Apple does the best PR

OK, so my little survey is far from statistically accurate but when asked: “who does the best PR?” Apple got over half the votes. 55% to be precise. Indeed the rest (Dell, IBM, Cisco, Intel and Microsoft) were bunched pretty tightly with only a few votes separating them. Now these results could be interpreted several ways:

1. You could argue that Apple is doing a great job with its PR. I struggle to agree with that. I think they’ve launched a great product that is getting tons of attention and their PR is therefore very visible. I wouldn’t say they have done bad PR but I equally wouldn’t say it has been great.

2. You could argue that this quick poll shows that people don’t really differentiate PR form other marketing forms. In other words the brands doing the most marketing get noticed the most whether it is through PR, advertising, sponsorship etc. Sadly I think there is some truth to this. Even PR people (who voted on this) judge these things at a very superficial level.

3. It could be that this poll doesn’t reflect who has done great PR but rather who has received the least negative PR. I firmly believe that we are in an era where people are more aware of negative PR than they are of positive PR. Indeed I’ve seen research for a client that proved this point. If this applies here it would suggest that Apple has received almost no bad PR in recent weeks. Aside form the concerns about Jobs health that surfaced I’d say that was true. Indeed given the potential for poor reviews of the iPhone thanks to its horrid battery life it could be argued they have very skillfully avoided bad press. Put another way, do a quick test and ask yourself what news you remember around any of the big companies right now. I can almost guarantee you can recall more negatives than positives.

In reality, the answer lies in a mix of all of the above. That sounds like a cop out I know but I think it is true. Apple has maximized the opportunities you get when you have a great consumer product (I think the iPhone is spectacular apart from its battery life issue). I also think it has managed to avoid bad press and commentary and instead get people focused on tips and tricks to solve the poor battery life issue (if you don’t believe me here just go online and see how many people have put up blog entries with ways to save your iPhone from dying). I also believe that this shows that when a company gets its overall marketing to be tightly integrated then people pay attention.

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9 Comments on “Apple does the best PR”

  1. socialtnt.com says:

    Hey Tim:

    Although I’m an Apple fanboy, I don’t think Apple does the best PR. They have a great product (beautifully designed, relatively easy to use), which in turn creates a strong brand affinity. Their marketing/advertising increases this by making it’s user’s feel like they are members of an elite club. In turn, the consumers become the brand evangelists. They line up in front of the Apple store waiting for iPhones and the general public thinks that Apple orchestrated that as a PR event.

    For me, Apple is falling behind. They don’t provide access to their spokespeople. The squash bloggers. They have even written nasty letters to school children. Everything about the company is shrouded in mystery (again, this mystique increases the users’ feelings of being members in an elite club).

    The problem is this: traditional ways of PR and marketing are changing. Apple, itself, is changing. As it goes more mainstream, you have more people who might have problems. These people, in turn, blog about their negative experiene (MobileMe wasn’t ready, Leopard upgrade wasn’t ready for market, etc). For years, Apple has relied on it’s user base to answer these negative comments en masse. Well, now they are being stretched thin. Apple isn’t actively doing anything online to make their customers feel good about their produce. To me, that makes all the rest of their marketing and advertising look like BS. Apple doesn’t care about you–they just want your money.

    Dell, on the other hand, is doing a great job of energize it’s customers. They have a community manager, an idea generation community and a developer’s community. Over the last 2 years, they have come a long way–using social media to raise brand awareness, build positive sentiment and decrease customer service calls.

    I’m still gonna buy the new MacBook when it comes out this fall…

  2. jk says:

    Evidence of Apple’s effective PR: it runs the most closed, proprietary music system in existence and yet nobody bats an eyelash. MSFT by contrast tried forever to create an industry ecosystem in Playsforsure (albeit not “open” in the accepted sense) that gave customers lots of options in terms of devices, subscription plans, etc…and nobody cared. Granted, reputation in each case largely comes down to product performance but Apple, in my opinion, gets a ton of slack where it shouldn’t.

    The iPhone’s keyboard is useless for real email usage. How can it even be considered legitimate Blackberry competition in the enterprise? Activesync is not true push email, another factor impacting the already obvious battery issues. Anyway, you get the drift. People seem to not care about these issues so either they’re ignorant (which I don’t think is the case) or Apple has effectively built an almost unmatched reputation by always getting its best foot forward.

