As the "bendgate" saga continues, I have an unfashionable opinion: Apple, the world's biggest and most successful technology company, is terrible at PR.
I'm an Apple fan, I have several of their products (I'm typing this in the notes app of my iPhone on the way to the office) and I wish I was a shareholder. None of this makes me hesitate in saying that they are pretty poor at PR though. Let me explain.
As the Managing Director of a PR agency, I use a simple equation to assess the effectiveness of my work: “perception minus reality equals PR value.” To measure the benefit of PR, in other words, you need to analyse the gulf between stark realities and how customers feel about you. For PR to add any value, it needs to show a positive distinction between perception and reality. Goodwill might be another way of describing it.
Apple's PR operation is notoriously secretive. A quick Google search reveals 51,100 instances in which “Apple declined to comment” Fair enough. They're a big, successful company that tens of thousands of journalists are interested in, and a share of the enquiries will relate to price-sensitive matters that spokespeople won’t be able to respond to. (I ran Dixons’ corporate press office for several years so I understand the challenges this creates). They'll be flooded with calls and emails every minute of the day. This endless tide of interest leads many to assume, though, that Apple are exemplars of the art of PR. I disagree for two fundamental reasons: They're (a) notoriously cautious and secretive (ask a tech journalist off the record) and (b) very good at delivering great products.
iOS 8: The nine best features
iOS 8: The nine best features
1/9 1. Name, mute or leave a group conversation
For any messaging conversation with more than two participants you can now name it, mute it, share your location (great for arranging a meeting) or leave it altogether. Simply click ‘Details’ in the top corner of the conversation for the new options.
2/9 2. Get Siri to identify a song
Shazam’s been doing this for a while but now song identification is built into Apple’s personal assistant. Simply ask “What song is playing?” and Siri will answer – including giving users an option to buy the track. You can also now activate Siri just by talking - though you need to turn this on from Settings > General > Siri.
3/9 3. Use a search engine that doesn't track you
DuckDuckGo has long been the search engine of choice for the privacy conscious. It has everything you'd expect - news, images, videos - but doesn't track your searches to create a user profile to sell to advertisers. Now you can make DuckDuckGo the default search choice in Safari - just go to Settings > Safari > Search Engine.
4/9 4. Turn on your iPhone’s ‘distress signal’
‘Find My iPhone’ is a fantastic feature that allows you to locate, lock or wipe your device if it get’s lost or stolen (go Settings > iCloud to turn it on), but in iOS 8 there’s a new option to ‘Send Last Location’ - an iPhone distress signal that’s sent out to your iCloud account when the battery’s about to run out.
5/9 5. Take a time lapse video
Third party apps have done this for a while but now time lapse is built into the camera. Just swipe to the far left on the camera-mode dial and set the exposure. There’s also (finally) a self-timer for three or 10 seconds and new exposure options for changing how bright a picture looks.
6/9 6. Dictate a message in real time
The new Talk-to-Type mode on the keyboard (that little microphone icon) now works live and is even more accurate than before. If you’ve not tried it before it’s worth a go (though isn’t much fun to use in public).
7/9 7. Install a new keyboard
With iOS 8 Apple is finally opening up the keyboard to third-party options. Although the company is also greatly improving its own offering (which will now have context-sensitive word suggestions) it’s worth downloading SwiftKey from the App Store - the best independent mobile keyboard on the market.
8/9 8. See which apps are draining your battery
Battery life is a constant worry with smartphones, but now the iPhone lets you see which apps are the worst offenders when it comes to using up battery (find it in Settings > General > Usage > Battery Usage).
9/9 9. Take a call on your tablet
If you’ve installed iOS 8 on your iPad and it’s connected to the same Wi-Fi network as your iPhone then – voila – you can take calls on your iPad. When your phone rings a notification will flash up on your tablet and just pick up as you would a Skype call.
This combination has yielded huge levels of interest over the years. But the truth is that PR adds almost zero value and actually causes quite a lot of operational risk. The gulf between perception and reality, in Apple’s case, is non-existent.
Apple’s PR operation is undoubtedly good at keeping secrets, issuing invitations and event management. But try applying the '"Dyno-Rod" test. If the PR tactics that Apple deploys were used at Dyno-Rod, would the latter enjoy the hagiographic press that Apple does? Of course not. For Apple, column inches, social chatter and sales in the billions have nothing to do with PR and everything to do with exceptional products.
The challenge comes when there is even the smallest hint of a blemish on that pristine, polished facade. Then perception falls below the reality line. Of course, the immediate bendability question will be worked through in one way or another. But the underlying problem for Apple is more fundamental.
Long after “bendgate” works its way out of the news cycle, consumers will be left with a residual underlying impression that will need some serious PR attention: how does Apple deal with the perception that bendable equals cheap? In an age when businesses are increasingly translucent and at the mercy of viral opinion, shouldn’t Apple be a bit more conversational rather than behaving like an aloof, stylish maverick genius sitting in the corner?Reuse content