EDITORIAL: Apple's iPod displays how PR can hit the right note - even with the most cynical among us

One of the irritations of working in marketing-trade journalism is becoming hyper-aware of when you're being marketed to.

One of the irritations of working in marketing-trade journalism is becoming hyper-aware of when you're being marketed to.

It's like always being aware of your nose, and just as unavoidable an appendage. Sometimes, however, even cynical consumers like us must surrender ourselves to the power of PR. On my desk right now is my new best friend, the iPod. I promise you, I didn't buy it because I was mesmerized by the dancing silhouettes. I was driven to the inevitable via a perfectly orchestrated confluence of key influencers topped by high-profile coverage in the major media. When I found myself in the Apple store, only days after the new version went on sale, I swear I saw a satisfied gleam in the eye of the sales associate. It was as if he knew I was one of the last holdouts. My personal coterie of influencers (who number among them several PRWeek editors and one ad manager) comprised the typical early adopters, tech-friendly types who clucked at my Discman as if I were lugging around an eight-track player. But the transition from doubter to buyer was different with the iPod than it has been with other technologies. Somehow Apple has managed to make us late adopters feel a bit smarter for waiting - and not just because it's cheaper than prior models, which is the usual carrot. The message has focused on its burgeoning ubiquity. In other words, everyone will have it... but they don't have it yet. And if they already have it, it isn't quite as cool as the new one. Early adopters may be forgiven for some bitterness, as the recent Newsweek cover story on the gadget revealed. "Thanks a lot, Newsweek," wrote a so-called "first generation iPod owner." "Now... I'll no longer be able to consider myself in an elite group." Nevertheless, she added, she had already placed her order for the new model. Leadership begins with trustable information New Yorkers have already been bracing themselves for the invasion of politicians, police, and protesters that will pervade the city during the Republican National Convention later this month. Last week's news that intelligence had uncovered possible plans for terrorist assaults on major financial institutions put the city on early alert. Given the city's highly sensitive connection to - and memories of - the 9/11 attacks, it would have been very risky to play politics with this kind of information. Yet many a water-cooler pundit wondered if the news was choreographed to make people forget about Kerry's daughter's hamster speech and focus on the issues close to the heart of the GOP campaign. The Bush administration has been forced to trot out additional evidence to support its release of the information, which, considering what's at stake, is a pretty galling thing to have to do. In responding, the administration has claimed that politics may be motivating the question in the first place and that Democrats are crying foul only because it takes the focus off their recent headlines. Both sides need to wake up and play it straight on this issue. Leadership must come from the administration, which must resist temptation to squabble about who is playing politics and provide nothing short of comprehensive and authoritative information at all times.

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