Sunday, January 09, 2005

How controlling the message can get out of control

Micro Persuasion points to Jason Clacanis’ open letter to Steve Jobs:

You’ve worked the public into a frenzy over your products, and we as the press are covering that enthusiasm. Your employees and partners send us tips all day long, and we as journalists cover those tips. That’s what we do!

Sometimes those tips pan out, most times they don’t. It’s all part of the pop and circumstance of the technology industry.

Don’t you think it’s fun that everyone is playing this game of cat and mouse? Don’t you appreciate that people are so obsessed with your work that they launch a site called Think *Secret*? Most companies would love to have this attention, and your response it to sue the press that feeds you?

From Forbes:

NEW YORK - It is widely acknowledged that Apple Computer enjoys the kind of slavish devotion among its customers--and fawning adoration from the press--of which other companies don't even dare to dream. That is, it's acknowledged by everyone but Apple.

How else to explain Apple's latest attempt to clamp down on, rather than embrace, its fanatical fans? CNET first reported on Wednesday that the company, earlier this week, filed a lawsuit--and not its first--against a Web site called, for publishing details of an Apple product that the Web site says will be announced by the company at next week's MacWorld conference in San Francisco.

Make no mistake, there's a good chance that the source of ThinkSecret's story about plans for a $500 Mac and new business software did break whatever legal agreement not to divulge the information that they had agreed to with Apple. And, one must assume it is at least partly true, or Apple wouldn't bother suing.

But, this sort of stuff happens all the time in the tech industry. Sources leak details of forthcoming products to reporters whose motivation is to get credit for an exclusive story. Here's the difference with Apple: most of its secret product news is not published first by national, mainstream media, but by Apple advocates. These people are customers, fans and Apple-lovers.

This community gives Apple untold free--and mostly positive--publicity and buzz about upcoming products and strategies. They salivate over every upgrade. This is a pre-iPod gang--people who supported Apple before the second coming of Steve Jobs in 1997. Consider that it was Apple enthusiasts who helped drive the market for the iPod after its 2001 release, despite a widely held perception that the $399 price tag was too high.

And, the leak certainly hasn't hurt the company's stock price. Since news of the cheap Macs hit on Dec. 28, two investment banks have issued bullish reports on the developments and Apple's shares have risen 33 cents, to $64.55.

This is not the first time Apple has clamped down on its own customers. Nor has Apple learned anything from Microsoft’s phenomenal success with employee blogging.

Apple has been kept in business by customers so enthusiastic we resemble rock star fans more than customers of a business machine. The enthusiasm of its followers, for so we may be described, is the company’s most valuable asset. This is not the way to cultivate that asset.

Technology PR is not about control, it is about moving merchandise.

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