October 13, 2022 |

11 minutes

Learning from the masters - Exploring the Secrets to Apple's PR Strategy

Apple is renowned for its groundbreaking products that revolutionized how we live. With each product release, Apple dazzles us with its ability to capture users' excitement and, more importantly, live up to the hype. Behind this lies a well-tuned PR machine that has almost as much to do with Apple's success as the products themselves. Apple's public relations, as we'll see, is heads and shoulders above the competition. Here we delve into the secrets of Apple's public relations strategy.

How do Apple's PR strategies work?

Apple's innovative, high-quality products have built up a diehard fanbase over the years, with Apple enthusiasts going to great lengths to pick up the latest iPhone on release. You may recall people camping overnight outside stores so they can get the newest edition on the day it is released. The brand is a master of innovative marketing and PR strategies. There is something unconventional about Apple's public relations strategy. However, it is also highly effective. Among the PR and marketing strategies used by the company to significant effect are:

1. Less is more

Nothing highlights Apple's marketing genius more than how it handles new product launches. Apple leaks a small amount of information about upcoming product launches, which fuels the rumor mill. As everyone braces for Apple's latest innovation, the rumor mill is busy creating mockups, ideas, and conspiracy theories. We get caught up in suspense. Our minds work overtime as we all go off in 100 different directions contemplating the ideas that Apple could come up with. This helps create a genuine buzz around the announcement. Apple is famously secretive about upcoming products, playing it cool til the end. When Apple announced the launch date, they hid what many took as a secret message. Consumers were captivated by the media and bloggers' speculations about the news. By clever marketing, Apple could get a lot of PR coverage without doing a thing, and the 'secret' referred to the HomePod mini device.

During this time, however, it's important to note that they gave away no information, and by doing so, what do they promise? Well, absolutely nothing. This meant nobody could be disappointed, as they had no specific expectations of the product in the first place. The only thing people did expect was the strength of the brand, its innovation, creativity, and utility. It is the promise of the brand which they do keep. This is always what Apple delivers.

2. Keep the product in short supply

A tried and tested formula for keeping a product in demand is to keep it in short supply. It is not by accident that we see huge lines of people standing outside stores on the day of a new iPhone release. Apple famously understocks to create hysteria up to the day of a product launch. The queues garner press attention and, consequently, lots of free publicity. Genius! Indeed the publicity aspect is the number one aim here. Most companies would make as many products as possible if they knew they could sell them. Apple prefers to restrict production to create scarcity to fuel demand. The feeling of wanting something we can’t have is very powerful, and Apple plays it to full effect.

3. Product differentiation

By positioning its products as sophisticated, cool, and upmarket, Apple differentiates itself from other tech rivals who market theirs as inexpensive and functional. In turn, they create followers who are attracted to the edginess of their products. Similar to their product differentiation is how they choose to communicate the message surrounding it. Apple is a master at creating an "us and them" feeling that sets them apart from competitors.

Combined with the sense of exclusivity Apple promotes with its product launches, these ads make Apple's customers feel elite and ahead of the curve. Millions of Apple fans worldwide prove this Apple PR strategy works. The best part is that this approach builds customer loyalty like no other. Many Apple customers exclusively use their products because of the rich ecosystem Apple has developed. Today, they're not just bits of technology but part of who we are.

Apple sets itself apart with its exclusivity. Apple "rewards" its loyal fanbase in its PR strategy by promoting the idea that they are different. They've managed to hone in on these types of consumers successfully. By tapping into this, they've created social media digital communities that have helped carry the brand and its message. Apple has built relationships with its customers, investors, and other businesses through social networking sites. These are far more powerful than glossy product adverts.

4. Creative at heart

Apple associates itself with the idea of creativity and originality. Since the early 2000s, Apple products have enjoyed popularity among creative professionals, thanks to Apple's operating systems and UI that emphasize ease of use and quality. This goes hand in hand with creative work and attracts customers who are also innovative to buy and use their products. Throughout Apple's history, creative industries have been its stronghold. In specific industries, such as film, Apple products are the norm for use. Apple cultivates a community that shares its values in this way. Its public relations strategy is targeted and efficient because Apple identifies and focuses on the creative niche. Apple has heavily invested in product placement in film and music, helping to position its brand.

5. Crisis handling

How you handle a crisis says a lot about your brand, and Apple has had a few crises. A notable one was a severe mistake in pricing when the iPhone was reduced by error to $200. Steve Jobs wrote an open letter apologizing to all customers and admitted the mistake. To handle the crisis, Jobs announced that the company would give a $100 discount to anyone who bought an iPhone. The response was praised worldwide. The company got positive publicity as a result, allowing Apple's reputation to shine throughout the world. This was a unique way of handling a problem.

In 2010, People who bought the iPhone 4 quickly discovered that when held in the left hand, its bars vanished or calls ceased altogether. This could have had the potential to destroy Apple's reputation. Especially considering that anyone could discover this themselves by gripping the phone and observing the bars. Apple's reputation was tarnished for several weeks. The issue was resolved by mid-July, however, and almost forgotten. How it was handled was different from how almost any other company would take it. First, the customer was sent an email advising them to grip it from the left slide differently or get a case instead. Apple reminded people that this trait is common to all wireless phones. They did not apologize nor take ownership. They were upfront about how to "solve" the problem.

