Posts Tagged ‘Apple’

Malus Domestica

April 22, 2011

Well, how fitting that we now know what kind of Apple Steve Jobs runs — Northern Spy.  It makes very good pies, but does it make good public relations?  We’re prompted to ask this question because once again Apple has stayed true to its practice of not commenting with regard to allegations about its retention of data about IPhone users’ locations.  This is consistent with its previous posture re Steve Job’s state of health and questions about stock options.  The almost universal admiration of the company (some might call it adulation) in spite of this habit occasionally causes corporate communications practitioners to ask — “opacity seems to work for Apple.  Why shouldn’t I try it?”  The answer is not as simple as it might seem.  Some might say this posture has worked well for Apple, causing  past critical storylines to wither for lack of the oxygen provided by a company response.  However, it seems to us, that it requires a level of intestinal fortitude, the willingness to put up with high levels of negative speculation, that is realistically only available to a company like Apple.  Steve Jobs is truly one of a kind and arguably even titans such as Jack Welch, Lou Gerstner and Bill Gates would have had trouble pulling off this consistent silence.  The  great Warren Buffett himself will be hard pressed to say nothing about the resignation of David Sokol at his upcoming annual meeting even though he is unlikely to go beyond what he has said previously. So the lesson here seems to be that, for most companies, consistent and reasonable transparency is the safest posture.  Once again, we will have to leave pregnant silence to the man in the black turtleneck.

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Opacity Redux

July 29, 2010

Two separate but parallel discussions recently have caused us to revisit the issue of transparency and its bad-tempered twin, opacity.  Back in the early 2000s, we helped pioneer something called the Opacity Index which measured the extent to which a country’s sovereign borrowing costs and levels of foreign direct investment were impacted by levels of corruption, regulatory capriciousness, administrative speed, judicial transparency and a number of other factors.  In this index, opacity was bad and transparency good.  Similarly, in the fraught field of crisis communications,  the gold standard of crisis response has been ever higher levels of transparency.  Stakeholders, in this theory, are kinder to companies that are quickly and comprehensively disclosive.  And then we looked at Apple and BP.

In response to early complaints about signal strength and dropped calls with its latest IPhone, Apple was at first unresponsive, then petulant, before finally offering customers a “bumper” to put around their phone.  BP, by contrast, almost instantly flew its CEO to the Gulf, and while there have been many spoken gaffes, it has apparently been completely transparent and disclosive throughout the long unfolding of  the well capping process.  In spite of its sour behavior, Apple has sold boatloads of the new phone.  In spite of its attempts to be transparent in real-time, BP’s reputation continues to sink to new lows.

We are not suggesting a return to the evasive stonewalling at Three Mile Island in the 1970s, but is there, in fact, a lesson about corporate transparency to be learned from the Apple/BP contrast?  We’re not quite sure what it is, but it is telling that some of the most unfortunate moments for BP involved comments from Hayward and Svanberg about their feelings and the least appealing aspect to the IPhone story was the emotional disdain expressed by Steve Jobs for the media.  In the era of social networking, corporations are striving to find a voice that suits the intimacy and informality of the new medium.  This is proving more difficult than some had hoped.  Having a strong brand helps, but when the chips are down, people want corporations to get things right, not express their feelings.  The “get it” factor may be over-rated.

Human Costs of the Global Supply Chain

May 26, 2010

According to The New York Times, Foxconn, the Taiwanese company suffering from an unexplained spate of employee suicides, has 420,000 employees at just two manufacturing sites in China.  An eleventh victim took his life just hours after the company apparently announced that it would ask employees to sign a contract promising not to harm themselves or others.

In a sign that American companies grasp the reputational ramifications of events in their extended supply chains, Business Week reports that Apple and Dell are investigating Foxconn’s strategy for dealing with the problem.  This is a crucial step forward and goes significantly beyond the passive monitoring schemes that have been the conventional response.  Certainly, many American companies have switched suppliers found guilty of  ethical lapses, but intervening directly in this manner represents, we would argue, a qualitative shift.  The speedy response is admirable and it will be fascinating to see whether there are collateral effects.  What about the workplace practices of the suppliers to the suppliers and how far down the supply chain do American companies need to be alert?  Will IPhone customers tolerate learning about factory cities of 200,00 in which 22-year olds much like themselves work on assembly lines that move every seven seconds, as one worker quoted by Business Week stated?  We can only hope that other electronics brands for whom Foxconn manufactures smartphones have their statements at the ready.  You know who you are.