Thursday, February 17, 2011

iPhone Crisis: AntennaGate

In a 16 February 2011 post on, Joshua Gans blogged that Apple broke 5 key Public Relations (PR) Rules with regards to AntennaGate and yet came up smelling like roses. In Joshua's opinion, Apple (a) did not apologise and take full responsibility; (b) created expectations with a media event; (c) did not announce the “give away” first; (d) made specific comparisons to their competitors; and (e) aired the industry's dark secrets in public.

My personal assessment however differs from Joshua's.

In one of my early blog postings on a Framework for Crisis Communications, I made reference to Bernard Weiner's research on attribution theory which links “accountability” to stakeholders' perceptions of responsibility for the crisis. Thus, depending on whether stakeholders felt that the crisis was caused by Apple, was something which Apple could reasonably have predicted to occur, and whether it was within Apple's ability to prevent it, different levels of responsibility would be levelled against Apple.  Then, depending on the root cause of the crisis, Apple could then adopt one of 4 Crisis Management Strategies to manage it – deny, redirect, diffuse and accept.

In the case of AntennaGate, Apple's investigations revealed that the root cause of the crisis was not the design of the iPhone, but a physical limitations of existing antennae technology. Apple, then adopted the Crisis Management Strategy of Diffusing responsibility with other phone makers. If we overlay Apple's response to this strategy, Apple did not break any PR “rules” as pointed out by Joshua.  Apple's refusal to apologise, decision to hold a press conference, their specific comparison to competitors, decision not to play-up their free give-away and their decision to air the industry's dark secrets all fit the strategy of diffusing responsibility.

Hence, if Apple has indeed been successful in riding out this crisis, in my opinion, Apple did not break any Public Relation rules, but adopted the correct crisis management strategy for the situation.

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