Apple Stages Elaborate Courtship of Press As It Introduces Its Macintosh Computer
By Erik Larson and Carrie Dolan
The Wall Street Journal
January 23, 1984
Today and in days to follow, scores of newspapers and magazines will print stories about Apple Computer Inc.'s new Macintosh computer. That's no accident; rather, it is one part of a carefully orchestrated product introduction -- Silicon Valley style -- that will cost Apple $15 million.
For months Apple executives have met with reporters and editors at magazines and newspapers, doling out interviews and letting news people experiment with the machine. All, including this newspaper, agreed not to publish details learned at these sessions before today. (Some, though, including The Wall Street Journal, have already run stories based on information from inside sources.)
A San Francisco magazine publisher has even timed the release of the first issues of Macworld, a magazine devoted to the Macintosh, to coincide with Apple's formal unveiling of the machine tomorrow at its annual meeting. The Macintosh introduction, says Regis McKenna, a marketing and public-relations man who is sought out by Silicon Valley companies for just such events, "is a very complex operation -- we want the whole world talking about Mac in two weeks."
The courtship of the press is considered vital to the success of product introductions, now that there are so many computer companies. Advertising helps. But nothing succeeds like a news article, with its seeming objectivity, high-tech public-relations people say. Advertisements have "built-in discount factors. People don't believe advertising as much as they believe a journalist," Mr. McKenna says. But news stores "have a real value because they lend credibility to your product."
The Macintosh, which will retail for $2,495, is a scaled-down version of Apple's Lisa computer. Both are part of what Apple calls its 32-bit line of computers. The Lisa models will be able to use all the Macintosh software, but the Macintosh won't be able to use all of the Lisa software. The Macintosh will have double the memory of the IBM Personal Computer -- which means it will be able to handle more than 130,000 pieces of information at one time.
Computer introduction dates are more often set for the convenience of certain publications than because of any internal need to unveil a product on a given day. When Hewlett-Packard Co. introduced its HP-150 personal computer, it set the introduction date to meet the publication needs of Byte magazine, a computer journal that was planning a cover story. Apple, although it will formally introduce Macintosh at its annual meeting, set today as the release date for news in order to attract coverage by weekly magazines. An associate of Mr. McKenna figures Apple will get 12 cover stories in a variety of publications; Mr. McKenna says the Macintosh could get as many as 16 covers.
To encourage publicity, Mr. McKenna offers to set up interviews with John Sculley, Apple's president and chief executive officer, and Steven P. Jobs, chairman and an Apple founder. Mr. Jobs, he says, makes good copy. "Steve likes to make dramatic statements; he sort of evokes the Kennedy days."
The two met reporters from this newspaper last week over breakfast at the Hotel Carlyle, in a suite that rents for $575 a night. Mr. Jobs, 28 years old, wore a striped bow tie and double-breasted gray jacket instead of his usual blue jeans. Answering questions from reporters, the two executives deferred to each other like six-o'clock newscasters. It was about their 60th interview.
When asked how they arrived at the price for the product, Mr. Jobs responded with a lengthy, detailed talk on how Apple executives toured the major automated factories in Japan before building Apple's automated factory. On the wall behind Mr. Sculley was a big poster with pictures of the Macintosh in various stages of production. As Mr. Jobs explained how the factory makes the computer, Mr. Sculley, who will be paid $2 million in his first year at Apple, pointed to each picture.
When the reporter repeated the original question, Mr. Jobs said simply: "We priced it at a point where we can make a normal profit on it."
After the allotted two-hour session, the reporters were shunted downstairs to another Apple suite to experiment with Macintosh. Here a member of the Macintosh project patiently showed how the computer works and answered questions. She also passed out Macintosh T-shirts. "Remember," she said, "they're embargoed."
All this hoopla wasn't so necessary in the days before the personal computer, when big number-crunching machines were sold to scientists and data-processing departments. Now only IBM, because of its size and importance, seems able to ignore the trappings of the introduction ritual. "I like IBM's attitude, quite frankly," says Stewart Alsop II, editor of InfoWorld, a computer magazine. "IBM gives you a day's notice and you show up at the press conference. There's no game playing, nobody gets hurt, there's no misunderstanding. It's clean."
But most computer companies leak information to stir up interest and play on press rivalries. Paul Franson of Franson & Associates, a high-tech public relations firm, says he will sometimes give computer magazines one or two paragraphs on an unannounced machine. Hewlett-Packard Co. is considering trying similar "controlled leakage" to generate some "preannouncement hype," says Roy Verley, manager of corporate relations. David Simon of Simon Public Relations, another high-tech agency, says an exclusive story given to one major newspaper can ignite the interest of other editors.
Reporters, while concerned about becoming too cozy with the companies, are indeed hungry for good stories. Adam Osborne, founder of Osborne Computer Corp., once proclaimed: "Certainly I used the press. But then the press wanted to be used."
To get the information, reporters sometimes agree to disclosure and some even sign non-disclosure agreements. "If you think about the subject, the company is in the catbird's seat, they control the information," says Mr. Alsop of Infoworld.
The success of the Macintosh introduction is critical for Apple. Its last two introductions were disappointing -- the Apple III was faulty initially and the Lisa reached dealers too late to capitalize on the initial publicity. Apple needs a successful new product, especially now that IBM has taken command of the big business market for personal computers and will soon begin selling its PCjr, designed for home use.
Mr. Sculley has taken pains to see that the Macintosh is ready on the day of formal introduction. He wants to maintain the company's credibility and give it something to sell to help pay the $15 million cost of introduction. That money will pay for a pre-introduction television ad campaign, the various road tours to show off the Macintosh, sneak previews for reporters, 10 million copies of a 20-page advertising insert for magazines such as Time and Newsweek, and another television ad campaign that starts next month during a prime TV slot -- the winter Olympics.
Apple, says Mr. Sculley, has to convince five groups of people of the machine's worth -- the press, dealers, software developers, customers (the machine is aimed at college users and businessmen who buy computers through retail stores), and market analysts.
In addition to stirring up the press, Apple has made other plans for the Macintosh introduction. At the annual meeting the company will introduce the "Apple University Consortium," representatives of the colleges that altogether have ordered $50 million of Macintoshes. Mr. Jobs and Mr. Sculley, leading two teams, also recently took Macintosh to about 4,000 dealers in six cities. And last week the company began running a television ad designed to further pique interest in the machine.
The ad opens with an audience of drablooking people watching a Big Brother-like figure on a huge screen. An athletic blonde woman, dressed in skimpy Apple-red shorts, runs in, whirls a big sledgehammer, then flings it at the screen. In the flash that follows, a voice says: " On Jan. 24, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh, and you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984.' "
The ad, says Mr. Sculley, was designed to "kind of leverage off the fear of George Orwell's that computers will control our lives."
Copyright Dow Jones & Company Inc