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On The Flip Side
by Michael Munger




Apple And Chiat/Day's Intolerable Media Relations
September 20th, 2000

The recent news about Apple and Chiat/Day (the advertising agency) playing hardball with publications raises questions. If you missed it, Chiat/Day allegedly contacted several publications to require a guarantee that they would not publish rumors or speculation about future Apple products. If they did not agree to do this, they would have to live without Apple ads in their pages.

If everything had gone according to company rules, this would have been very hush hush, but that would have been a huge misconception of the very principles of publishing. Publishers will rebel against any unjustified corporate invasion against freedom. Thus, it leaked and all informed people know that Chiat/Day tried to force publications to shut up at advertising dollar gunpoint.

As I said, this raises questions for any publication that dedicates a part or the totality of its content to the Macintosh.

Freedom of press is not an issue here because the sponsor has no legal power over content. However, it does threaten the survival of those who need advertising since losing any of it has an effect, its importance depending on the financial status of the publication. It also threatens the good relations between the media and Apple.

If all sponsors impose their content conditions as sine qua non to get advertising, the world of publishing is in deep financial trouble.

While laws are strong enough to protect publishers from threats from corporations, what can they do when the economical arm reaches to strike? Nothing. In most types of discrimination in society life, there is not much to protect groups, companies or individuals against the loss of clients. There are exceptions to this, of course.

The Chiat/Day issue is not my main interest here, in any case. It is only a part of a bigger concern. Apple looks at all Mac (or partly Mac) related publications and treats them as troublemakers. Even though a good part of the publishers mentioned, especially on the Web, advocate the platform like crazy, almost like a religion.

Since Apple enjoys success, it treats publishers on the Web as bad children who fail to follow the "rules" the moment that they do anything that does not please. If they publish rumors, Apple has a problem with it. If they even speculate, Apple has a problem with it.

Apple displays a disgusting control freak mentality when it is successful. They say that money and triumph corrupt. Indeed! This does not limit itself to the media. I know from another Mac publisher how Apple treats schools and gives them crap as well as delivery problems for matters that mature people can solve by a phone call.

A few of you probably know my position about rumors. I discussed it at length at other sites, saying that I prefer to publish news and speculation rather than rumors.

Did I mention speculation? Yes I did. Speculation is different from rumors. This is why I do not get the point with Chiat/Day's move against publications.

In the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, I found this for the verb speculating:

  1. Form a theory or conjecture, esp. without a firm factual basis; meditate.
  2. Conjecture, consider.
  3. A) Invest in stocks in the hope of gain but with the possibility of loss. B) Gamble recklessly.

A good definition regarding speculation would probably be something like:

Trying to predict what awaits us in the future, based on knowledge of industry facts and tendencies.

With true speculation, there is no factual insider information about Apple products involved and frankly, speculation is an enjoyable exercise in most industries. Everybody discusses what could and should happen in the next year or so and nobody gets hurt. It is not the same as pretending to know anything from inside Apple about the next big thing.

It seems that Apple views this differently. Just because publications dare to do things such as speculation, they are likely to pay the price in lack of advertising dollars.

This is a good chunk of the problem with Apple and publications.

The other part is to determine if Apple owes anything to publications. Of course not. We did not save the Mac, though we did our part to keep people hoping that they would one day lay their hands on powerful Macs from a prosperous Apple. I recognize that Apple executives view publications as an annoyance because of their usual love for total power. That does not give them any moral right to do anything about it. Nevertheless, could Apple use us? Yes. What do I mean with "use?" As you can see, they do advertise with some Web publications like The Mac Observer, Applelinks, MacCentral and others, though this advertising does not appear to go through Chiat/Day. This is one element.

As you know, the Web presence by publishers that dedicate their content to the Macintosh, its advocacy, news and functionality affect Apple in the right way. Why? Because they provide services to Mac users. Sure, you can find a lot of information at Apple.com, but at a price. What price? That of having to search a lot more; having to read technical documents or searching databases; having to deal with a site that is friendly but not necessarily customized for the needs of its users.

As you probably noticed, Web sites provide independent opinions on the industry. Apple will NEVER give you that. Apple would never have complained about its iPuck mouse! Publications provide tips and tutorials that you cannot find from company sources. They offer you a bunch of other services that you will not find at Apple's site, including education to use your Mac in more efficient ways.

While the arm of advocacy may not be that effective since the crowd that reads Mac publications is already in the fold, the helpful content published is a gold mine to Mac users.

Why would Apple or anybody else associated to the company want to do anything to put pressure on these publications, especially when they do not publish rumors? Because they speculate? Because they provide an independent viewpoint instead of copying the PR material and signing it as their own articles?

That is way over my head.

With most of these publications' readerships very sold-out to the Mac, all these venues are excellent advertising opportunities. At least, Apple understood this principle about advertising but I have doubts about the new terms that would tie publications to Apple ads since Chiat/Day's intervention!

In this whole affair, Apple and Chiat/Day break the very basic rules of media relations.

I learned when studying in communications that the best way for a company to have successful advertising campaigns is to know where the public is and to access it. In short, Apple's goal is to show its ads to current Mac users in order to convince them to buy new machines and to find potential Mac users to tell them to buy from Apple.

This goes in direct contradiction with the fact that Apple treats publications with badly disguised contempt.

The tradition in media relations is that the company needs the media more than the media need the company. It applies, no matter how big or small the publications are and no matter who writes for them.

Why? To get favorable coverage or free publicity of any kind. Any space with material (except negative comments) about the company is good for the company.

It is interesting to observe how Apple reverses the situation. Hundreds of publications are eager to talk about Apple and its products. This is the wildest dream of any public relations specialist! How does Apple react? It tries to spank all people who provide them free publicity!

In public relations, the communicators learn to treat everybody equally since the media want fair treatment and doing otherwise can only burn bridges with potentially powerful ways to reach the public. In part because you never know if these disgruntled publications will become indispensable (but turned against you) one day. The same applies to writers who could go from being nobodies to being anywhere within a few years to slam you from national publications instead of the street corner newspapers where they are today.

Again, why Apple does not get this simple point is way over my head. Maybe it is just me. In any case, Apple's arrogance raises questions about its future reputation with the media and its customers. It is amazing to realize that such behavior comes from a company that pretends to break the chains of corporate conduct to be user-oriented.

The biggest empires, success stories and monopolies are bound to fall apart because of their outrageous behavior. It is a fact that any "history aware" person knows. Somebody call the guys at Cupertino and tell them that. They need to know! It is urgent!

Your comments are welcomed.

Michael Munger is a French Canadian living in Montreal. He discovered the Mac in 1994 while studying journalism, the profession he loves and practices. He also studied history and communications. In addition to his work at The Mac Observer, he authors the iBasics tutorial column at Low End Mac, and cofounded MacSoldiers in 1998.

You can find more about him at his personal Web site.

You are welcome to send me your comments or you can post them below.

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