Apple. Foxconn. iPad factory video. Spin vs. PR.

This morning, as I saw the video of iPads being built at a Foxconn factory in China, I tweeted it with, ‘Brilliant, timely PR work!’.

I got into an interesting, albeit brief discussion about my use of the word ‘PR’ in my tweet.

The reaction was, ‘PR? Dei, he was the guy who exposed Mike Daisey. If he did it for PR it would be the ultimate irony.’. (Please ignore the very colloquial and Tamil-style friendly address, ‘Dei’)

My response was, ‘PR, by definition, is NOT spin. It is simply timely communication :)’

The reply was, ‘yeah, but it seems to suggest Apple involvement no? Which is what I’m disagreeing with.’

Me: ‘these days, brands don’t control PR, individually. Customers and rivals do PR too, for brands.’

Him: ‘ok so if someone gives a glowing review of a product, will you say great review or great PR?’

Considering we are getting into semantics now, I guess I could try articulating my thoughts and clear my own head, via a blog post.

PRSA, in the US, is trying hard to define PR, after so many years. And they have just crossed step 1 – the definition is ready and it is being debated online, quite vociferously.

The illusion of control is PR is largely absent now, since people seem to be deciding brand perceptions and don’t necessarily go with what brands impose on them. Apple could be a great exception, but I could argue that it imposes perceptions not by words, but by action (great products).

So, to get specific, any communication on a brand/company, by anybody, anywhere, becomes PR (public relations, not ‘spin’), if it has the power to impact perceptions. A review online, by a random stranger, does change our perception when we read it – we may not make a life or death decision on it, but our consideration may make a tiny shift, after reading that review. That we may check and recheck that review with our own research is also a change in perception – we took it seriously enough to cross-check – there was an impact; some impact.

In this case, Apple has had a tumultuous time with the Foxconn story. Then the Mike Daisey expose happened, but things didn’t change much with the ground-level truth – only the degree of workers’ conditions was being debated. Apple has done a few things in this direction – Apple asking US Fair Labor Association to do an investigation and talking about it in the press is one step. They were also helped by Rob Schmitz’s expose of Mike Daisey’s damaging monologue, public radio show “This American Life”.

To address the specific point of Apple’s involvement in Rob Schmitz’s case (that was questioned in the tweet), I’m sure Apple/Foxconn would have to allow Rob into their factory. It requires a permission and Rob was only the second Western journalist to visit the Chinese factory since the January airing of Mike Daisey’s fabricated account.

So, not by planting stories or spinning, but by merely using the timing and allowing access to the Foxconn factory, Apple could still be on top of their own PR. Here, Apple has allowed access to a journalist who was instrumental in raising its image in the recent past, since Rob exposed the discrepancies in an otherwise seriously negative story (by Mike Daisey). I would not like to call Rob ‘pro-Apple’ yet, but he is somewhere in the middle, with that expose and this is a carefully calculated PR attempt by Apple.

This is no spin at all – as I tweeted, this is just timely intervention to help a specific cause for the company. If there is truth in the company’s version, it will fly. If there’s overwhelming evidence to the contrary and if enough influential people are talking about it, then, that would surface more powerfully.

Photo courtesy: CNET.

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