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Apple, Google, Microsoft – how they really do PR

Posted by Danny Whatmough on 22nd May 2012

One of the questions I’m often asked is ‘as a tech PR, which technology company would you most like to do PR for?’ Many would be tempted to answer with one of the ‘big three’ – Google, Microsoft or Apple. However, I’ve often wondered whether this would be as satisfying experience as it might seem at first.

So I was interested to read a piece by tech journalist Charles Arthur giving his thoughts on how these three companies approach PR and what is like, as a journalist, doing business with them.

Charles has just completed a book looking at the companies in question and so knows a thing or two about their PR approach. He is clear initially to explain how ‘different’ doing PR is for these companies than for any other tech company in the industry:

“In contrast to the ‘big three’, the typical technology company – and someone doing their PR – has the opposite problem: getting people interested. With dozens of topics jostling for attention all the time, you need either a ‘fancy that!’ story (‘my website is actually powered by cats’ – no, I made that up) or to grab the coattails of a topical subject. From the number of phone calls and emails I get, my impression is the struggle for coverage can be desperate. Especially if you’ve over-promised how much national print coverage the client will get.”He takes each company in turn:

Apple – Secretive

“Apple’s PR approach is, generally, ‘we’ll say what we want, when we want, to whom we carefully choose’… Its approach has pretty much always been to let the products speak for themselves. In addition, secrecy is a big part of its success: Apple gets a giant publicity boost from letting expectation build up ahead of a new iPhone or product. “Apple has incredibly small [PR] teams proportional to its size and sales everywhere except its stores. Also, requests often get bounced back up to the mothership in Cupertino, California. Even when a subject is important, Apple may choose not to respond… There are no official Apple blogs. It doesn’t have an active presence on Facebook or Twitter”

Google – Off the record

“The modern Google hates to leave fingerprints. Google started out not being interested in PR – co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin used to chat to journalists in the very early days, but they didn’t really see the point in marketing. “There are few public faces in the company. And even in briefings, it prefers not to stick its head over the parapet. Read stories about Google in any country, and in time you’ll find the magic phrase ‘sources close to’, which actually means ‘the company, but unofficially’. The company itself offers few quotes. Instead there’s plenty of ‘guidance’ on offer for journalists, which of course can’t really be challenged in any formal way. No fingerprints, no traceability. Intriguing, for a company whose mission is ‘to organise the world’s information and make it accessible’.”

Microsoft – blog spin

“Of the three, Microsoft has the most businesses that can simply tick over. Windows and Office (which makes 105 per cent of its profits; five per cent then gets lost by various other divisions) don’t really need much day-to-day PR. “But once more, it’s hamstrung by the sheer size of the business. A UK query relating to something about its general business – say, to pin down a rumour about the Xbox, or the Zune software, or Windows Phone – has to ping over to Seattle, and will often vanish into the vast maw of operations there. That’s why so many journalists now rely on the MSDN (Microsoft Developer Network) blogs that Microsoft’s engineers write, because they feel authentic.”

Which works?

Charles doesn’t give a clear answer and reveals that he has respect for tech PRs, whether they are charged with protecting these three huge brands or building awareness of the millions of tech companies out there that dream of similar success. I for one believe that a more transparent PR policy is often best for smaller companies but, when it comes to the big three, they can really call the shots. As a PR, does that make life more or less interesting?

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