Author Archives: Mark Gurman

Seeing Through the Illusion: Understanding Apple’s Mastery of the Media

Cotton:Cook

Apple CEO Tim Cook with former VP of Worldwide Communications Katie Cotton

“Beautifully, unapologetically plastic.”

“Feature for feature, it’s identical to iPad Air in every way.”

“Just avoid holding it in that way.”

Apple’s public relations (PR) department is probably the best in the world — certainly more impressive at shaping and controlling the discussion of its products than any other technology company. Before customers get their first chance to see or touch a new Apple product, the company has carefully orchestrated almost every one of its public appearances: controlled leaks and advance briefings for favored writers, an invite-only media debut, and a special early review process for a group of pre-screened, known-positive writers. Nothing is left to chance, and in the rare case where Apple doesn’t control the initial message, it remedies that by using proxies to deliver carefully crafted, off-the-record responses.

Except for a few big exceptions, such as the memorably off-pitch quotes above, Apple’s “tell them what to believe” PR strategy has worked incredibly well for years. But it has also created tensions between the company and the people who cover it, as well as within Apple itself. The company’s long-time head of PR, Katie Cotton, left the company earlier this year as CEO Tim Cook openly sought to make a major change in the way Apple interacted with the press and its customers. As the hunt for Cotton’s replacement is still in progress, and the depth of Apple’s commitment to change remains unclear, we look today at the techniques Apple has used to quietly manipulate its coverage over the years.

You can navigate between the chapters, below:

- Part 1) Apple Events and Shredded White Booklets

- Part 2) Introducing the Teams: How PR Is Organized at 3 Infinite Loop

- Part 3) Strategies: The “Art of Deep Background” and Controlling the Press

- Part 4) The Departure of a “Tyrant”

- Part 5) Two Heads In Place Of One

- Part 6) Controversies: From Maps to Beats to Haunted Empires

- Part 7) Product Reviews, Briefings, & Reviewer’s Guides

- Part 8) Steve Jobs and the Process Behind Press Releases

- Part 9) A Friendlier, More Transparent Future?

Two months in the making, this article is the product of over a dozen interviews with journalists, bloggers, and PR professionals, including many who have worked at Apple.


Filed under: AAPL Company Tagged: Apple, company, Infinite Loop, iPad, Katie Cotton, Public relations, Steve Jobs, Tim Cook

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Part 1) Apple Events and Shredded White Booklets

From Seeing Through the Illusion: Understanding Apple’s Mastery of the Media, a profile examining Apple’s PR strategy:

Apple Unveils New Versions Of Popular iPad

“The keynote is like a production. You have to have a special appreciation for it.”

You probably never knew that an audience member fainted during one of Steve Jobs’s keynotes. Quickly and without a pause, Apple PR representatives quickly guided paramedics to escort the ill man out of the venue, without causing even a blip in the presentation. As a member of Apple’s PR team recalled, preventing what would otherwise have been a show-stopping disruption was seamless, as potential hiccups in the event had been pre-considered “down to a science.” This anecdote demonstrates both Apple’s detailed approach to event planning and wider communications strategy: it has mastered the ability to control situations invisibly, without having its efforts noticed.

Beyond planning for rare life-threatening emergencies during keynotes, Apple PR also plans for more common message-disrupting concerns, such as suppressing rowdy crowd members, and preventing uninvited members of the media from getting in the doors. Apple PR even acts as “organic, non-obvious body guards” for individual Apple executives including Tim Cook and Senior VP of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller, physically blocking members of the media from getting sometimes meaningful or off-topic questions answered following presentations.

Apple’s preparation for keynote events extends beyond who presents what on stage, and who guards which executives from reporters. As a former member of Apple’s PR team told us, “the keynote is like a production. You have to have a special appreciation for it.” Every single element of the presentation is specifically determined in advance, from nuances of the lighting, to how screens are positioned, to who sits where within the venue. Lower-level Apple employees are strategically nestled within each event’s audience, different journalists are kept in specific positions, and Apple executives need not worry about last-minute changes. Everything’s under control.

The process starts weeks before keynote addresses. Apple’s PR/Communications and Marketing teams keep an eye on media reports to determine expectations, leaking information to temper expectations that won’t be matched by the announcements. Executives typically practice for two weeks in Apple’s Infinite Loop auditorium, and senior PR members prepare special white booklets to be handed out to the rest of the Communications group during a lengthy meeting, held about one week prior to the main event.

