The Apple-Gizmodo Affair…Publicity Stunt or Accident?

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Having been in the high-tech marketing and public relations industry for decades and as president of MarkeTech, I find it hard to believe that this Apple-Gizmodo affair was an “accident.” An Apple employee inadvertently leaves the next-gen iPhone prototype in a bar. Really? Someone picks it up and just happens to sell it to Gizmodo for $5,000. Are you serious? From where I sit, this looks more like a brilliant publicity stunt and calculated press leak to build anticipation.

As a former principal at Regis McKenna, Inc. (RMI), the firm that launched Apple, I can tell you that every move, every message, the timing and substance of communications with press and analysts, were always carefully choreographed by Apple down to the last detail. Nothing was leaked “accidentally.” RMI employees couldn’t even share information with other in-house personnel who were not on the Apple account.

While at RMI, my team had wrapped up a marathon session on Motorola’s launch of the industry’s first wireless LAN. My team and I, along with a group of Motorola engineers, dashed to O’Hare airport. Two days later Motorola called. Which one of us had left confidential

company documents on the plane? Panicked by the threat of losing the client, we all checked our files and accounted for every document in our possession. Two days later Motorola called back to tell us that a Motorola employee had inadvertently left the errant papers on the plane. A passenger on a subsequent flight had found them and mailed them back to the company’s HR department. 

Six months later, lightning struck again. I was shepherding Motorola techies all over Manhattan on an extensive pre-launch market analyst briefing tour. Out of the blue, a Motorola spokesman discovered that the “show-and-tell” wireless access point prototype was missing. After frantic phone calls and retracing our steps, the prototype was recovered from the trunk of a taxi.

My point is that when accidental “stuff happens,” businesses take swift corrective action. No fanfare. No publicity. No evening news headlines. No segments on The Daily Show. The “old” tight-security Apple I knew would never have allowed its next iPhone to be taken to a bar, yet alone done nothing when it turned up missing. I also suspect that the person finding it would have tried to extort more than $5,000 from Apple before resorting to fencing it to Gizmodo. 

For its part, Gizmodo’s behavior has damaged its reputation and credibility. My firm will think twice about confiding in Gizmodo.

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