Cotton:Cook

Apple CEO Tim Cook with former VP of Worldwide Communications Katie Cotton

“Beautifully, unapologetically plastic.”

“Feature for feature, it’s identical to iPad Air in every way.”

“Just avoid holding it in that way.”

Apple’s public relations (PR) department is probably the best in the world — certainly more impressive at shaping and controlling the discussion of its products than any other technology company. Before customers get their first chance to see or touch a new Apple product, the company has carefully orchestrated almost every one of its public appearances: controlled leaks and advance briefings for favored writers, an invite-only media debut, and a special early review process for a group of pre-screened, known-positive writers. Nothing is left to chance, and in the rare case where Apple doesn’t control the initial message, it remedies that by using proxies to deliver carefully crafted, off-the-record responses.

Except for a few big exceptions, such as the memorably off-pitch quotes above, Apple’s “tell them what to believe” PR strategy has worked incredibly well for years. But it has also created tensions between the company and the people who cover it, as well as within Apple itself. The company’s long-time head of PR, Katie Cotton, left the company earlier this year as CEO Tim Cook openly sought to make a major change in the way Apple interacted with the press and its customers. As the hunt for Cotton’s replacement is still in progress, and the depth of Apple’s commitment to change remains unclear, we look today at the techniques Apple has used to quietly manipulate its coverage over the years.

You can navigate between the chapters, below:

- Part 1) Apple Events and Shredded White Booklets

- Part 2) Introducing the Teams: How PR Is Organized at 3 Infinite Loop

- Part 3) Strategies: The “Art of Deep Background” and Controlling the Press

- Part 4) The Departure of a “Tyrant”

- Part 5) Two Heads In Place Of One

- Part 6) Controversies: From Maps to Beats to Haunted Empires

- Part 7) Product Reviews, Briefings, & Reviewer’s Guides

- Part 8) Steve Jobs and the Process Behind Press Releases

- Part 9) A Friendlier, More Transparent Future?

Two months in the making, this article is the product of over a dozen interviews with journalists, bloggers, and PR professionals, including many who have worked at Apple.

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58 Responses to “Seeing Through the Illusion: Understanding Apple’s Mastery of the Media”

  1. Why such silly short chapters? I usually send good longer articles to my Kindle to read later after work but that won’t work here.

    Liked by 12 people

  2. amitvedant says:

    Thanks a lot 9to5! You’ve put a great piece of information together. I personally hope to see a more friendlier and transparent Apple.
    Eager for 9.9.14😊

    Liked by 5 people

  3. TR Geng says:

    What a great article! But are you not afraid of Apple’s retaliation?

    Liked by 5 people

  4. standardpull says:

    I am fine with Apple being opinionated. After all, opinions about other products and companies are opinions. And as we know, the press isn’t neutral about much at all and they often get the facts a little askew.

    For example, people complained mightily about Apple maps, but no one seemed to admit that Google maps had its share of errors. There was no analysis in the press, just cherry-picked examples to highlight that some Apple maps were imperfect while ignoring the limitations of its competitors. Apple was right to strike back and reveal that all mapping products have errors. Was there a different error rate? Maybe. Who did the analysis? No one that I ever saw.

    Same thing with Antennagate. Was it a problem? All I can say is that the iPhone 4 was one of the most successful smartphones ever, and that it was in the market for an incredible 3 years, and I don’t recall anyone I knew with an iphone 4 bitching about call quality any more than that of any other handset.

    So was Apple right to say that it was an overblown issue? I’d have to say yes, Apple was right, given the realities in the field.

    The tech press is quite bad at the analysis of the details. A faster clock speed makes computers faster, when tech folks know that clock speeds are just part of a system. And tech folks know that benchmarks are not the end-all in terms of performance. But the tech press still hasn’t figured that out.

    Liked by 8 people

    • herb02135go says:

      My goodness, you really drank the Kool-aid.
      Apple has gotten a free ride for years. Ask people who work there.

      Liked by 2 people

      • “Apple has gotten a free ride for years.”
        LOL!
        The OPPOSITE is closer to the truth. No company in the world gets shit on by the press more than Apple. Including this article.

        Liked by 4 people

      • standardpull says:

        I derive my own opinions and I know the industry. You can call me a koolaid drinker if it makes you feel better, but you’re doing so based exclusively on your own unfounded biases.