Event

Hands-on area following 2012 iPhone 5 event

These books detail exactly what will be discussed and announced during the event, who will present each part, which Apple employees are responsible for what is demonstrated, how the product hands-on area will be organized, and who will be in attendance.

Following the pre-event “pep talk,” the white books are handed back to the PR team, and are sometimes shredded on site. Just as Apple takes extreme measures of secrecy during the development of products, the schedules for each keynote are guarded very closely. Although the general topics to be discussed are typically obvious to Apple-watchers, no keynote’s specific schedule has been accurately leaked in advance of an event.

Around the same time as this meeting, Apple sends out invitations to special guests, a small group of Apple employees, reporters from major news outlets including Bloomberg NewsThe New York TimesReuters, and The Wall Street Journal, and a small group of reliably positive bloggers, including Daring Fireball’s John Gruber and The Loop’s Jim Dalrymple. Apple’s biggest boosters get early tips to expect and publicize the invitations; for instance, on the exact day Apple announced its latest event, Canadian blogger Dalrymple just happened to be in Cupertino, snapping photographs of a structure Apple was building for the event at the Flint Center. It’s difficult to just call that a coincidence.

During the weekend prior to an event, members of the Apple PR staff walk the halls of the keynote venue to ensure that every component of the presentation from the stage to the hands-on area is aligned as planned. Simultaneously, Apple executives engage in “dress rehearsals” on the keynote stage, practicing their usually-not-actually-off-the-cuff jokes.

Yet even with all of this careful planning, sometimes parts of keynotes go awry.

Assisted behind the scenes by a former Apple marketing executive, Allison Johnson, an unknown startup called Anki was invited to present a new product at the 2013 Worldwide Developers Conference keynote. Anki demonstrated an artificial intelligence-based, iOS-controlled race car kit that would later be sold as an Apple Store exclusive for $200. The play mat and miniature car product did not sound initially interesting when it was introduced, and its accompanying demonstration was even less impressive. A couple of minutes into the presentation, the demo failed, and Anki CEO Boris Sofman and his colleague were left sweating in distress, awkwardly trying to resume their pitch.

Behind the scenes, Apple PR members stationed behind the keynote stage felt nauseated witnessing significant errors in such a critical presentation. This was the keynote in which Apple planned to cement Tim Cook, Jony Ive, and Craig Federighi as the three public faces of Apple’s bright new future. Inviting Anki to show an expensive, not particularly compelling toy that couldn’t even work reliably on stage was a rare misstep for a company that prides itself on getting every detail correct. Unsurprisingly, Apple cut the scene from their posted recording of the event.

Setbacks aside, Apple’s media events typically turn out to be successful performances. Even though events in the Tim Cook era have been criticized as more predictable and mechanical than they were under Steve Jobs, their focus, energy, and sequencing have increasingly been mimicked by Apple’s competitors — a tribute to the strength of the format.

– See Part 2) Introducing the Teams: How PR Is Organized at 3 Infinite Loop


Filed under: AAPL Company

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Latest close-up photos of space gray iPhone 6 vs. iPhone 5 (Gallery)

Screen-Shot-2014-08-25-at-3.04.20-AM.png

We’ve seen hundreds of iPhone 6-related part leaks, rumors, and claims, and of course lots of comparison photos. Below, via Yaya888 and Gizmobic, we have the latest. These shots compare the iPhone 5 to the space gray 4.7-inch physical iPhone 6 model. The new phone is expected to be introduced on September 9th.

Screen-Shot-2014-08-25-at-3.02.15-AM.png Screen-Shot-2014-08-25-at-3.02.43-AM.png Screen-Shot-2014-08-25-at-3.03.21-AM.png Screen-Shot-2014-08-25-at-3.03.45-AM.png Screen-Shot-2014-08-25-at-3.04.20-AM.png Screen-Shot-2014-08-25-at-3.05.07-AM.png Screen-Shot-2014-08-25-at-3.05.22-AM.png Screen-Shot-2014-08-25-at-3.05.34-AM.png
Filed under: AAPL Company Tagged: Apple, Gizmobic, iPhone, iPhone 5, iPhone 6, Lightning connector, Sina Weibo, Universal Serial Bus

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Apple pushing Beats Music app via email to iTunes customers

