A Knee-Jerk’s Negative ‘Reception’


I wanted to make note of two public figures lately that have created a stir due to some knee-jerk retorts to their loyal disciples. Lets start with our favorite mock-turtleneck obsessed fan boy Messiah, Steven P. Jobs. Unless, you live in North Korea, you couldn’t help but notice there has been some negative reception surrounding Apple’s latest golden boy, the iPhone4. Sparing you of my whole karma theory surrounding this product since the get-go (just Google: Jason+Chen+front+door+bash), the sleek new antenna design appears to have been a move in the wrong direction, dropping calls regularly but only if you hold the phone like any normal human being since the first handset arrived in 1876. And if you can somehow manage to not touch the lower left side of the iPhone, then you might be able to make it through a call with ease. This is of course you one of the lucky few standing 5-feet from a local AT&T tower, but lets move on.

Design problems are common hiccups in such rapid product lifecycles and its up to the designer on how to handle these. No communications pro loves the word ‘recall’ but it can often be a necessity and overall it’s a response that lets the public move on. Apple is slated to announce their ‘response’ tomorrow and its anyone’s guess to what the answers will be but as a PR guy and an Apple Kool-Aid drinker, I wanted to quickly react to Jobs’ claim that we, as users, were actually fault for holding the iPhone incorrectly.

Now, I am sure he is not actually saying that this validated design flaw could be the fault of his devoted public’s lack of comprehension on how to hold his new device, is he? If so he may want to evaluate some of the marketing photos of the iPhone itself, not to mention various photos of him operating his own here. And I am almost certain this will not be the claim tomorrow but this knee-jerk response has us evaluate how much freedom public figures should have in interacting directly with their communal. Is this a publicist’s worst nightmare? Many would say, absolutely.

So what does Steve expect us to do? How should we react to this? As a user of the iPhone4 I now find myself holding this thing like a delicate antique or thinking if I touch the lustrous stainless outer rim my fingers will burst into flames. I am sure there are probably a few Apple tattoo branding fan boys out there that will stand by Jobs even if he turns out to be a murderer of puppies but I would guess the overwhelming majority of even the most loyal Apple enthusiasts will find this particular response offensively irresponsible. And I ask my PR peers, how many of you wanted to be a fly on the wall once that headline started to circulate? How do these guys respond to this? Is Steve’s public email accessibility a good thing? Or too dangerous?  How do we get a handle on someone as prominent as Steve Jobs? I welcome ideas and thoughts.

But I pose another attractive question; is this knee-jerk reaction ever ok? I think another recent incident could possibly have us answer … maybe? A separate highly public circus involved not a messiah but rather a King. The LeBron James ‘Decision’ was the focus of much ‘Twitter Cooler’ discussion for months. Will he stay or will he go?

We all knew the end of this story long before King James robbed us of an hour of our lives last week and I would need an entirely separate post to delve into the treatment of this particular decision. But what I found more interesting from a corporate communications outlook is the reaction from Dan Gilbert, owner of the scorned Cleveland Cavaliers. In an open letter to Cavs fans, Gilbert publically called the King’s Miami aspirations a ‘cowardly betrayal’ and dubbed him a ‘former hero.’ This letter, which certainly didn’t make it through the Cavalier’s public relations department even goes as far to promise an NBA championship before the ‘heartless’ ‘self-proclaimed chosen one’ can bring one to his new team.

Like the Jobs email to the frustrated iPhone user, my instant PR reaction was that of a cringe for my pitiable, faceless, communications colleague that could be stuck cleaning up the spilled milk. But as I shot this around, I found myself applauding this particular knee-jerk.  I think it evoked true emotion and an undeniable sense of loyalty to a city left standing in the street with their hearts ripped out. Gilbert became an instantaneous, unsung hero; he came to the rescue of his devoted ticket buyers and even displayed a refreshing, human side of pro sports owners more known for their seat filling paranoia and bottom line.

The answer to these two knee-jerk incidents could be classic case studies for PR pro’s looking to fine-tune their craft but in my opinion it has us asking even more questions about just how vocal our clients should be and how much access they should have … even to those that adore them. Thoughts more than welcome. As Uncle Cracker once said ‘follow me’ @TheRellek.

– Tony Keller –



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