        Keep your dream alive, but don’t expect me to follow you down your baseless path.

        Liked by 6 people

    • cyberangel777 says:

      No excuses! Just better maps!
      Correct the antenna! Don’t ever say to a customer “YOU hold it wrong!”
      They really need to hire someone is straight and honest in action and speech.
      Defending fan(atic)s just makes it worse!

      Liked by 5 people

      • jrox16 says:

        Again, to back up the previous comment, I had a Nexus One and there was never any “multi-touch-gate”, never any fix, or any public apology or acknowledgement by Google or HTC that the phone had hardware broken multitouch. Someone made an app that proved it. Crossing two points on the screen resulted in a mirror-like flip of touch point coordinates in the system. Completely broken, but as always, Google gets a pass while Apple gets pooped on for the anything and everything.

        Perhaps it’s because people demand Apple to create perfect experiences while knowing everyone else always comes short, and not demanding that of them.

        Liked by 3 people

  5. Great article with amazing details. Let’s hope more friendly PR now from Apple.
    And after reading this full article, one question comes in mind is that Is this article written by 9to5mac or Apple PR team to leak upcoming changes in Apple PR team?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. PMZanetti says:

    “Feature for feature, it’s identical to iPad Air in every way.”

    I’m confused. What is wrong with this statement?
    I have no idea where it comes from, I can only imagine it referred to iPad mini w/ Retina Display because that product IS INDEED feature for feature identical to iPad Air.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Jassi Sikand says:

      I think the idea was that if it’s identical, then why buy it? iPad Mini needed to be different that Air, not the same.

      Like

      • PMZanetti says:

        You mean…aside from the incredibly….extreme difference in size/weight/use case?

        In that way it was indeed appropriately different.

        In every other way, it was a functional iPad on the same level as the larger model. Aka a really good thing. Not a second class citizen just because it was also smaller.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. The press holds Apple to a standard much higher than any other company in this world. So many things have been taken our of proportions its not even funny. I still remember reading on the news paper that the iPad 3 was suffering of “heat-gate”, that was until they actually compared it to other tablets and realized that while the iPad 3 was indeed hotter than the iPad 2, in fact it was still cooler than most comparable tablets. We have everything from antenna-gate(nowhere as bad as claimed) to people complaining because their 3 years old handset got to slow with the latest software release(while most android devices don’t even get the latest firmware even within the same year they hit the market). I mean Apple has so little room for mistakes and the press still wonders about their tactics? Lol Dont be silly 9to5. The moment you get off Apple’s case they probably won’t have to resource so much to their damage control policy.

    Liked by 5 people

    • herb02135go says:

      Thanks for recapping the company’s failures.
      Fact is, if you get lost because of Maps, or Siri brings up pizza parlors when you want a phone number, then it’s a failure. A company can’t say “well, this is better than so-and-so.

      What ruins it are the bloggers and sheep who feel the company is above criticism. Criticism is how products evolve and innovate.

      What if Steve Jobs had said “ya know, a phone the size of a brick that only makes phone calls is good enough.”

      Liked by 6 people

      • I don’t think you got the point but I will summarize it for you. There is nothing wrong with critiquing Apple, there is something wrong with putting your focus mostly on Apple while turning an eye on everybody else. If you don’t think the media is constantly after Apple’s ass, the only one living in a reality distortion field is you.

        Liked by 3 people

      • standardpull says:

        Like how many times have people been led astray following Google maps? It happens all the time. But people don’t talk about it. “Oh, use lat/long to find my house in Google Maps” is a frequent occurrence.

        Liked by 2 people

  8. rogifan says:

    “Beautifully, unapologetically plastic”

    What exactly is wrong with this statement? Apple has produced many plastic products in its history. The anti-plastic snobbery isn’t really coming from Apple.

    Like

  9. herb02135go says:

    Three chapters in and I dislike the company even more.
    It’s tactics are Nixonian.

    Unfortunately, there is no media willing to stand up to the company.

    I’ve often suspected the company had Apple – controlled bloggers. Including on this website. They are subhuman.

    Like

    • His Shadow says:

      Give it a rest, soppy gob face. In light of the bald faced machinations of Samsung you think the fact that Apple has a PR department makes them “Nixonian”? Grow up.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. herb02135go says:

    Thank you for doing this work.
    What Apple does is, unfortunately, not unique.

