City & Corporate: Apple's secrecy is tantalising PR

There can be few companies in the world as adept at PR as Apple.

Partly because its products have always been popular with the media, and partly because it has become renowned for style, it punches above its weight - a minnow in computing terms, but it is one of the world's best-known brands.

The irony is that joint founder Steve Jobs has achieved this by being brutal in the preservation of secrecy. Only a handful of executives are allowed to speak to the press - a prohibition Jobs defends by saying that it is important to speak with 'one voice'. Yet he is well aware that the tighter he controls the information flow, the more tantalising is the speculation about his next innovation. There is, in effect, a direct but perverse correlation - the less Jobs says, the more Apple is talked about - and according to one American guru, the PR value of all that speculation runs to millions of dollars.

Most companies seek to manage expectations, but Apple does the opposite by allowing fantasy free rein - and it has become big business. Astonishing though it may be to non-computer buffs, there are dozens of websites dedicated to little more than exchanging gossip about Apple and its planned product launches. In the past, Jobs has sued these sites on the grounds that in talking to employees, journalists were inducing them to break their contracts.

Earlier this year he raised the stakes against a site that identified a future product by alleging the information was 'stolen property' - namely a company secret.

Jobs has opened up a huge area of sensitivity in the US about the rights of journalists to protect their sources and the right of companies to protect their secrets. Somewhere between the two is the issue of whether journalistic privilege extends to gossip websites. These issues are things that every company needs to consider.

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