Cook Keeps Apple’s PR Polished

 Cook Keeps Apples PR Polished

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for Tim Cook and Apple.

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.

A Sweeter Apple?

 A Sweeter Apple?

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Apple’s apology to Chinese customers.

What a difference a CEO makes. The change in Apple Inc.’s executive suite was evident this week when the company posted a fulsome apology from CEO Tim Cook on the Apple China web site. Apple, it seems, was not properly responding to complaints about its warranty and repair programs, prompting the Chinese government and state-run media to launch a fortnight of blistering criticism. In Cook’s mea culpa, which ran 12,000 Chinese characters (about 800 words), he apologized for appearing arrogant and outlined several changes the company will be making in China.

This is the second time in recent months that Cook has taken the higher road. Last September, he acknowledged the failure of Apple Maps, a cartographic catastrophe so inaccurate it stranded several iPhone users in an Australian desert wasteland with no food or water for more than 24 hours.

The softer approach is a departure from that of Apple co-founder and longtime leader Steve Jobs, who was called egotistical as often as brilliant. When customers complained in 2010 that holding the iPhone at a certain angle obliterated reception, Jobs snapped “Just avoid holding it that way” before eventually, begrudgingly, apologizing and giving away free cases.

Apple’s most recent apology seems to be smart. China is Apple’s second biggest market today and, as Cook told state-run Xinhua news agency in January, he believes it will become its first. All the more reason to keep customers extremely happy.

THE PR VERDICT:  “C” (Distinctly OK) for Apple. While the apology was the right move, it came two weeks into a negative PR blitz. It will be interesting to see if Apple sales in China have been affected.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Markets change, and so must marketing strategies. Part of Apple’s early allure was that its groundbreaking technologies and higher pricetags created an air of exclusivity; the attitude that occasionally exuded from leadership contributed to the appeal. Today, however, the competitive landscape is much more crowded, and Apple can’t afford to alienate buyers in such fertile ground as China. An apology today helps pave the way for a bigger footprint tomorrow.

Guest Column: Is Samsung Passing the Buck to Customers?

Main Note 10.1 N8013 h front 9 150x150 Guest Column: Is Samsung Passing the Buck to Customers?

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for Samsung.

What do you say when a jury takes $1 billion out of your pocket and hands it to your arch rival (while calling you a big, fat copycat)? If you’re Samsung, the answer is, tell your customers you may be raising their prices. Samsung declared last Friday’s Apple verdict a “loss for the American consumer” and said it will lead to “potentially higher prices.” Is that any way to preserve a reputation?

Compare that to the sharp, smart statement from Apple: “We make these products to delight our customers, not for our competitors to flagrantly copy.”

Samsung has built a well-deserved brand as one of the world’s great tech innovators. Yet of late, even when it wins in court, it loses. Just last month, a UK High Court found that Samsung couldn’t have infringed on Apple’s patents, because Samsung’s products “are not as cool.” Not good.

But frightening your customer base by warning of higher prices is unlikely to turn the tide. Samsung would be better served to hew more closely in its public statements to the legal positions it is presenting in court–in particular, that the inventions claimed in Apple’s patents have been around for years and were not actually developed by Apple.

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for Samsung. Scare tactics, especially of higher prices in economically challenging times, are unlikely to win hearts and minds. Better to use the forum to carefully explain one’s patent law positions.

The PR Takeaway: Sometimes the PR solution is right under your nose. Samsung’s business partner, Google, responded to the verdict by emphasizing how “the mobile industry is moving fast, and all players, including newcomers, are building upon ideas that have been around for decades.” This is essentially the patent law defense of “anticipation.” In this case, coordinating better with its legal team and staying on patent law message might have been the easier route and ultimately more reassuring than issuing stern warnings about higher prices and future lack of innovation.

Is Samsung right to be honest with customers about impending higher prices, or is this adding insult to their own injury? Give us your PR Verdict!