    The fact that it, or any company, favors reporters and provides quicker access to favored reporters, should be cause for alarm and possibly legislation.

    Consumers will often make buying decisions after reading only early reviews. Since the early reviewers are favorable to the company they are biased and not reliable sources of accurate information.
    While I’ve not heard of a quid-pro-quo, it seems conspiratorial in nature.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. The biggest problem the media have and hate is the fact that apple is the one company that moves the needle considerably for them all the time and every time and they don’t like it. Look around the web, apple’s name gets inserted into just about every tech headlines even when the story has nothing to do with them. In 2012 the NYT won a pulitzer on apple’s back alone, that’s all you need to know. This site is no exception, I am a fan of the company, but frankly the media needs to stop going to that well so much. I know why they do it, in this day and age apple is the number one driver of traffic for tech whether it’s good or bad news about the company the sites win because their traffic numbers are guaranteed. For those having an issue with apple pr, I say grow up, those guys are not suppose to be your friends, their job is to do exactly what they have been doing, that’s what a pr person do and if the media have a problem with it then that means the pr folks at apple are doing their jobs.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. freediverx says:

    Sounds like someone didn’t get their Apple invitation.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. freediverx says:

    This was actually a good piece, if you can ignore the not so subtle anti-Apple vitriol.

    The anecdote about the Reuters article on accessibility was a perfect example. I read that story and the Tim Cook quote was surgically edited to completely change its meaning and tone. Apple wanted to change the narrative, and rightly so. The story was an entirely misleading hack job.

    I’m not surprised that Apple has a sophisticated PR team that helps get their message out, What company their size doesn’t? But nothing described in Gurman’s story seems unethical or improper to me in any way. If anything, it sounds like the writer is chronically butt hurt that he’s not in Apple’s “inside circle” – a notion that is evident in virtually every Apple-related tweet.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I think in the end, Steve Jobs–while he was a master salesman and in many ways a visionary–started to hurt Apple because his arrogant attitude on product design turned off a lot of people. (Indeed, one wonders would Jobs have approved the larger physical size of the two iPhone 6 models if he was still alive today.) And it really didn’t help when Jobs wanted to aggressively go after Google over Android back in 2010.

    Today, it appears that Apple has finally begun to shed the PR problems that Jobs caused. Note that Apple has really dialed down its legal cases against Android (with the exception of Samsung–but then, Samsung’s early touchscreen phones built between 2008 and 2010 as a response to the iPhone blatantly copied the iPhone in too many ways), and I really do believe that there may be an “behind the scenes” attempt by Apple and Google to settle the dispute once and for all–with an resolution coming in (my guess) early 2015.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. standardpull says:

    My favorite anti-Apple rant was the MacBook Pro heat sink compound fiasco.

    Apple used a lot of heat sink compound in the pro and it squished about. Some blogger in the press opened up his MBP and saw it. OMG this will prevent heat dissipation due to sloppy assembly! Of course any physicist will tell you that’s dumb, but next thing you know the press was reporting the situation as a problem as if it made sense. People with thermal probes thought they proved there was a problem, again showing the failings of high school physics. Apple was called to fix it, and the blogosphere was fired up.

    Of course, heat sink compound is an excellent conductor of heat and resulted in more surface area. Warmer air coming out of the MBP was because more heat was being ejected from the MBP. Which is exactly what the cooling system was designed to do.

    Press research? None. Press follow up once the truth became clear? None. Readers sent down the wrong path due to misinformation? Countless. Because saying you’re wrong doesn’t produce ad clicks.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. lifebyhugo says:

    Nice❤️❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I’ve learned of this blog while listening to Marketplace last week. I’ve since read and thoroughly enjoyed the depth of analysis and discussion each post delivers. This case study left me in awe. As a publicist, I can say that this has now become my go-to source for all things Apple.

    Liked by 4 people

  18. John Russell says:

    Apple’s only real innovation since 1990 is in marketing …..

    Liked by 2 people

    • jrox16 says:

      Guess you weren’t around in 2007 when they released this phone called the iPhone. It was amazing and today, every phone made basically follows it’s pattern. They also did a born-again on the tablet concept, and released this thing called an iPad in 2010, which set the design and bar for every tablet made today, now there are dozens of companies making hundreds of models, whereas before the iPad, there were none. Also around that time, they invented a laptop category called the “ultrabook”, which was a super thin, low power consumption, super light type of laptop which used SSD chips for storage and had no moving internal parts besides the cooling fan. It forced the other computer manufacturers to catch up and make ultrabooks too, which became extremely popular.