Screenshot 2014-08-24 17.42.02

Apple has begun pushing the Beats Music streaming service via email to iTunes customers. The emails promote the free-to-download Beats Music app’s “Just For You” and “Tune Your Taste” features and note that Beats is now “part of the Apple family.” Apple finalized its acquisition of both Beats Music and Beats Electronics at the beginning of this month, and Apple has already begun promoting Beats Electronics via a new section on the online store and notable discounts. This email push is the second Apple promotion of the streaming app as the company has already integrated the app into the App Store’s “Apps by Apple” category. Full email below:

Screenshot 2014-08-24 17.42.23


Filed under: AAPL Company Tagged: Apple, Beats Electronics, Beats Music, Dre, iOS, iTunes, Jimmy Iovine, List of online music databases

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Apple finds some iPhone 5 units have battery problems, opens replacement program

Apple-iPhone-Sales

This Friday afternoon, Apple has opened up an iPhone 5 battery replacement program after discovering that a “very small percentage” of units “may suddenly experience shorter battery life or need to be charged more frequently.” The iPhone 5 was originally launched in September 2012, and Apple says that the affected units were sold between that month and January 2013. Apple’s support website includes a tool to check if your serial number belongs to a faulty iPhone 5…

The replacement program is available at Apple Retail Stores, Authorized Apple Service Providers, and via AppleCare. Apple tells eligible iPhone 5 owners to backup their data, Turn off Find my iPhone, and Erase all Content and Settings before coming in to have the battery system replaced. Apple says it won’t repair phones with other problems like cracked screens. If you’ve already paid to get your battery fixed (and you’re eligible for this replacement), Apple is offering refunds.

The replacement program is available beginning today in the United States and China. Other countries will begin offering replacements beginning August 29th. The program is available through March 1, 2015 and it does not extend your iPhone 5’s warranty. This iPhone 5 battery replacement program is the second in recent history. Late last year, Apple offered a smaller, less-public replacement program for iPhone 5s units with battery life issues. The iPhone 5 has also been affected by sleep/wake button issues.

Image via AP


Filed under: AAPL Company Tagged: Apple, battery, iPhone 5, problems

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Apple expands App Store Volume Purchase Program to 16 new regions

VPP

Apple today expanded its App Store Volume Purchase Program (VPP) to 16 important new regions. Here are the new areas:

Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Hong Kong, Ireland, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey, and United Arab Emirates.

Before today, the program, was only available in major Apple regions such as the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Italy, France, and Germany. In addition to updating its website with information regarding the expansion, Apple has begun notifying developers via email.

Apple first launched the VPP program in mid-2011 as a way for businesses and educational institutions to purchase applications at bulk at a discounted rate. Developers must manually choose to make their apps available for volume purchases. Last year, Apple began promoting the program for Mac apps.

In early July, Apple announced that today’s expansion was in the works.


Filed under: AAPL Company Tagged: Apple, Belgium, Finland, Greece, Hong Kong, New Zealand, United Arab Emirates, United States

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Apple talked HealthKit with insurance companies UnitedHealth and Humana

Healthkit-WWDC-01

Bloomberg‘s Adam Satariano has an interesting profile out this morning regarding the usage of wearable fitness devices in work environments. The report says that some companies are offering devices, such as the FitBit, in order to track the fitness of its employees. With that information, companies are able to slice costs off of insurance plans if employees hit certain fitness data thresholds:

Slagle’s experience is an example of how companies, facing rising health expenses, are increasingly buying or subsidizing fitness-tracking devices to encourage employees and their dependents to be more fit. The tactic may reduce corporate health-care costs by encouraging healthier lifestyles, even as companies must overcome a creepy factor and concerns from privacy advocates that employers are prying too deeply into workers’ personal lives.

The companies, of course, have to partner up with insurance providers to make this happen. Interestingly for Apple users, Bloomberg’s report says that Apple has talked with two of the United States’s largest insurance providers in regards to HealthKit:

Technology companies are taking note. Apple Inc. (AAPL), which has new health-tracking software called HealthKit that will be released this year and is said to be developing its own wearable device, has talked with UnitedHealth, the biggest U.S. insurer, and Humana, about its health initiatives, executives at the insurance providers said. The companies wouldn’t provide specifics about the conversations. Apple declined to comment.

As we know, Apple is launching the HealthKit and iOS 8 app as part of iOS 8 next month, and the Cupertino-company is also working on its own fitness and health monitoring wearable device. Perhaps these talks between Apple and the insurance companies indicate that an “iWatch/iBand” insurance-related play is in the cards for the future.


Filed under: iOS, iOS Devices Tagged: Apple, Bloomberg, Cupertino California, Fitbit, Humana, iOS, United States, UnitedHealth Group

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