Few companies have survived as many hardships as Apple. From the successful early days to the failure of the Newton, their unsuccessful battle in the PC market, and the re-imagining of the company as a specialist in easy to use consumer electronics. Along the way, Apple has suffered several PR disasters. One of the most memorable ones was the ill-advised decision to slash the price of the 8GB iPhone, and to kill the 4GB model, just two months after they were released on market.
What sets Apple apart from other companies is that Apple managed to use crisis communications to turn what could have been a crippling PR disaster into a flurry of publicity. Yes, tech bloggers called it a PR disaster and enthusiasts and early adopters cursed the company at every opportunity, but the end result was a positive outcome for Apple. Their PRs used crisis management training to make sure that everyone, yes, everyone, knew about Apple and knew that the iPhone had been given a price cut. They did this by staying out of the buzz. There was no damage control, no threats, and no backtracking. They let the bloggers, the evangelists, and the journalists do the talking until Steve Jobs himself stepped up to make a statement.
An Open Letter to the Early Adopters
Steve Jobs responded with some picture-perfect crisis communications, and acted well from a customer service point of view too. He acknowledged the issue at hand (the price cut), and offered a rebate to Apple and AT&T customers, to thank them for being customers. He explained that he believed he was doing the right thing with the price cut – that he wanted to “go for it this holiday season”. He wanted Apple to make it to the mainstream.
The response from the tech blogger community was amazing. The early adopters appreciated the gesture, and the tech community as a whole stopped talking about the price cut, and started talking about the future of the company.
The Payoff of Crisis Management Training
When Steve Jobs returned to Apple and launched the iPhone, iPod, and other products in that line, he catapulted the company to new heights. As a spokesman for the company, he did an amazing job, and he managed to save the reputation of the company on several occasions.
Jobs’ communication skills got people talking about Apple, and got people discussing exactly the things that he wanted them to do.
While it’s true that most companies do not have a figurehead as well known or as popular as the late Steve Jobs, that doesn’t mean that they can’t learn from the crisis communications skills he displayed. Innovation doesn’t always pay off, but transparency, communication, and passion do. If you’re going to do something bold and daring with your company and your products, then it pays to bring your most enthusiastic customers on board. Keep them informed, and they will be your strongest allies during difficult times.
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