      You really should get out from under that rock and get some fresh air, it’s not healthy living down there man.

      Like

  19. Victor says:

    I would love iPhone for its fast response , the problem is the memory is not expandable .

    Like

  20. I don’t know, the press can get out of hand sometimes and mess a good thing up. You don’t want to be fake and over-guarded about your product, but you probably shouldn’t open yourself up to destructive criticism. It’s the name of the game to a certain extent, to have slogans like “Beautifully, unapologetically plastic.” You know how plastic is always apologizing for stuff.

    Like

  21. jrox16 says:

    Samsung taking detailed notes here….. ;-)

    Like

  22. bengir says:

    Wait… are you telling me that Apple has a PR section? Amazing!! That there are internal politics in the PR division? Incredible!!

    Seriously, interesting article-the part I will recall is simply: Apple is currently refreshing its PR department.

    But I feel that the big picture of why Apple is so successful with PR is missing in your article: you name all the elements but don’t mention why it all works together, or what makes it different from the competition. Seriously, does anyone think that Google does not spend time preparing its I/O conference in advance too or trying to influence news articles? Lol. I feel frustrated reading your article because many things described look like any other company’s PR department, but you present it in a way that suggests that there’s something extraordinary just because it’s Apple. Maybe it’s me.

    An example of what I mean: using “Tyrant” as a headline for Cathie Cotton seems unfair to me. While she might very well be a tyrant, her job is not to be nice, but to make people talk about Apple, and she managed in such a way that even writing an article about Apple’s own PR can create buzz! You could pay her respect for that :)

    Liked by 2 people

    • jrox16 says:

      Stop spreading lies, no other company has a shady PR department, they all are 100% honest and open about everything 100% of the time, especially Google, the most bestest and honest and super-duperous company ever forever, besides Samsung which is even more honest and pure and open about everything everywhere and doesn’t even have a PR team, they just let consumers tell people via the TV how great their stuff is, it’s so great and awesome, yaay.

      Like

  23. As a very disappointed owner of a MacbookPro early 2011, i hope that a more friendly marketing strategy for apple will be soon giving a adequate solution for al the owners of the same Mac i have. And in contrary with most replayers here i don’t have the impression that the press/media is more positive than negative about apple. Im my opinion to much positive as they don’t react even on there own discussionforum. Even after more than 500 pages and 8015 replays in less than a year. You can find the link here:

    https://discussions.apple.com/thread/4766577?start=8010&tstart=0

    There is even a petition started, and any support is welcome!

    http://www.change.org/en-AU/petitions/timothy-d-cook-replace-or-fix-all-early-2011-macbook-pro-with-graphics-failure

    Like

  24. His Shadow says:

    Sensationalist pap predicated on a conspiracy mindset. Obviously written by someone who does not realise that Apple has been constantly under the lens of the tech press for 30 years.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. My first job as a reporter was in 1987 covering Apple. For more than a decade after, I continued covering the company, through Jobs’ return. It never wavered in its philosophy around how it treated the press – as a nuisance and a threat. I’ve always thought Apple could have done better. This multi-part post fails to go as deep as I’d like, but it’s a decent overview of how Apple’s PR machine works says “http://battellemedia.com/”

    Like

  26. 007ebey says:

    Nice,secrets to apples sucess

    Liked by 1 person

  27. luwagga says:

    lovely piece however be aware of the back fire

    Like

  28. Contrary to Apples strategy…they have introduced a new download for iMovie, which has changed the control of the previous material (Movies). Apple has cancelled the possibility of the customer to book in one to one, unless he buys a new Laptop…????? Also cancelled going to Workshops on the subject of iMovies. I find this very frustrating and a bad policy.

    Like

  29. Or did the PR team direct you to get these stories out to tell the world about Apple becoming friendlier? :D

    Like

  30. tunedglobal says:

    enjoyable article regardless of what point of view you have, Its about freedom of speech no! good on you :-)

    Like

  31. timharrap says:

    Now we need an assessment by contrast of the google approach to PR.

    Like

  32. Ainsley says:

    Apple is one of the few companies (other than game makers) that get people excited to buy their latest releases.

    Like

  33. Povonte says:

    It’s nice to see you back, especially with such a lovely post.

    Like