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Apple The Media News

How Apple Orchestrates Controlled Leaks, and Why 195

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the bite-of-fruit dept.
Lanxon writes "'I was a Senior Marketing Manager at Apple and I was instructed to do some controlled leaks,' confesses John Martellaro. Monday's article at the Wall Street Journal, which provided confirmation of an Apple tablet device, had all the earmarks of a controlled leak. Here's how Apple does it. Often Apple has a need to let information out, unofficially. The company has been doing that for years, and it helps preserve Apple's consistent, official reputation for never talking about unreleased products. The way it works is that a senior exec will come in and say, 'We need to release this specific information. John, do you have a trusted friend at a major outlet? If so, call him/her and have a conversation. Idly mention this information and suggest that if it were published, that would be nice. No e-mails!'"
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How Apple Orchestrates Controlled Leaks, and Why

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  • More like applie (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tobor the Eighth Man (13061) on Wednesday January 06, 2010 @09:05AM (#30668930)

    It's worth noting that if Apple were a smaller company, this sort of behavior would (or should, you can always find more shills) get doors slammed in its face at media outlets pretty fast. There's two reasons why it doesn't: 1. They're probably well-connected enough that they could always find someone else to leak their supposed "info," either through naievete or just apathy, and 2. They're so big that exclusive Apple news is a big plus, even if it turns out to be false or misleading.

  • Re:duh? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 06, 2010 @09:07AM (#30668948)

    I think the point of the article is

    "OMG Apple does what everyone else does.. but they're supposed to be all lovely and nice and cool and they love bunnies and kittens and would never do things like that."

  • everyone does it (Score:3, Insightful)

    by alen (225700) on Wednesday January 06, 2010 @09:15AM (#30669010)

    did you really think all those dumb unboxing youtube videos of the Pre and other cell phones where they don't show anything weren't official marketing? if it really was someone who stole a copy then they would show off every feature on the internet so all the internet peoplez would think they are cool

  • Re:duh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bondsbw (888959) on Wednesday January 06, 2010 @09:21AM (#30669080)

    "OMG Apple does what everyone else does..."

    Not really. Most companies freely brag about their unreleased products in order to gain hype. Apple has everybody else brag about their products to gain hype. That keeps them legit and makes it hard to accuse them of announcing vaporware.

  • Stocks? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by retech (1228598) on Wednesday January 06, 2010 @09:27AM (#30669142)
    I'd love to see some data about company insiders and their stock purchasing/selling in relation to the "leaks". There are a few people making a shitload of $$$ off of the leaks. And if they are not then I'd be shocked. The last WSJ "leak" shot appl stock way up and my first thought was: someone is having a nice Christmas bonus.
  • by snowwrestler (896305) on Wednesday January 06, 2010 @09:38AM (#30669292)

    I work in politics and government and to give Apple much credit for this is sort of laughable. Let's just say that if they tried to patent it, there would be plenty of prior art.

    Some people will look at this and think "that's why Apple is so successful at building buzz." It's only partly true. Every company leaks, but not every company gets a NY Times story and 100 blog echoes. The leaks work so well because Apple is a hot, popular company. They don't, by themselves, make Apple a hot, popular company.

  • Re:duh? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by falcon5768 (629591) <[Falcon5768] [at] [comcast.net]> on Wednesday January 06, 2010 @09:54AM (#30669502) Journal
    But that goes to my other point. It was obvious Think Secret from the getgo was getting TRUE insider information, and not controlled leaks, as they leaked products that NEVER made it to market sometimes and it did cause Apple a lot of trouble.
  • by BobMcD (601576) on Wednesday January 06, 2010 @09:59AM (#30669552)

    The coverup is far worse than the crime, especially when there might not have even been a crime in the first place.

    Ergo, Bill Clinton almost-impeachment. It isn't necessarily illegal for the President to have sex with an intern in the Oval Office. It might have been sexual harassment, and an investigation was tenuously warranted, but lying to the investigators is certainly illegal.

    Unlike Martha, however, Bill got basically zero in terms of actual punishment for his crime.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 06, 2010 @10:03AM (#30669602)
    Posting Anon as I've already modded in this discussion: That's illegal (and highly unethical from a journalist's standpoint) without getting consent. And reporters don't want to burn bridges in any event. No legit reporter would break important rules for something as unimportant as tech gossip.
  • Re:Ethics (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Sockatume (732728) on Wednesday January 06, 2010 @10:04AM (#30669616)

    For any publicly-trade company, acting to benefit the company is actually one of the fundimental ethical principles. If you act in a way that drops the company's stock price you're essentially shredding other people's money. Sneaky but harmless media-baiting to improve a product's chance of success is the right ethical choice in that framework. It's not ethical from the journalistic perspective, of course.

  • News?.... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by vectorstream (784843) on Wednesday January 06, 2010 @10:15AM (#30669736)
    How's that any f@cking news to begin with?....If your leak looks like advertisement on the hush-hush it usually is. Disinformation campaign 101 - only its' not some spook agency , it's some corporate entity behind it. Apple has to do a lot more of this crap as so many of their sales are to consumers so the the whole FUD strategy has to be rehashed every quarter or so.
  • Re:duh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Idaho (12907) on Wednesday January 06, 2010 @10:21AM (#30669808)

    Not really. Most companies freely brag about their unreleased products in order to gain hype. Apple has everybody else brag about their products to gain hype.

    Exactly, a perfect example can be found here [nytimes.com]. Look how the article says "Microsoft and H.P. to Reveal Slate PC Ahead of Apple", and then proceeds with "The slate will be made by Hewlett-Packard and possibly available by mid-year, these people said."

