and sold-out production runs.
Among PR professionals and journalists, Apple is also known for creating its own tech PR playbook. It’s been feared, scorned, and emulated by technology journalists and PR-watchers who marvel at the success of its corporate communications machine over the years. In fact, Dan Lyons, the journalist behind the FakeSteveJobs blog, posted an awestruck tribute to its departed head of corporate communications this past spring. The post was more entertaining than instructive, since it assumed that any brand can follow the Apple PR map to success.
Apple isn’t just any brand, of course. And it’s also not immune to missteps that result in negative PR coverage or social media buzz. Look no further than the social flurry around #bendgate, or the iOS 8.0.1 update, which was quickly yanked.
But even in its mistakes, Apple commands attention. And there are some lessons for professional communicators in Apple’s long and successful PR history.
Details matter. Whether a one-on-one with a journalist or a carefully choreographed product launch, brand perception can be shaped by the finest of fine points. Apple is famous for its attention to detail in product design, but the same holds true for the device unveilings that create pent-up excitement and push emotional buttons among users. An Apple product launch is like a theatrical production where no expense is spared and no detail overlooked, and that is where the PR magic happens.
Limiting access enables message control (within reason). Apple is known for its tight hold on access to company executives and product details, and for favoring those journalists who will “play ball” and offer favorable coverage. In fact, under Steve Jobs, it may have gone too far in punishing leaks and withholding access. The Tim Cook regime seems to have adopted a more balanced and less tight-fisted way of dealing with media, which is a useful model to companies who simply can’t afford to play “hard to get” (see below).
Scarcity is powerful. This applies to executive interviews, as noted, but also to product availability, particularly when it comes to advance reviews and early access by journalists and bloggers. Apple favored specific reviewers and rewarded them with rare review models in advance of other media. Among consumers, the cachet of being among the first new device owners has led to a nearly foolproof and very powerful bandwagon effect. Think that’s limited to iconic brands? You don’t need to be Apple to market scarcity. Consider the launch of Mailbox, which leveraged a strong influencer outreach and reservation system to create the image of scarcity and prestige.
Less can be more. Dan Lyons urges PR pros to follow Apple’s example of “playing hard to get.” In my own view, that’s not possible or even advisable for businesses that don’t already enjoy a stellar reputation. Yet, like Apple’s sleek design and famously pared down marketing messages, less can also be more when it comes to PR materials and media contact, and the principle applies to almost any company. A media relations strategy that focuses on truly innovative or substantive announcements, coupled with savvy use of the media “exclusive,” can work very consistently, even for brands which aren’t yet well known. Don’t clutter the journalist’s inbox until and unless you have something to say.
The user experience trumps technology. Getting tangled up in the technology is all too common among tech companies, whether early stage businesses or established brands. Certainly there are specialist media and geek bloggers who care about how the sausage is made, but the overall story is always more resonant and more adaptable to different market segments if it leads with the product benefits and makes the user the hero. Apple has been masterful at telling a story that goes beyond the technology, and that’s probably its single greatest communications lesson for other brands, whether they are in Tech PR or not. Don’t sell the technology; instead, show a lifestyle.
This post originally appeared on October 1, 2014 on MENGBlend.