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14 Takeaways from the Epic Apple PR Expose

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ICYMI, the Apple-obsessive blog 9to5Mac posted a truly epic 9-part story last Friday titled “Seeing Through the Illusion: Understanding Apple’s Mastery of the Media”. The piece served as a long weekend must-read for anyone with an interest in the communications or technology industries.

The work was so deep that it almost demanded episodic recaps a la Orange Is the New Black. We didn’t finish it until last night because we spent much of the long weekend competing with ourselves to see how many IPAs we could drink in a 24-hour period (not really), but we thoroughly recommend it.

Senior Editor Mark Gurman sought to answer the questions: What sort of strategic advantage has allowed the company to play the media like a well-worn string instrument for the past decade?

Here, then, are 14 things we learned from the piece.

1. Apple reps double as bodyguards

We’re not talking armed and dangerous, we’re talking “organic, non-obvious body guards” like former reporter and current top PR Steve Dowling hanging around to ensure that pesky writers don’t barge their way into Tim Cook’s personal space to ask “sometimes meaningful or off-topic questions” during presentations.

2. One team focuses exclusively on pop culture product placement

Bit of a no-brainer here unless you thought that the iPad launch just happened to coincide with an iPad-themed episode of Modern Family.

Need more proof that tired formulas can work? Watch Modern Family.

3. Steve Jobs was obsessed with old-school newspapers

This may explain why he reportedly described Walter Mossberg (then of The Wall Street Journal), David Pogue (then of The New York Times) and Ed Baig of USA Today as “the only journalists Apple really cares about.”

Think he would say the same thing today?

4. Reps created fake Twitter feeds to follow every single bit of press coverage

Not surprising or new, but still slightly creepy. This fact contradicts the idea that Apple doesn’t really care about media coverage (one of the most obvious lies ever told).

It also explains how Apple could get away with refusing to confirm or deny tips, instead “sharing an analysis of the past track record” of a given writer to indirectly designate a story as true or false.

5. Jobs and PR head Katie Cotton would often hold “off the record” talks with journalists

This despite the fact that the information provided in these sessions was quite literally useless. One journalist claims that the strategy persisted because, again, Jobs was obsessed with traditional print newspapers and reporters who wouldn’t post on everything they heard. (It was a different time then.)

6. Brian Lam was offended by the company’s attempts to dismiss Mossberg

The company reportedly told former Gizmodo editor Brian Lam that “we’re giving you a phone before Walt Mossberg” as a sort of bitchy compliment, but the diss turned him off and he “started pushing away from Apple.”

7. Reps often forwarded negative reviews of competitors’ products to friendly journalists

They still do it. (This is very poor form, by the way.)

8. Katie Cotton refused to allow a new mother to work from home one day each week

The word “tyrant” has been thrown around more than once to describe Cotton’s management style, but in this case it would seem that an employee had to decide which family was more important.

9. Multiple members of the PR team departed after Jobs’ death

This isn’t incredibly surprising, but many of the anonymous sources used for the piece said they were simply shocked that Cotton herself stayed around for three more years until Tim Cook officially declared his intent to turn Apple into a “friendlier” company.

10. Apple PR didn’t clarify rumors of the pending Beats acquisition because they didn’t know whether the story was true.

A good case study in the problem with silos.

11. The company provided critics with “reviewer’s guides” for new products

Not terribly shocking, but very few companies would be able to get away with this — and Gurman notes that the practice became particularly obvious when incorrect language from the guides themselves ended up in press coverage.

12. Jobs once scrapped a press release because he didn’t like the partner company’s name

And he somehow found a way to re-write the release without a single mention of the offending moniker. Don’t you want to know which unlucky company suffered such a fate?

Jobs also attached a single adjective to each Apple product: “the iPad is consistently referred to as ‘Magical,’ while the App Store is ‘Legendary’ and the iPhone is ‘Revolutionary.’”

Have you heard any legends about the App Store recently?

13. PR wrote all releases without any input from partners

This is how Jobs got away with #12: Cotton insisted that the PR team, along with marketing SVP Phil Schiller, write and review every word of every release.

14. Tim Cook really does want Apple to be a nicer company

Gurman writes that current members of the Apple PR team are “excited about the new opportunities and tactics” allowed by Cook’s softer approach.

Jay Carney is one of the names mentioned as a potential replacement for Cotton, but he’s certainly no stranger to conflict. This much is clear: whoever takes the role will do so as part of a significant strategic shift.

Our conclusion: no other company could get away with such a one-sided strategy. And Apple itself would not have been able to do so without truly groundbreaking products.

What do we think, readers? Was anything in the report particularly surprising?

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