Apple Computer Inc. last week reorganized its sales and marketing groups aimed at education buyers, and brought back an exec from Apple’s early days to lead the effort. According to a companywide memo issued by Apple CEO Steve Jobs, the Cupertino, Calif. , company is combining its education sales and marketing teams into one education business unit that numbers more than 750. “For over 25 years, Apple has led the way in applying technology to education,” Jobs said in the memo. “The education market is part of our DNA. “Like most markets, the education market has become very competitive.
While we are continuing to innovate with new products, like the eMac, Xserve, Mac OS X and Remote Desktop, we also recognize the need to be more cohesive and responsive with our education sales and marketing efforts. ” Heading the new group as vice president, education, is John Couch. Couch served as vice president and general manager of Apple’s Personal Office Sales division, which oversaw development of the Lisa, Apple’s short-lived GUI forerunner to the original Macintosh. He was most recently CEO of DoubleTwist Inc. , an Oakland, Calif. , developer of software for the life sciences that ceased operations in March 2002.
Under the new organizational scheme, Couch will report to Timothy V. Cook, executive vice president, worldwide sales and operations; both the education sales team (headed by Jim Marshall) and the education marketing team will report to Couch. Cheryl Vedoe, former head of the education marketing team, is assuming the title of president of Apple’s PowerSchool division. Created by Apple’s March 2001 acquisition of PowerSchool, the group provides Web-based student information systems for K-12 schools and school districts. “The PowerSchool development, sales and marketing teams will now report to Cheryl, creating a ‘FileMaker Inc. style organization that has the single goal of making PowerSchool’s products successful in the education market,” Jobs wrote. FileMaker Inc. , Apple’s database division, was created when Jobs spun the company’s longstanding Claris software operation back into the company in January 1998. “PowerSchool has the potential to make our schools run more efficiently, and to dramatically enhance communication and collaboration among teachers, administrators, parents and students. This new organization will give us the best chance of realizing this potential. ” Apple officials declined to comment.
Apple’s education sales have had a rough ride in recent years. Jobs has acknowledged that the company mistimed its move to take over education sales from third-party distributors as of July 2000, just in time to throw the company’s fall 2000 educational buying season into disarray. Sources said the education misstep precipitated the departure of Senior Vice President of Worldwide Sales Mitchell Mandich, a longtime Jobs loyalist from his days at NeXT Software Inc. Apple moved aggressively to mend fences with education buyers, and the company has claimed its sales have since recovered.
However, some observers speculated that the decision to open the all-in-one eMac system to the retail channel a scant five weeks after introducing it for education buyers only reflects persistent softness in education sales. I started writing this article the morning after the media vultures started picking over Steve Jobs’ resignation carcass. Why add more fuel to the Apple fire, I thought. It has been “Apple this” and “Apple that” for longer than I care to remember. So I put down my notes. Now, more than five weeks later, the world has not ended with Steve Jobs no longer at Apple’s helm.
Its shares have not plummeted. The iPhone 5 will likely dominate 2011 holiday sales. And, in the process, Apple became the most valuable company on the stock market. Life continues, and so I write. Give an apple to the teacher, as the cliche goes, and you stand a better chance of getting in their good books. But in a very real sense, for the better part of its existence, Apple has been the company that has given us the apple and kept the public relations spinmeisters and media industry singing the company’s praises – right down to its very core.
So how has Apple kept us plugged in? Consider this: Twenty-five years ago tech was geek. Majorly geek. Tech was for nerds who were shunned by the masses. They were the ones who rode bikes or skateboards when we bought our first shiny BMW. They discovered iPods while we were still ooohing at clunky MP3 players. We got hammered at parties while they wrote code wired on Mountain Dew. Who’s laughing now? They are, all the way to their tech-stock engorged portfolios. Today, tech is tres, tres chic, and much of that chic transformation goes to Apple.
It is not every day that a balding, lanky, somewhat geeky man can command the stage, holding a twinkling device that promises the universe but is only a phone/music player/tablet attain rock star status. Yet, Steve Jobs and Apple have done just that, launching hit, after hit. As Kool and The Gang sang back in the ’80s, “He’s got the Midas Touch. ” In the PR trade, it is usually us who are the ones drawing the lines and making the rules – or we like to think so anyway. In the case of Apple, however, we have been entranced – or is it enchanted? – right along with consumers.
