Jobs underscores Apple's brand consistency with health secrecy

Joe Nocera from The New York Times is one enviable man. The business columnist finally peeled away the walls of Apple to get an off-the-record conversation with one Steve Jobs about the Apple czar's health, a recent hot topic.

Joe Nocera from The New York Times is one enviable man. The business columnist finally peeled away the walls of Apple to get an off-the-record conversation with one Steve Jobs about the Apple czar's health, a recent hot topic. Even though Nocera could not report anything tangible from that conversation, one could tell the pride in the few sentences he could confidently muster: "While his health problems amounted to a good deal more than 'a common bug,' they weren't life-threatening and he doesn't have a recurrence of cancer."

The article broke little new ground. Who, after all, is shocked to hear that Jobs began his conversation with Nocera as a scolding father - "You think I'm an arrogant [expletive] who thinks he's above the law, and I think you're a slime bucket who gets most of his facts wrong."- but the piece stepped close to the tech media's favorite subject: Apple and its cloak of secrecy.

Nocera's main focus explored whether or not Jobs owed it to Apple's stakeholders - especially the shareholders - to immediately and definitively disclose all major health issues. An analyst told Nocera that Apple's stock would drop 25% or more were Jobs to leave the company abruptly. Shareholders may normally insist they deserve such information, but, when considering Apple, that claim is nullified - or rendered moot - by a Catch 22. The reason most investors buy Apple stock is because "In Jobs They Trust" and it is Jobs' peculiar approach to communications that has made his stewardship of the company a steady one.

Jobs knows a great deal about branding. He knows a company requires consistency to make it palatable and understandable to all publics. That's why his consumer and business approach to both the media and shareholders is guiding disclosures about his personal health. It's a safe bet that he has no interest - should he be seriously ill - to discuss that matter with Charlie Rose or Oprah, because it would shatter the perception that the company maintains control of information.

Despite the company's near-absolute silence, Jobs and Apple are experts in the art of strategic communications. Because they rarely seem to interact with any public - at least not on any terms the public wishes - it would be odd to label what Apple does as "PR." But Apple is not oblivious or disdainful toward the communications function. If it was, you would show up at an Apple store and find an unannounced, new product carelessly placed on the shelves. No, Apple's dramatic unveils are routinely commended for their careful planning.

But the art of strategic communications for Apple is different from strategic communications for nearly any other company. Apple's personnel work hard to ensure they don't communicate unless the company has something important to communicate. And while the world may disagree, Jobs most likely does not consider his health to be part of the company message.

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