This is a must read if you’re in PR or are keen to learn more about this field. A great article by Cameron Craig.
I first started working for Apple on the PR agency side at Porter Novelli in Sydney, Australia in 1997. Steve Jobs had just returned to the company and the product line was a shamble of computers with confusing names, printers, scanners, and a curious, yet ill-conceived PDA called the Newton.
The outlook for Apple was bleak — most media wrote the company off as a shadow of its former self. The news at the time was an endless recycling of headlines such as “Rotten to the Core” “Sweeping Layoffs Expected at Apple” and “101 Ways to Save Apple.”
Little did I know that over the next 10 years I’d be part of the biggest corporate turnaround in global history. From Sydney I moved to Singapore, where I joined the company and led Asia Pacific regional communications. Eventually, I was transferred to the mothership, Apple’s Cupertino, California headquarters to join Apple’s product PR team.
Over this period, Apple would prove the cynics wrong and dazzle the world with its groundbreaking innovations, masterful marketing and against-the-grain approach. PR played a huge role in this success. Here are five lessons from those days that have played a huge influence on how I approach the craft of communications still today.
Keep it simple. If you ran any Apple press release through a readability level test it would most likely score a level easily understood by an average 4th grade student or lower. Any hint of jargon, cliché, or techno mumbo-jumbo would be removed in the editing process. If a “mere mortal” couldn’t understand our language, then we had failed. And failure was not an option. Steve Jobs read and personally approved every press release.
Run your communications through a readability test to determine how difficult the language is to comprehend as written on a scale of 1 – 100. These are available free on sites such as Word Count Tools and Readability Score. Ideally, you want your content to score 80 – 89, and requiring the education of an 11-year old child. The easier your communications are to understand, the broader the reach.
Value reporters’ time. We reserved press releases and events for only the most important products or company milestones. Many significant products, software updates, and personnel changes went by with barely a PR push. Sometimes this would frustrate our internal clients who wanted more market noise about their pet projects or people. But by adopting this approach, reporters knew that when we contacted them we had something important to say.
Contact reporters sparingly and only when you have something compelling to offer. Don’t blast out press releases to mass lists. Research what a reporter covers and make a tailored pitch.
Be hands on. Before we would grant interviews to top executives or send out products for review, we made sure that every reporter, influencer, or analyst had a hands-on product briefing. We would take them through why we designed the button that way or removed that port at the back and point out subtle features they may not see or appreciate without our guidance. After the interview we would follow up to see if they had other questions and subtly probe how their story was shaping up so we could report back. If they were having an issue getting something to work we’d have product marketing and technical support on call 24/7 to help. If the story was shaping into something deviating from our key message, we would ramp up efforts to course-correct.
Once you’ve got a reporter’s interest, follow up diligently but don’t be a pest. If they are reviewing your product, offer to drop it off in person and do a quick demonstration. If they are doing a story about a service you provide, offer up some hand-picked customer and industry references. Ask if they need any images to use with the story. Do they need help understanding where your product fits in with the competition?
Stay focused. Our mission was to tell the story of how our innovative products were giving customers the power to unleash their creativity and change the world. On any given day we’d have all kinds of incoming requests asking for spokespeople to chime in on industry trends, politics, personnel and countless other subjects. If the request didn’t fit in with our mission, we politely declined to participate. It was an approach that helped us use our time most efficiently.
Strive to become an expert in your field. Define your key messages and stick to them. Don’t dilute your social media accounts with off-subject messaging. Offer your help to journalists and industry analysts who cover your field — even if there’s not always a direct benefit to you.
Prioritize media influencers. We didn’t work with long media lists. Instead, we focused on a relatively small number of reporters who we believed set the tone for others to follow. We’d offer these reporters such things as exclusive interviews, following a launch or first shot at reviewing new products. By keeping the number small, our hands-on approach was more manageable. After the initial coverage from influencers, we’d expand our reach to regional reporters and trade publications.
Focus on cultivating close relationships with the top five-to-ten media influencers who cover your field. Again, don’t over-pitch them. Give them feedback on what you are hearing about their articles from colleagues and partners in the industry. Comment and start discussions on their stories on their Twitter and LinkedIn feeds. When you have an announcement coming up, consider offering them an exclusive angle.
Most importantly, respect your brand. That’s the biggest lesson of all that I learned at Apple. It’s your biggest asset and you have to protect it. Think twice before giving away your products in a raffle. Think carefully about what other brands you associate with. Think different in your approach and aim to stand out from the pack.
Perhaps not every PR team has the luxury of declining requests and being selective about which reporter they work with, but I still value these lessons today. There’s no doubt this approach, applied consistently through some lean but innovation-rich years for Apple, contributed greatly to the company’s dramatic turnaround and success still today.
Cameron Craig is a communications professional with 20+ years experience working with Apple, Visa, PayPal, Polycom and Yahoo! Formerly, he was a tour publicist for Johnny Cash. Follow him on Twitter @Cam_CommsGuy and LinkedIn.