A few more weeks later a press conference was held where this was reiterated. However, Apple acknowledged that in some future software update, they would "correct" the algorithm that they used to convert signal strength to bars. But as for the phone antenna issue, Apple did not offer a fix. Apple later offered free cases to people who had the issue, but not immediately. Conventional PR rules may have suggested doing this right away, but Apple is not conventional. They did so because consumer groups had suggested it.

Usually, in times of crisis, you would avoid comparisons with competitors. Apple did the opposite, highlighting that the antenna drops off on competitor phones, sharing videos of such for over a month! Consequently, the competitor denials became meaningless. This also revealed the antenna issue to be a known industry secret and that their competitor's outrage was fake. This showed incredible transparency and that Apple could be trusted. It also highlighted their position as an industry leader.

Why is Apple PR so successful?

To understand why Apple is so successful, we need to go back to 1997 when Apple was still going through a period of recovery after a sharp fall in sales. Its operating system was in the dark ages, and its products were expensive and uninspiring. This changed when Steve Jobs took over again and changed the company’s messaging and product design. The innovative products, masterful marketing, and counter-culture approach of Apple would win over the critics during this time. PR played a considerable role in this turnaround.

For the new and improved version of Apple, it needed to reach out to people and make products that they wanted. The products needed to be easy to use and easy to understand. Part of this approach meant communicating as simply as possible, and we mean simply. Apple press releases were designed to be understood by children. No jargon was to be included. The idea was there would be no point in writing a press release if people couldn’t easily understand it. Press releases were approved and often rewritten by Steve Jobs himself. It is well known that Steve Jobs used to approve press releases personally. The brand ensured a consistent description for products. PR releases came from the top down. Press releases only tended to be released for brand-new products or company milestones. This contributed to a sense of exclusivity or rarity. Reporters and the public soon became aware of this.

Apple would famously provide detailed product briefings to reporters and tech influencers, explaining the product’s features and why they were designed in that way. They would do personal demonstrations. After, Apple, would follow up to probe how their story was going and to check if they had any questions. If there were any shifting away from what Apple felt the key message was, they would be subtly corrected. Apple also gave them a number to ring for technical support, which was open 24/7. This helped Apple control the narrative it wanted to tell.

Apple had a strong focus on market positioning. If reporters contacted Apple, which did not fit in with Apple’s mission, they would be denied access to press conferences. This also was a great time saver. Who they did pick to deliver their message was of crucial importance to their PR success. The PR team aimed to share the innovativeness and uniqueness of Apple products with reporters who underwood the message. They were offered interviews or the first chance to do product reviews. From here, a tiered approach was used whereby they expanded to regional reporters. This was all part of cultivating the brand, Apple’s greatest asset.

An ex-workers view of the most relevant PR tactics learned from Apple

Here are some key takeaways from an ex-employee who worked in PR for Apple for ten years

  1. Strive to become an expert in your field.
  2. Define your key messages.
  3. Build relations with journalists, media influencers, and key industry analysts. Help them. Give them exclusives.
  4. Respect your brand. It is your key asset.
  5. Time is very important. Use it wisely
  6. Simplicity in messaging is key.

Apple’s PR in action

Before launch, Apple successfully created a buzz around the iPhone 5 to attract customers, gain the media's interest and promote sales. There were many rumors about what features it would have. When it was finally launched, more than two million iPhone 5 devices were purchased within the first 24 hours of pre-ordering.

In fact, before the release of almost every new Apple product, Apple fan the flames of anticipation by providing virtually no information. The brand's 2020 iPhone 12 release was kept a total secret for months before, with invites sent out only one week before the press event. But that was not the end. When it did come, the launch announcement contained what many considered a secret hidden message. Apple got plenty of PR coverage without doing anything when the “secret” referenced the HomePod mini device, which was announced at the event. This a perfect example of the genius PR that sets them apart.

In summary, after designing the latest must-have innovation of the year, Apple stays silent. Hints may be given to engage community groups, the press, and the public in discussions. Apple then picks or uses their go-to outlets whom they trust to deliver their message, giving first access to see and test their offerings (all meticulously packaged), and checking in with them to see how their story is progressing shortly after. A week before any announcement, selected invites are sent to the event. Then comes the announcement and unveiling of the product. Worldwide press coverage follows, the product goes on release (in short supply initially), then after, huge sales!

From beginning to end, Apple’s PR strategy involves meticulous planning to the last detail.

Conclusion

Going against the grain requires a unique mindset, and Apple took a different approach from its rivals. Apple is recognized as one of the most effective PR machines in the world. One of the main reasons for this is their ability to control and shape the narrative of their products. Apple is consistent in its branding. Every Apple public appearance is carefully crafted before customers get their first chance to see a new product. Advance briefings to chosen writers and early review opportunities for pre-screened media outlets are just some ways they do this. Everything is cleverly orchestrated. In the rare case of a mishap or crisis, this is quickly remedied to “solve” the problem and is used to put the brand in a good light. Apple has been the master at cultivating a community of customers that shares its vision. Its public relations strategy is targeted and highly effective, and arguably among the best in the world.

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