Terrific analysis of how Apple’s PR team under Katie Cotton (who retired this week) successfully played tech journalists in the pageview-hungry environment of the post-2000s:
Apple rumors, no matter how silly, got clicks. Apple announcements, no matter how incremental, got clicks. Anti-Apple screeds, no matter how righteous the rant or obvious the troll, got clicks.
That last point is important: There is a perception among Apple-haters that people write fawning Apple articles to generate pageviews. That works — but it also works to write an irrational anti-Apple rant. That’ll get you lots of pageviews too. The Internet is an echo chamber, and people click on the headlines that reinforce their views.
Which isn’t to say that Apple is above criticism. There are legitimate reasons to criticize Apple, and to hate it too.
And Apple events — those carefully orchestrated infomercials/passion plays that are as much as part of Jobs’ legacy as any single product — were year-making page-view generators for tech-media publications. No one was more aware that the vast majority of these tech publications were — and many still are — dependent on page views driven by any kind of Apple coverage to sell advertising than Cotton and Apple’s public relations team.
Entry into those events could make or break a quarter’s traffic goals, even for publications that weren’t necessarily gadget-oriented. And for those that were, the ability to send multiple staffers to live blog Apple events and generate dozens of SEO-friendly stories in the immediate aftermath became an essential part of their business plan. Whenever Apple announced an event every single publishing organization with even a tangential angle on technology scurried to get a seat in the auditorium because their readers demanded Apple coverage in ever-growing numbers.
[A]pple’s PR strategy merely parlayed the intense interest in its products against an extremely competitive tech media landscape with a business model oriented around page views. This strategy surely did not make it many friends in the media world, but for a very long time, media companies needed Apple more than Apple needed media companies.
Someday that relationship will come more into balance. And whoever steps into Cotton’s shoes is going to have some interesting decisions to make should Apple decide it needs to court the media, after more than a decade of animosity.
That’s going to be an interesting transition to watch. Everything that rises inevitably comes down; Apple will inevitably start shipping some dud products and hit unprofitable quarters. What happens when the press turns on them? I’ve seen companies go through that transition — their executives and PR people don’t give interviews, they just scold reporter for failing to see how wonderful the company is. Eventually, the company either turns itself around or gets acquired at a discount and the name is all but forgotten. IBM did one, Digital Equipment did the other.
I covered Apple as a big part of my job 2007-2009. It was a wonderful and frustrating experience. Obviously, I still follow the company. But I’m glad my paycheck no longer depends, even in part, on covering them.
On the other hand: I’m glad I got to see an actual Steve Jobs keynote live. It was a minor keynote, introducing the MacBook Air in 2008. But I got to see it. It’s like having seen Hendrix perform “All Along the Watchtower” or Olivier do Hamlet.
Why Apple’s PR strategy frustrated tech media for almost a decade — Tech News and Analysis