Dorothy Crenshaw October 6, 2011 | 01:09:35

What Steve Jobs Knew About PR

In the wake of Steve Jobs’ passing, pundits and Apple-watchers are trying to outdo one another to describe his talent, vision, and impact. But if you look at Jobs as the presumed architect of Apple’s ongoing public relations strategy, he was a disaster. At least, he should have been.

After all, in the digital age, good customer and stakeholder relations depend on transparency and openness. Jobs, by contrast, was famously private. Apple’s PR machine was accused on more than one occasion of lying, or certainly of hiding the truth. Antennagate? Deny. Product news leaks? Obfuscate. CEO health issues? Say as little as possible.

Jobs could also be visibly defensive or angry when criticized, rather than following PR principles of acknowledgement and apology. (Remember the awkward iPhone 4 press conference?)

Could any other brand have gotten away with such practices?

And yet. If Jobs broke every rule for good corporate communications with his secrecy and media-unfriendly character, he made up for it on the marketing side. He was a charismatic advocate for his own ideas and vision, even internally – hence, the famous “reality distortion field” stories. And he was indisputably a master of using the media to create excitement around new products.

Jobs gave few interviews. When he did, they were designed to support a new product, and to engage users more deeply with the Apple brand. He used his charisma and media access more skillfully than the legendary Hollywood agents of old.

Though he was famously rude to reporters who didn’t measure up to his exacting standards, he was a relentless pitcher of his own ideas. Chris Taylor’s Mashable post is my favorite reminiscence in that vein.

Like the most talented special event marketers, Jobs understood theatrics. He knew how to set the scene and tell a story. As he said, people don’t necessarily know what they want until you show it to them. And he did that…in a big way.

Most importantly, he was exciting. Not an easy interview, exactly, but always passionate, colorful, and focused. Good copy.

Jobs was a legendary marketer and one of the most effective PR advocates who ever lived, not just of his own products, but of the power of technology to change our lives. That was his real legacy.

4 thoughts on “What Steve Jobs Knew About PR

  1. Ultimately product success covers a multitude of sins for any business.
    A big difference between Apple and many other companies is its loyal, and somewhat cult-like, customer base. Many of those customers had no problem blocking out unfavorable reports relating to Steve and Apple.

    1. Well said.
      The fan base was a huge part of its appeal. And in a paradoxical way, Jobs’ relative aloofness and secrecy seemed to stoke the fires of curiosity even more than if he’d played by the PR rulebook.

  2. “Focus & simplicity” approach – our entire industry can learn this (among many other) useful things from Steve Jobs.
    Simplifying things is the best possible way to celebrate complexity in our world and we as communicators and relationship builders should embrase that tightly. The “If you cannot convince them, confuse them” technique is long dead and should be forgotten. Completely unlike Jobs and his creations.

    1. Exactly. Having worked in tech PR for many years, I still encounter the outdated phenomenon of launching/doing things because the technology exists, i.e. “because we can” — rather than because it solves a problem, fills a need (even one we didn’t know we had!) or offers an amazing user experience.

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