Though its market value has declined by a gasp-inducing one-third since September, Apple remains the most valuable public company in the world. Nearly everyone expects each new Apple product launch or refresh to be a game-changer, so when the company falls short of these outsized expectations, it tends to be publicly punished more harshly than others. As Apple moves inevitably through a period of slower growth and longer product cycles, its need to manage expectations and tend to its well-burnished image takes on greater prominence. PR to the rescue!
CEO Tim Cook, who has performed superbly in the all-but-impossible role as successor to the iconic Apple leader Steve Jobs, is well aware of these imperatives, as is Apple’s best-in-class PR and marketing team. Apple’s annual developers conference, where it typically unveils its latest and greatest, starts next Monday. Cook has been out polishing his Apple in preceding weeks, successfully defending the company in a May 21 appearance before a Senate committee bent on making Apple the poster child for corporate tax avoidance. Last week, at a prominent tech conference, he laid out a less aggressive but still ambitious agenda of product development, strategy, and enhancement for 2013, affirming that Apple has “several more game changers in us” but refraining from promising the iMoon. What the secretive, surprise-loving Apple will unveil next week remains anyone’s best guess. Fortunately, people are still guessing.
THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Apple and Tim Cook, for taking care of business when business doesn’t take care of itself. Probably only Steve Jobs himself could earn an “A.”
THE PR TAKEAWAY: Reputation management never ends, but occasionally it takes on heightened importance. Apple responded proactively and aggressively to accusations of tax avoidance and put the blame where it belongs – on the tax code. It did so at a time when its product cycle has slipped ever so slightly back to earth, addressing that with statements tempering specific (and more measurable) short-term expectations while promising bigger, better, shinier things to come. The trick is finding the PR wording that allows everyone to hear what they wanted or expected to hear – not easy, but as Apple’s combined management and PR teams have shown, it can be done.