EDITORIAL: The latest Apple of the PR world's eye

In an industry desperately in need of benchmarks and standards,

case studies are often the clearest way of defining best and worst

practice.



Look at the way in which the Tylenol recall set a benchmark for crisis

communications, or how GE's and Honey-well's approach to the European

merger commission quickly became the standard for what not to do when

approaching the EC. Is it possible that Apple has added itself to that

list with its decision to give an exclusive on the iMac launch to

Time?



Exclusives are possibly one of the best-known tactics in the media

relations practitioner's toolkit, but this latest example is such a

classic demonstration of the potential benefits (and pitfalls) of an

exclusive that it may be remembered long after thousands of others are

forgotten.



In case you haven't seen the Time cover in question, Apple's in-house

team, working with Edelman, has achieved a media relations dream,

getting a large picture - so big it obscures half of the Time logo - of

the new iMac on the cover. Naturally, they had to work cover boy Steve

Jobs in there, so he floats - or should that be gloats? - in the corner

of the new iMac screen. Writ large, in white and powder blue on black,

is the not entirely objective cover line, "Flat-Out Cool!"



The PR team timed the cover to coincide with the unveiling of the

product at Macworld. Normally Time puts the new issue up on its website

on Sunday night. This time, however, it does not seem to have updated

the site until Monday, preventing anyone stealing Time, or Apple's,

thunder. As the iMac was unveiled at the show, copies of the

hot-off-the-presses issue of Time were presented to the audience. Here

was an exclusive delivering simply incredible value for the PR team. One

San Jose Mercury News journalist claims he told Jobs on the day of the

unveiling that his biggest achievement was not the iMac itself, but

"turning an international news magazine into a PR pamphlet."



Did Apple and Edelman pull off such a PR coup overnight? Of course

not.



This was a meticulously planned event. And how could it be so

meticulously planned? One simple reason: because Apple loves and

understands PR and has its PR team sit in on the very highest-level

meetings.



But, as anyone who has experience of handling exclusives will tell you,

they have a downside too - namely that they tend to upset every single

journalist who didn't get the exclusive. And Apple has certainly upset a

few hacks' carts here. Its biggest mistake seems to have been that some

editors thought the new product would be released to everyone at the

same time. The team at Cnet.com, for example, is leveling all kinds of

rude allegations at the PR pros involved, while both Reuters and The New

York Times devote several column inches to the fact that the exclusive

has rattled a few cages.



Apple's PR team will think the positives outweigh the negatives, and

they're probably right. After all, the same journalists who are upset

will still want to cover Apple next week. (Few PR pros are blessed with

clients about whom this can be said.) But what of Time, which scored

such a PR coup just weeks earlier by "letting slip" that bin Laden was

in consideration for its Man of the Year cover? Time is a great magazine

and can almost do as it chooses, but surely something a bit less

sycophantic would have served its reputation better on this occasion.



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