    I also think Jobs going after the record industry on DRM to head off any potential public ire was a brilliant communications move. Consumers and even much of the industry didn’t know which end was up at that point and Apple stepped forward to show them the light…or their version of it at least.

    Joseph Kingsbury, Text 100

  3. Tim Dyson, CEO of Next Fifteen says:

    I agree that Apple does seem to get a lot of slack compared to the likes of Microsoft. A lot of that is to do with the fact they have created products to which people are emotionally attached. People LOVE their iMacs, iPods and iPhones. Peope tend not to be quite as passionate about their Toshiba laptop or Samsung mp3 player. Editors know this and take on this community at their peril. Add to this that many of the editorial community are also lovers of Apple products (even with their flaws) and you have a distinctly un-level playing field.

  4. Danielle says:

    Hi Tim,

    I like this survey because its generating a debate about what actually constitutes a PR practice/activity. While I think Apple is way ahead of the game in terms of product innovation and design – which in turn generates a mass movement of Apple lovers – I don’t view them as being big players in PR because all the buzz they get is product-generated. In that sense, Apple’s PR job is pretty much limited to managing negativity (about its products, corporate news, crises, etc), as opposed to building a diversified media profile – a thought leadership program on industrial design, perhaps?

    My vote went to Intel because of how the company is taking the debate on mobile internet devices by storm, driven by a combination of ambitious CEO statements, product announcements and employing social media tools to get its message out there.

  5. James says:

    I’d day that Apple has great advertising… behind a great product (as you mentioned). But advertising and PR are two different things. I feel like companies that have such a following for their product or service (e.g. Google and Apple) only have to rely on the bare minimum of PR… crowd control, basically.

    James Baussmann, Text 100

  6. Nils says:

    I think your comment “People LOVE their iMacs, iPods and iPhones” is key. What Apple elicits from customers is emotional loyalty, and they have that in spades. When a company is successful at creating emotional loyalty, they can make a LOT of mistakes before paying the price, and charge a large premium in the process. I worked on developing a loyalty measurement model for a very large software company a few years back, and the client struggled to see the difference between behavioral loyalty and emotional loyalty. Our model showed that a large chunk of what they called loyal were simply loyal because of vendor lock-in. The share of emotionally loyal customers (or even just those showing any sort of volitional loyalty) was relatively small. I would argue that Apple has been cultivating the emotional bonds they have with their customers from day 1, and what has changed over the last few years is that they have finally successfully expanded their customer base with mass-market products. What will be interesting to follow is how far that loyalty will stretch.

  7. Joseph Kingsbury, Text 100 says:

    A couple people here have referenced a good point about Apple’s customer base identifying itself as “elite.” As a true identity brand, it will be interesting to see how long AAPL can maintain that as its base expands.

    Practical issues like customer service aside, will they reach a tipping point where their own success alienates the core of that base once being a customer no longer engenders that elite feeling? If they keep slashing prices to get further downstream one has to at least imagine the possibility.

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of their early adopter audience move toward Android if that effort lives up to the hype. The hardcore tech audience doesn’t want to tote the same device as every other teenager at the mall. That might be an interesting PR challenge in itself.

  8. Grace says:

    I subscribe to Al Ries’ proposition that successful brands are launched (and built) through good PR and then maintained through effective advertising. Apple’s triumph in PR was at its apex 10+ years ago, when they were fighting an uphill battle – sales were declining, they were being marginalized in the PC business, and when they were more known for expensive niche technologies than must-have consumer products. It was a fusion of product innovation (iMac, iPod, iTunes), brand alignment (consistent look and feel of products, advertising and in-store experiences), and consistent, high-quality customer experience (user interfaces, uniqueness of offering), and finally, great PR that propelled the company to where it is now.

    I also found Nils’ comment to be especially insightful. People don’t associate IBM, Dell, Cisco, Intel and Microsoft with everyday experiences and emotional connections. You take your iPod or iPhone with you on the road, on vacation, when you go for a run or meet up with friends. These other companies, while they have their enthusiasts, don’t have products that compete (yet) in that category.

  9. Joseph Kingsbury, Text 100 says:

    Check out “Even Critics Give Apple a Pass on iPhone 3G Woes in TIME today.

    The piece hits on some of the points this group has referenced. An especially good one:

    “Shiv said Apple’s fans play down negative information to explain their relationship to the brand — and justify spending more for products that may not be better than the competition’s.”

    http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,1837469,00.html


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