March 23, 2013
Walter Issacson’s book on Steve Jobs was a very insightful biography on the legendary Apple founder. The book went into great detail about the “game-changing” products that Jobs helped bring to market. Jobs’s vision was to “make a dent in the universe” with his amazing products. However, one dent in the universe that Jobs made that was not a product or even by design was: how an organization handles a PR crisis in the real-time media cycle we live in.
Jobs was legendary for his fanaticism with design. He expected perfection with design and often got it by pushing people to do what they did not think they could do. Sometimes there were unintended consequences with this insatiable drive by Jobs. One of the biggest consequences was the design of the iPhone 4. Jobs’s quest for the perfect design lead to the antenna of the phone being restricted in how it can receive signals by the new case designed to house the new iPhone. The disrupted signal soon became “Attenagate” in the media. Jobs and Apple had a real PR crisis with their new iPhone coming to market.
In situations like this companies would issue an apology, and issue a recall on the product. Jobs decided not to do this. He simply said “As we seek to bring the very best product to market we sometimes do not always catch what might go wrong with the product. Apple is a company of people, and people are not perfect. Apple will offer an iPhone Case to help with reception, but we will never stop making the best product we possibly can.” In essence he turned the argument on it’s head. Instead of playing defense he challenged anyone to find the prefect phone. They offered a full refund to anyone who did not want the phone. The result: the lowest returned phone to date and iPhone 4 sales became the fastest selling phone at the time after jobs made his statement.
School districts can learn something from this with their own PR challenges. They can make the commitment to always be improving, BUT they are human and will not always avoid mistakes. If schools come out with a firm vision for what they and where they want to go, they will find the mistakes they make along the way be far less severe in the eyes of the public than those school districts that do no PR and how for the best.