Posts filed under ‘Public Affairs’

Steve Jobs, Apple and Alfred E. Neuman: “What, Me Worry?”

By Chris Scott

apple_jobsIf you’ve never had a front-row seat at a corporate communications debacle, just Google “apple jobs illness” and pull up a chair for a lesson on how not to work the media when it comes to a serious health issue with a company CEO.

The results page generates everything from “Do shareholders have a right to know?” to “It’s a nutrition problem” to “SEC review under consideration.” Is this the image that Apple, or Jobs, wants to dominate headlines versus continued trumpeting of the success of the new iPhone 3G S?

There’s no doubt that Steve Jobs has persevered in various health issues: a cancerous tumor in his pancreas diagnosed in 2004; a speech at Apple’s 2006 Worldwide Developers Conference that raised serious questions about his unusually gaunt frame; and this year’s “hormone imbalance” that prompted a six-month leave of absence ending this month. Finally, there was the disclosure of a liver transplant in April that took several days to confirm.

There’s also no doubt that Jobs deserves a certain amount of privacy when it comes to dealing with these serious medical issues. But the wunderkind who founded Apple in 1976 — and spearheaded its stunning comeback upon his return to the top spot two decades later — appears to be following the standard script for Apple when it comes to disclosure. And the Securities and Exchange Commission has definite regulations on disclosing situations that could affect the company’s financial health.

Apple’s legendary secrecy about products and new developments, of course, make sense. (The company has no problem quickly firing employees who blab about new products in development and even successfully shut down the Web site http://www.thinksecret.com over its leaks of what Apple considered proprietary information.) But investors, the media and federal regulators are correctly questioning why Apple has repeatedly failed to provide accurate, timely information on the status of the person who is often hailed as being personally responsible for driving the computer maker to its current successful state.

SEC rules prompted Coca-Cola to report in 1997 that its then-CEO, Robert Goizueta, was suffering from lung cancer, the disease that killed him that October. And following the sudden death of McDonald’s CEO Jim Cantalupo of a heart attack in 2004, successor CEO Charlie Bell decided to resign less than a year later before he died of colon cancer. Tragically, Bell was forced to have surgery a little more than two weeks after taking over as CEO, a fact that was prominently, but appropriately disclosed by McDonald’s at the time.

These multinational companies were able to meet federal requirements while protecting the privacy of the individuals involved. The evasive nature of Apple’s corporate responses to inquiries into its CEO’s health could be attributed to a corporate culture that is used to keeping secrets. It also might be part of the orders from the top that Jobs’ medical condition is his and his alone to be concerned about.

But Jobs decided to come back to work and that complicates the already troubled public relations effort. (Some reports put him on the campus of One Infinite Loop in Cupertino last week, before his officially scheduled return on Monday, June 29.) If he had decided to retire, his medical condition and prognosis would have no public component unless he decided to divulge their status himself. Unfortunately, his corporate communications team continues to work between a rock and a hard place with a sick CEO who sees no reason to adhere to SEC rules and Wall Street investors who rightfully contend that disclosure from Apple is appropriate and long overdue.

Alfred E. Neuman, clearly, has nothing on the keepers of Apple’s current public gates.

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June 30, 2009 at 5:18 pm 1 comment

Any PR is not, in fact, good PR

Sally Saville Hodge

Rod BlagojevichThere’s an all-too-common school of thought that “any PR is good PR,” and Illinois’ soon-to-be-deposed Governor Rod Blagojevich is clearly a leading advocate.

His whirlwind New York press tour this week only succeeded at underscoring the fallacies of such thinking. If anything, his frenzied “I am not a crook” and “they’re denying me my rights” proclamations made him more of a caricature than he was prior to his arrest in December on charges of trying to sell the President’s former Senate seat.

But it’s too easy to riff on Blagojevich. My beef is with the flack he hired to trot him out to the press. Did he (or she) warn the Guv of the dangers of this course from the perspective of an image that has already been battered to hell?

What’s been wrought is not good PR. Good PR doesn’t further decimate an already shredded reputation. Good PR practitioners counsel their clients in the interests of creating positive buzz. They ask what the client’s end objective is with the media outreach. To change minds? To shape or re-shape a brand? They coach their clients – especially vigorously if television is a primary target– on their key messages, and how to segue back to them. They learn their clients’ tendencies and try to head them off at the pass to avoid situations like the use of bad analogies (cowboys and revered religious leaders, for example) that may provide fodder for derision.

Okay, Blago was probably not inclined to listen to wiser (saner?) counsel on these matters. When his estimable attorney Ed Genson threw in the towel in disgust, it gave a pretty clear signal that the Guv was intent on bulldozing his own path – rightly or wrongly.

But still. Many perceive PR folks as generally ranking right up there with used car salesman when it comes to ethics and honesty. In this instance, someone just took the money and ran, perpetuating many myths in the process.

January 28, 2009 at 4:52 pm Leave a comment

Blagojevich: Nobody’s buying this decimated brand any longer

By Sally Saville Hodge

“I will fight. I will fight. I will fight until I take my last breath. I have done nothing wrong.”

Such heroic words. From just about anyone else, they would be inspirational. Send a shiver up your spine for their passion. Make you raise a fist in the air in support.

But these are, in fact, the defiant words uttered by Illinois’ own Rod Blagojevich, the governor who was hoist by his own petard – caught on tape trying to sell the president-elect’s Senate seat, shake down the Chicago Tribune, and hold up the CEO of a leading Chicago children’s hospital for a big campaign contribution.

The man is totally clueless as to the damage he’s done to his personal brand, not just through his most recent actions, but pretty much throughout his tenure as Illinois governor. His denials of culpability last week only served to denigrate his brand even further – though with an approval rating of 8 percent, it’s hard to imagine it could be more tarnished.

You read a lot about brand these days, but most people tend to think of it as a business buzzword, associated with products (Sony, Starbucks, Apple) or a broader experience (Disney, Google, Amazon). But the principles that are behind an effective business brand management strategy are just applicable to a personal brand strategy. Both must be carefully managed, because a brand is very difficult to repair once damaged.

It’s regrettably easy to compromise a brand. Ask Elliot Spitzer. The jarring disconnect between his public persona as a crusader against corruption (including prostitution) and his private choice to utilize the services of a high-priced call girl destroyed his credibility.

It takes a lot to rebuild one – and sometimes that only occurs with unforeseen outside assistance. Prior to 9/11, Rudy Giuliani’s brand was probably on par with Spitzer’s today, though not sunk by the nearly same weight of negative equities that mark Rod Blagojevich’s. His stunningly impressive seizing of the leadership reins in the minutes, hours and days after 9/11 attacks renewed his brand enough to ultimately make a presidential run possible, just not strongly enough to make it successful.

Credibility. Authenticity. Quality. Integrity. Leadership. These are among the aspects that combine to uphold the strongest brands, providing that’s the way the public experiences them. At this stage, Blagojevich’s protests are just as empty as his promises. Nobody’s buying this brand anymore. It’s time to give it up.

December 23, 2008 at 5:36 am 2 comments


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