I cannot image doing our work without an iSomething to hand and it is hard to imagine a world without Apple. The Apple R&D folks create what often kicks off long and gushing reviews of the company’s line of firsts, but it is the marketing department which really goes to town on the behind-the-scenes work – even though it goes out of its way to appear not to. Not all about what’s under the tech hood While we sell our well-honed communications skills – skills that are supposed to help our clients develop strategies that communicate their messages with pinpoint accuracy – Apple’s PR strategy has been the opposite.
Obfuscate, block, and say nothing. Mix that in with lots of hype, cult-like adoration and oodles of staging, and you have the only brand that is globally tolerated for its “magic of misdirection. ” Any other brand would be excommunicated from the journalism world, but not Apple. Take the iPhone 5 prototype “accident” from a few weeks ago. Left at a bar, the only prototype available. Just like that. A similar watering hole mishap occurred last year with the iPhone 4. Although Apple says nothing, the publicity rumor mill speeds away at over four megabits a second. Did Apple deliberately lose a new phone to generate buzz?
Was it to lap Android in a sort of subtle way, “We’ve done it again, you suckers? ” Even if the iPhone 5’s loss was a five-alarm fire of genuine concern does not much matter. Nineteenth-century showman P. T. Barnum is often credited with the expression, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity. ” Mr. Jobs and Apple have polished that phrase to an all new sheen. Apple, truly, has broken all conventions when it comes to media and PR strategy, from allegedly misleading the press – Electronic Games, 2007; the delayed Korea launch – to letting its fanatics have a free-for-all without saying much to deflate some, at times, far-fetched theories.
As someone with a vested professional interest in damage control, I have to admit that Apple is a PR treat to devour. Instead of taming the media beast with a crisis strategy or even strategically controlled messaging, it has let the media beast feed on itself by strategically saying nothing at all. Think about for that a couple of minutes. For all the talk of CEOs and corporate communications teams stepping up and commenting the second a negative tweet or blog post appears, Apple has done the opposite. Its lack of response when it comes to conjecture only makes any actual responses all the more poignant.
Company that talks little but says much Since Apple is regularly seen as observers in the melee, when it does speak, we listen. Notable instances include the company’s denial of tracking iPhone and iPad users – which we know is a lie; we are tracked and yet we still do not much care – or when Steve Jobs’ illness was finally clarified (way more serious than we thought). Both instances could have been far more damaging for any other brand. But Apple’s product launch rumors and news kept us magically distracted. In late April, we were talking about the tracking rumors.
By mid-May, we were discussing a new product launch – a 180-degree turnaround in just 15 business days. When we were talking about Mr. Jobs’ health issues – for the third time – in January 2011, we were also knee-deep in iPad 2 news. His health, it seemed, played second fiddled to the life-changing promise of the iPad 2. Humility: Great for philosophers, the religious, and repentant politicians during an election cycle; bad for Mr. Jobs and Apple. Perhaps I am being too harsh: the media industry is human, after all, and we are suckers for strong personalities, bravado or otherwise.
In 1983, Apple, still a seedling of its present self, launched the ambitious Lisa computer. With a staggering near-$10,000 price tag – $21,589 in today’s dollars – Mr. Jobs and Apple aggressively marketed their product. Confidence may not have helped sell Lisa to a price-conscious consumer – Lisa was pretty much dead on arrival – but similar stances on a myriad of Apple products since have ultimately turned it from a computer company to an icon. To infinity and beyond If Apple 1. 0 –it is first iteration – spanned from the company’s 1976 founding to Mr. Jobs’ 1985 departure and 1997 return, Apple 2. spanned from 1997 to Aug. 24, 2011, the day the 56-year-old announced his resignation as Apple CEO, due to mounting health complications. So under this calculation, the PR world and the rest of us Apple fans are only a few weeks into the era of Apple 3. 0. Will our enchantment continue with Steve Jobs out of the picture? Even with his downsized role – Mr. Jobs was appointed chairman of the board of directors after relinquishing the CEO’s post to company chief operating operator Tim Cook – it seems unlikely that Apple will become rotten, or that media interest will sour.
We have too much of ourselves invested in this brand. Whatever Apple keeps putting in its magic potion is unlikely to wear off with Mr. Cook at the helm. Unless, of course, Mr. Cook changes up the ingredients. This may include becoming more media friendly and being less secretive, and generally telling us what we want to hear – and when we want to hear it. That is a strategy generally employed by most brands – transparency and responsiveness. As long as Apple stays away from doing that, we have nothing to fear.