Oct 06, 2011

If Steve Jobs Had Been A PR Guy…

Steve Jobs, in my mind, belongs on the same pedestal occupied by Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison and Galileo.   The man transformed modern culture, and modern business.    As I spent some time last night reading and watching tributes, memorials and articles about Apple-founder and spectacular genius Steve Jobs in the wake of his passing, some recurring themes got my attention.  And it occurred to me that Jobs, had he been so inclined, would have been a pretty good PR guy.  We can derive some important lessons for communications from his legacy.

What would Jobs the PR guy have done?

  • He would have owned social channels for the brand he represented, and he would have used social media to build enthusiastic audiences for his brand.
  • He would have been excruciatingly deliberate in the communications he crafted.  His messaging would, I am sure, have been elegant, tightly-edited, and bang on message. And the message? It would have been exactly what his audience wanted to hear. Nothing that was less than perfect or less than compelling would have made it out the door.
  • He would have locked down all the details, and harnessed the real synergies that exist between PR, SEO, social media and marketing.
  • And, with apologies to my friends over at our sister company, MultiVu, I think he probably would have invented the multimedia press release even before they did.  Jobs would have immediately seen the benefit of using transmedia to capture attention and communicate.

Looking into the example Jobs set a bit more deeply, here are the key lessons I have derived:

Make it easy for your customer to succeed.  In fact, make empowering their success a goal.

Apple brought the graphical user interface and the mouse to market, which together changed computing forever by making computing accessible – via point-and-click – to the non-programmers among us.  Beautiful form and easy function are the hallmark of Apple products even today.

As communicators, we can borrow from Jobs’ playbook as we consider our audiences and the messages we craft, by starting from the viewpoint of the journalist on deadline, the freelancer who needs to sell a great story, or the information the marketplace needs – instead of the usual starting point, which revolves around the message the company wants to convey and the result it wants to generate.

Put more bluntly, nobody hops out of bed and says “Gee, I hope I become a qualified lead in someone’s pipeline today!!!”  or “Dang, I can’t wait to start cranking out stories based on the email pitches I know are already stuffing my inbox!” The Jobsian approach to generating those leads would undoubtedly start with the potential customer, and the questions they pose during their buying process.   Likewise, the Jobsian approach to media and blogger relations would rely heavily on understanding what’s going on in the newsroom, what demands are being placed on journalists, and what that blogger or freelancer needs to do to make ends meet.  He would start with the customer or audience needs to do their job or solve a problem they have.

Cultivate Enthusiasm.

Jobs was the quintessential showman, and through a combination of unforgettable advertising and extraordinarily well produced live events, he was able to cultivate enviable interest in and enthusiasm for his company’s products.

Of course, most of us don’t have the luxury of getting up on stage, and sliding an impossibly thin and gorgeous laptop computer out of an interoffice mail envelope, as Jobs did when unveiling the MacBook Air.

However, there’s no reason why we have think conventionally about how we can use drama, contrast and ingenuity to add an extra dimension to how we communicate.  The real lesson here is in Jobs’ understanding of the power of customer advocacy.  Sure, the product plays a big role in this equation, but Jobs’ approach to promotion – which was designed to enchant his audience and build their enthusiasm for Apple products – certainly contributed to Apple’s success.

Defy convention relentlessly, and to thine own self be true

When you step back and look at the landscape view of Jobs’ accomplishments, one thing that really stands out is the number of industries he turned on their heads.  In addition to creating the personal computer market, Jobs also disrupted everything from how music and video are created and consumed, to graphic design and animated movies.

“Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s drown out your own inner voice,” he told graduating seniors at Stanford in 2005.

While the chances of my setting the world on fire with something I’ve created in my garage (unless literally, of course, if things go seriously amiss when I fire up the Toro in a few months), Jobs insistence on being true to one’s principles and cleaving to one’s convictions is a lesson for us all.

Don’t do what you don’t believe in.  For a PR pro, that means (in my mind) rejecting the client that wants you to compromise your personal ethics.

If you don’t like what you’re doing, change it.  The lesson here for PR could be pretty simple.  If “the way we’ve always done it” isn’t terribly interesting or effective, start chipping away and add some fresh ideas to the tactical mix.

Don’t be afraid.  Things will work out.  If you watched the whole Stanford keynote (and I really hope you did, it is very worthwhile) Jobs made the point to graduates that if you’re true to yourself, things will work out in the end.  His life story is an illustration in having courage in one’s convictions.

 “Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.” 

– Steve Jobs, 1955 – 2011

Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of social media, and is the author of the free ebook Unlocking Social Media for PR.

Image courtesy of Flickr user noppyfoto1

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