There’s a burgeoning irony to the current Apple lost/”stolen” iPhone flap. Remember how the Macintosh introduced itself to us? It professed to break the mold a quarter-century ago in the famous “1984” Super Bowl commercial, declaring itself the antidote to Big Brother computing.
Well, look at them now.
In a truly Orwellian move, Apple declared war on Gizmodo (it as always been at war with Gizmodo) and seized computers and other equipment from the home of Gizmodo blogger Jason Chen via a court-ordered warrant.
No word on whether Chen will be hauled off to Room 101. Either way, this situation is an unmitigated public relations disaster for Apple. A DISASTER! With one warrant, Apple went from media darling to pariah in one easy step. Worse for them, it was completely avoidable.
In PR/communications circles we often discuss the need for CEOs to listen to PR counsel more than legal counsel to minimize a crisis. Apple clearly ignored PR counsel altogether and went nuclear on Gizmodo; specifically, Jason Chen.
Apple’s disproportionate response to Gizmodo’s scoop on a secret device accidentally left in a bar is the action of a paranoid, flailing bully who’s looking to beat down someone—ANYONE!—who dares laugh at the giant.
Is Apple banking on its vocal legion of Mac evangelists to act as de facto spokespeople who will insist Steve Jobs & Co. have the moral high ground in this battle? Problem is, moral high ground won’t matter if your consumers are holding their nose when they look at you. Apple’s forgetting one thing: nobody likes a bully.
What Apple SHOULD have done is keep its enemy closer. This was a textbook crisis communications situation. When you lose control of the story, your goal is to regain control of the flow of information. Gizmodo got the scoop on what will be another hot Apple product. You can’t change that and need to avoid looking and sounding punitive. Cynics were already shrugging this situation off to a weird publicity stunt (which, obviously, it wasn’t), so why not play along and leverage Gizmodo to be an ally?
In five simple steps, Apple should have done the following:
Step 1: Admit it. There’s a loose bogey in the field. Admit it and retrieve it.
Step 2: Joke about the offending engineer being hauled off to Siberia. (but DON’T publicly dress him down.)
Step 3: Acknowledge you’re pleased there’s excitement about a product not yet ready for primetime.
Step 4: Close with a tease to maintain excitement: If you like this, just wait until you see the finished product.
Step 5: Move on.
This becomes a one or two-day story, at best, and everyone comes away looking good. It’s a win for Apple and a win for Gizmodo and the public is stoked for a new iPhone.
But this didn’t happen. Apple stormed Gizmodo, which would be like the US invading Prince Edward Island. So now, a story that went away bubbles back up to the surface because Apple’s legal team convinced the top brass it had a case against Gizmodo and needed to lop off their heads as warning shot to anyone who dares cross the mighty and all powerful Apple.
Apple quite possibly has a legal case against Gizmodo. But what do they stand to gain by raiding a blogger’s apartment? They heeded the wrong advice from the wrong internal department. Apple no longer controls the story and its public image will suffer as a result.
To butcher a quote from the Tao te Ching, even generals know it’s sometimes best to retreat a foot instead of advancing an inch. General Jobs and his army may have advanced an inch, but the cost will far outweigh the legal team’s retainer.