July 25, 2008

When Crisis PR is a Personal Crisis (When saying nothing says everything)

Posted in Crisis Comm, In the news, Spin at 9:49 am by R

News is fluttering about regarding the health of Apple CEO Steve Jobs. The tech icon successfully battled a rare form of pancreatic cancer back in 2004 and has been in good health since then.

As I type on my Mac, I wish Steve Jobs well and hope he remains in a healthy state. He represents a brand, products and a company that I admire. Perhaps this is why there’s so much speculation and, frankly, inconsiderate snooping into Mr. Jobs’ life and health.

Many second quarter returns are coming out these days and that generally requires a unique brand of PR strategy and messaging. People want reasons for performance, positive or negative. As a company, Apple generally is a strong performer. That being said…

Rumor has been circulating that Jobs is not in good health. Yesterday day both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times ran stories noting that suspicions about the CEO’s health had impacted earnings reports, which showed a 2.6 percent drop.

People (namely nameless hedge fund managers) have been calling for comment on the state of Steve Jobs’ health. But is the health of the CEO of a public company an appropriate topic for public consumption and stock market speculation?

Technically, yes and no. Yes, because if the health scenario is germane to the day-to-day operations and material viability of the company, stockholders should know. No, because health is a private and personal matter. Read Jim Goldman’s (CNBC) analysis of this situation here.

Steve Jobs is a bit of a rockstar. He’s a total personality, a character, so people are more interested in him and his life than your average CEO. While CEOs from other Fortune 500 companies might be able to make a quiet announcement and move on without too much impact on the company or their lives, Jobs doesn’t really have that luxury.

In this special circumstance where major investors have allegedly hired P.I.s to tail Jobs and report on hospital and doctors visits, it seems that it’s time for a new tactic. But ongoing speculation could have a notable impact on Apple’s stock, so maybe something does need to be said…or leaked, to the right people.

Apple’s official position is not to comment on the personal lives of its leadership unless it’s pertinent to the operation of the company. Steve Jobs, when asked about his health said, “I feel fine.”

Even though it’s a personal matter, Apple does need to handle this situation with kid gloves as many people are already linking it directly to stock performance.

My personal execution in any crisis situation is Always Tell The Truth! You can’t be lambasted for being honest about what’s going on. (You can still be lambasted for what’s happening, but it won’t be double the backlash when the press found out you covered it up.)

But this example goes to show that what’s not being said often says just as much as a public statement.

In the meantime, here’s to Steve Jobs’ and Apple’s health.



1 Comment »

  1. Robyn,

    That’s some nice treatment of the rumor mill we live with. I manage communication for an Indianapolis-based financial company. While we are no where close to Fortune 500 status, one of our senior executives is a rock star of his own right in a small industry niche we serve. When he fell ill, my recommendation to the CEO and VP was to be open about the condition. Start a conversation with the clients. That was a no go! And we’re paying for it now. Damage control, while my passion, I hate managing it.

    Whether Jobs is sick or not, he has pseudo-celeb status, Apple should be commenting on his health. We all, even Bill Gates dare I say, hope he’s doing well.

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