    Possibly available by mid-year. Right. It's the typical Microsoft strategy of announcing a product before the competitor, hoping that this will deter people from buying the competitors product. At least when Apple announces anything, you know you can order it from the Apple store the next day.

  • Re:Ethics (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Sockatume (732728) on Wednesday January 06, 2010 @10:58AM (#30670410)

    Precisely! From our outside ethical perspective, is the net total of the benefit to Apple's shareholders plus the penalty to media integrity greater than zero? Apple's stock price went up three cents around the leak, is that the price of journalistic integrity?

  • Re:Ethics (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ekimminau (775300) <eak@kimminau.org> on Wednesday January 06, 2010 @11:16AM (#30670768) Homepage Journal
    This is no such thing as "business ethics". There is only "ethics".
  • Re:duh? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Dorkmaster Flek (1013045) on Wednesday January 06, 2010 @11:22AM (#30670874)
    I don't think he meant literally the next day, but his point is valid. When Apple announces something, it doesn't disappear after many delays as vaporware.
  • by dangitman (862676) on Wednesday January 06, 2010 @11:31AM (#30670994)

    Look at the iPod, it wasn't exactly the largest media player at the time, nor did it have the most specs.

    In portable music players, largest is not best. The iPod succeeded because it was the smallest hard-drive based player on the market. As far as specs go, you're wrong. It was the most advanced product on the market. It had Firewire for transferring music, while everybody else had USB 1. It had a nice screen and menu navigation system, while everybody else had clunky controls like a portable CD player, and very limited LCD displays.

  • Re:More like Apple (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Tobor the Eighth Man (13061) on Wednesday January 06, 2010 @11:50AM (#30671288)

    I think you're assuming I'm saying something good or bad about Apple in general, but in fact all I'm doing is observing that their media strategy would not work for most companies.

    Media is a business, and as much as the media likes to portray itself as gung ho and unconventional, you can't play rough unless you're so big (or so influential) that rejecting you is going to hurt them. Again, this is why Apple's size (and influence, more importantly) lets them get away with it.

    Most of the time, the business of news is run by pretty convention business etiquette. Just like a reporter can't repeatedly ambush sources and expect to keep getting interviews (unless they're hugely influential), a company can't constantly play hardball and expect to get coverage (again, unless they're very influential, like Apple is).

    Dodgy leaks and questionable denials may seem like a good business strategy, but try it as a more low-key player from a smaller company and see how far you get with your PR strategy.

  • Re:duh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tlhIngan (30335) <.slashdot. .at. .worf.net.> on Wednesday January 06, 2010 @12:10PM (#30671612)

    At least when Apple announces anything, you know you can order it from the Apple store the next day.

    The iPhone was announced on January 9, 2007. It went on sale on June 29, 2007.

    But hey, don't let a little thing like reality get in the way of your faith.

    That's because the FCC was going to "leak" it first if it wasn't announced. It's part of FCC policy. And heck, the FCC bent to Apple in allowing the documents describing the iPhone (manuals, RF tests, photos inside and out, etc) be held confidential until after the announcement. Then everyone went nuts on the FCC's website downloading manuals and photos and all that.

    Hell, there are people whose sole daily activity involve scanning the FCC database for new products and publishing the results - it's how we find out about new cellphones and gadgets way before they're announced.

    But hey, never let a little government regulation get in the way of a good argument.

  • by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Wednesday January 06, 2010 @01:02PM (#30672398) Homepage

    I think you're on to something, but the reasons are a little more complicated than, "they want to release gadgets in generations".

    First is the fact that their development method is just different from a lot of other companies. Most companies take an idea an idea like a portable MP3 player and say, "Lets put every feature we can into this thing for launch. I want it to have a radio, and have it play lots of games, and maybe have a built-in toaster oven!" So they make a list of features and put them all into a prototype. They polish the prototype until it kind of works, and then release that design as a product. In its first version, it only kind of works, but has lots of problems from having a lot of not-quite-ready features crammed in. They try to fix these problems in the next version.

    In contrast, if Apple sets out to design an mp3 player, then there's a decent chance that the product will only have 1 major feature: playing mp3s. Instead of making the first version have loads of features, they'll spend their development time making sure that using the product as an mp3 player is easy, intuitive, and works very well. They'll add features over the next few versions, but they'll do so relatively slowly because each time, they're making sure the new features are integrated well into the existing design.

    Those are two different design philosophies which bring different results. In the first way of doing things, you start with a more feature-rich product, but in the second way you start with a more polished product.

    Beyond that, there's something else going on in Apple's marketing that is pretty obvious once you notice it, but a lot of people don't notice it. Most tech manufacturers are constantly trying to introduce new products and drive down the price. When Apple introduces a new product, they tend to keep the price stable for a very long time. Watch iPod prices or Macbook prices, and you'll notice that the price very rarely goes down. As new technology comes out, Apple keeps upgrading the product to be smaller, lighter, or more feature rich in order to justify the current price, but they don't really drop the price.

    It's worth understanding that the price points are often chosen by marketing, and then a product is designed to fit that price. I believe the first iPod was $400, and right now that's also the price of the most expensive iPod. There's a reason for this. It's not that Apple couldn't create a really snazzy $700 iPod, but that if they did, Jobs would probably say, "Let's put that on ice until we can make it cheaper." Ultimately, they don't want to release a $700 iPod and then two years later sell the same iPod for $400. Along with everything else, that creates the impression of a product whose value is dropping. They'd much rather sell a crappy $400 iPod this year and then two years later sell you the super-snazzy iPod for $400, so that you have the impression of a product which preserves its value by continually improving.

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