No one can deny that Steve Jobs has historically had a great handle on his PR.
The CEO of Apple is often the king of product unveils. Combining a national security-like approach to company secrets with a flair for the dramatic, Jobs is able to hold Apple's major event in the hangover wake of a huge multi-company show like the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and attract more drama than the larger show it followed.
But Jobs is often like the fictional Willy Wonka- engaging when it's time to unveil, guarded when the media wants to engage him. This dichotomy is readily apparent when viewed through the prism of the social media age.
While companies have rushed to embrace social media as a way to humanize themselves, Apple has remained a stoic, steely company that expects the world to delight in its iconoclastic- yet often-times guarded- CEO. It has not spent much time talking about the broader issues of technology, nor addressed its critics with much frequency.
In some respects, you can appreciate Apple's all-consuming approach to the creation and promotion of its products. But the company has seemed a little blind and deaf to its many criticisms: iTunes/iPod incompatibility with other players and music stores, scratches on iPod screens, digital rights management, backdating concerns, NGO's questioning the company's green cred, and its heavy-handed treatment of bloggers that break stories based on leaks from the company. Since the company has such rapturous fans in tech media reporters, it's not like it really needs to spend all of its time talking up new products.
But Jobs apparently has found a voice on external issues recently. While Jobs has stopped short of starting a blog, he has begun writing missives on the Apple.com Web site.
The first post, appearing on February 6, featured Jobs' call for the "end of DRM" in songs sold on iTunes. While Jobs carefully pointed out that the onus had always been on the music labels, rather than Apple, to end DRM, his call to action was about two years too late to be considered revolutionary. But Jobs' voice is powerful enough that EMI soon announced it was selling DRM-free music and more labels are expected to follow suit.
The second major post, appearing on May 2, targeted Apple's green cred. Again, while Jobs points were meticulous and fair, they addressed issues years after Greenpeace started really hammering the company for its use of chemicals.
Because a small, but dedicated group of techies love their Macs, Jobs and Apple still possess a nearly unsurpassed ability to move a needle on an issue. Since power can always wane (witness Apple in the mid-to-late 90s) and the publics are demanding more corporate citizenry from high-profile executives, Jobs and Co. need to continue this engagement. But it will ultimately fall flat if Apple limits its public comments on important issues to a frequency mirroring that of new iPod releases.