How Apple Does Controlled Leaks

Monday's article at the Wall Street Journal, which provided confirmation of an Apple tablet device, had all the earmarks of a controlled leak. Here's how Apple does it.

Often Apple has a need to let information out, unofficially. The company has been doing that for years, and it helps preserve Apple's consistent, official reputation for never talking about unreleased products. I know, because when I was a Senior Marketing Manager at Apple, I was instructed to do some controlled leaks.

The way it works is that a senior exec will come in and say, "We need to release this specific information. John, do you have a trusted friend at a major outlet? If so, call him/her and have a conversation. Idly mention this information and suggest that if it were published, that would be nice. No e-mails!"

The communication is always done in person or on the phone. Never via e-mail. That's so that if there's ever any dispute about what transpired, there's no paper trail to contradict either party's version of the story. Both sides can maintain plausible deniability and simply claim a misunderstanding. That protects Apple and the publication.

In the case of yesterday's story, Walt Mossberg was bypassed so that Mr. Mossberg would remain above the fray, above reproach. Also, two journalists at the WSJ were involved. That way, each one could point the finger at the other and claim, "I thought he told me to run with this story! Sorry."

Finally, the story was posted online late Monday, eastern time, so no one could ever suggest there was any attempt to manipulate the stock market.

The net result is that Apple gets the desired information published by a major Wall Street news outlet, but can always claim, if required, it was all an editorial misunderstanding. The WSJ is protected as well.


Controlled leaks are almost always the solution to a problem. In this case, it could have been that Apple needed to release the tablet information early because they wanted:

  • to light a fire under a recalcitrant partner
  • to float the idea of the US$1,000 price point and gauge reaction
  • to panic/confuse a potential competitor about whom Apple had some knowledge
  • to whet analyst and observer expectations to make sure the right kind and number of people show up at the (presumed) January 26 event. Apple hates empty seats and demands SRO at these events.


Of course, if Wall Street draws the right conclusions, and AAPL goes up, as it has, then everybody benefits. But the manipulation of stock is never the purpose. It's simply a favorable outcome of the process. Again, Apple is protected.

That's how Apple does controlled leaks, and the WSJ article from yesterday was a classic example.