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September 23, 2010
Steve Jobs Doesn't Get It
 
Maybe we shouldn't be taking the bait on this, but, in relational terms, it's too egregious to ignore. It made me wince at my Mac. Steve Jobs on e-mail is simply a boor; he ought not to be using it or pretending that he relates well to customers.

There's always the chance that the e-mails from Long Island University senior Chelsea Kate Isaacs are a hoax, though she insists they're genuine, and considering Jobs' reputation for Internet brusqueness, we're with her unless Apple proves the contrary. And Apple isn't likely to be bothered; that's really the point.

What apparently occurred here is simply PR malpractice. Not expecting a response, but acting on a suggestion from a friend, Isaacs, 22, wrote Steve Jobs at sjobs@apple.com asking his assistance after a telephone request of hers (six voice messages) was ignored by Apple's media relations department. She was seeking a quote for a paper she was writing on the use of iPads in academic settings. (Her university is apparently beginning a program to buy iPads for incoming students.)

Surprisingly, a half hour later Isaacs received, she insists, this response from Jobs: "Our goals do not include helping you get a good grade. Sorry."

Come on. A relational company's goals should include helping an enterprising student get a good grade, especially when your products -- Apple's computers and all its related gizmos -- are heavily attuned to the student market.

Isaacs responded, "I never said that your goal should be to 'help me get a good grade.' Rather, I politely asked why your media relations team does not respond to emails, which consequently, decreases my chances of getting a good grade. But, forget about my individual situation; what about common courtesy, in general – if you get a message from a client or customer, as an employee, isn't it your job to return the call? That's what I always thought. But I guess that's not one of your goals."

Jobs responded, almost as though he was waiting for Chelsea's second message: "Nope. We have over 300 million users and we can't respond to their requests unless they involve a problem of some kind. Sorry."  

Why is Jobs responding at all? Why'd he encourage this?

Chelsea responded that she is an Apple user, and she had a problem that Apple's media relations problem could be helpful with.

At 6:27 p.m. Pacific Standard Time, Jobs sent another response: "Please leave us alone."

This is astounding, a glaring example of PR incompetence. You can't help but think less of Steve Jobs and Apple because of it. Media relations departments should want to know why people are calling, and CEOs should be courteous and helpful when a reasonable request comes in. Or else, turn off the phones.

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Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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