This was originially published in December 2006, and was pulled from the web in 2011 in preparation for my book, The Pomme Company. I was writing about the FOSE chairs incident in a post, Signs of Power, and went searching for this post and found that it was in my drafts. Now that Apple no longer really has a federal sales force, I guess all the gnashing of teeth over federal strategy does not matter. However, I can tell Steve is no longer there. It has been a while since a product from Cupertino excited me.
As I'm sitting here writing on my newly repaired MacBook hooked to my Bluetooth Apple keyboard, I remain thankful about a lot of Apple technology, yet I know from experience that Rob Enderele is right as he says the following.
For those of us who really follow Apple, it is common knowledge that the company you see from the CEO on down is a construct...
The entire point isn't to disparage Apple -- it does a great job owning its identity.
Apple's image is closely controlled and perhaps built more out of what Apple wants us to know than what might be helpful to know. I actually can remember some great examples of Apple fooling all of us when we assumed that selling computers was more important than controlling the pristine image of Apple that Steve wants burned into the consciousness of the world.
One of my all time favorite Apple stories is about the FOSE computer show in Washington, DC in the spring of 2004. FOSE is the government computer show of the year. The government is notoriously hard to market to because even getting literature to them is a challenge. Many government agencies don't have widespread access to the open world of the Internet so even downloading pdf files of product sheets is problematic. Also arranging demonstrations of hosted applications at government locations is often impossible since it is rare that you can get to outside computing resources from a government site.
For the five years prior to 2004, when we in Apple Federal's group where I was director had run FOSE as a field show, the two most popular parts of our booth which cost us upwards of $100,000 annually were the very comprehensive bound set of pdfs of Apple product sheets and the number of third party vendors who could talk about how their products were used in federal accounts and often do live demonstrations. For at least those two reasons our FOSE booth had been wildly popular with over 1,600 people leaving us their names during the 2003 event.
It always seemed that we couldn't print enough Apple product guides, and there was never enough room or hours available for the customers to get to the third party vendors.
When the Apple Corporate show team decided to take over FOSE, we were glad because it was a tremendous amount of work for us. Initial indications were that they were interested in learning from our experiences. In fall 2003 we had just shipped Panther OS X 10.3, and the potential security risk from Windows was at a peak. Interest in Apple from federal folks was also growing rapidly.
We were also starting to make some real progress in the federal space. After having G5 shortages hurt our finish for the fiscal year that ended in Sept. 2003, we had resumed our growth rate of 60%+ in Apple purchase dollars that we had managed in the two previous Apple fiscal years.
So it was with great expectations that we had our first conference call with the corporate events team. By the end of the first call it was clear that we in the field were nothing but window dressing and that all of the corporate folks were born with federal experience that we couldn't hope to duplicate by years of actually working with the customer and running Apple's FOSE booth.
The first thing that made no sense was that by corporate edict, there would no longer be any literature in the Apple booth. This apparently was a Steve rule because he had done it for other corporate events where he determined literature made the booths look messy. The next move was that no third party vendors or software would be allowed in the Apple booth. Immediately we became an iLife demo wasteland. There would be no more showing how Apple's own use of SAP's Java client meant that Apple products could be used to access SAP data.
It was interesting that the most expensive part of the FOSE show that year ended up being the over $100,000 lighted sign which could only be used once. I was more confused than impressed when I was told that a 3D scale model had been constructed for the powers at Apple to approve. On top of that we were told that Steve Jobs himself had approved the folding chairs that would be used in the presentation theater in our booth. Of course each of our system engineers who were presenting were carefully rehearsed so that no wayward words would inadvertently slip out of their mouths.
It was no surprise that attendance in our corporate sponsored booth was less than half of what we had the previous year. Of course part of that could be attributed to the directive from Phil Schiller banning our Apple hands from touching the FOSE standard issue card scanners that were actually Windows mobile devices in disguise. Fortunately on the second day of the FOSE event, the show staff came up with an old card scanner so we could capture customer addresses for the remainder of the show.
Perhaps the best example of Apple caring more about a carefully crafted image than actually selling computers was the Security PDF brouhaha. While Apple's brilliant software folks had managed to get a very complex software project like Panther out on time in Oct. 2003, the marketing folks had been working on a PDF document describing Panther's security features for months prior to Panther's release, but it was only in March of 2004 months after the release and just before FOSE that they finally got the document for Panther out the door. I think it was eighteen pages or so long. The Panther security PDF wasn't even the first one. We had seen one for Jaguar. I think the Panther Security PDF so traumatized the marketing folks that one hasn't been released since then.
There were other examples of Apple image triumphing over substance. It is easy to recall the challenges with all the west coast Apple customer events . Now while most non Apple marketing people would assume that a customer event would be designed to touch as many customers as possible, they would be completely out of sync with Apple marketing types who often appear to design events for as little distribution or customer touch beyond Cupertino as possible.
Our Apple office in Reston, Virginia was equipped with a seminar room that could seat over fifty people, and an executive briefing room that could seat another 20 people. For most Apple events we would get a satellite feed of the event, but it would often be limited to Apple employees. Most often we faced weeks of begging to be allowed to let our local Washington area customers view the Cupertino events from our office. Often we were dealing with CIOs and other important people whom we had to tell to save the day but that we couldn't guarantee that we could actually let them view the event until corporate approval was granted. I can remember seeing the email trail once of Steve Jobs asking Katie Cotton, the controlling goddess of Apple's image, if it would be okay for federal customers to see an event being broadcast in three or four other locations around the world. I think we won permission for that one, but we were only able to give customers one day's notice.
So the next time you see an Apple commercial and think it is all about selling computers, think again. It's more likely all about getting you to think what Steve wants you to think about Apple. If it happens to get you to buy a Mac, that's just incidental.
Image is important. After all which would you rather have, the Dell Latitude that weighs eight pounds that my son is using about two feet from me or my lightweight white MacBook which looks stunning by comparison?
Of course if reliability has in part in the equation, his Dell has had eighteen months of continuous use without a trip to the shop while my Mac Book like many others has already had a visit to Apple's repair center after only a few months in existence. Of course that's not part of the image.