Apple’s PR Crisis and how they managed it

On December 2, 2015 there was a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California. The shooting was committed by Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik. The couple proceeded to open fired on Farook’s coworkers who were gathered at the Inland Regional Center for a holiday party for their job where they worked for the county and where Faron worked as a health inspector. There were fourteen people killed and there were twenty-two people injured, most of them were county employees like Syed. Syed and Tashfeen were both killed by the police in a shoot out following a high-speed chase. The shooting was considered to be an act of terrorism. The authorities believe the pair were “self-radicalized” by engaging in radical Islamic Literature online. (Winton 2016) In the midst of the investigation the police discovered a variety of weapons in the couples home including pipe bombs that were also used at the time of the attack. Syed was born here in the United States, his wife Tashfeen was originally from Pakistan.

Further into the investigation the FBI requested the help of Apple in order to find more information about the nature of the attack. The FBI asked Apple to crack the PIN code on the terrorist’s iPhone and even got a court order asking that Apple create software to get around the security in their devices that causes the devices information to be deleted. Upon this request, Apple took the case public and did not help the FBI. Instead, “Apple argued such software amounted to a master key and would encourage other countries, like Russia or China, to make similar demands for other iPhones.” And that “it’s not technically feasible for the company to unlock passcodes or otherwise extract data, warrant or no warrant”(Selyukh 2016).

The conflict management life cycle consists of four stages: proactive, strategic, reactive and recovery. (Wilcox 2011) In this crisis that Apple was faced with, to me and many other customers of Apple, that I have discussed the situation with, they seemingly handled the situation well. In my opinion, it seems as though Apple entered the conflict management life cycle in the proactive phase. The response Apple gave the FBI and the way they decided to do so must have been planned and contemplated before by people working in Public Relations for Apple, in order for it to be handled as fluidly as it was. Before Apple was confronted by the FBI, they most likely had already participated in environmental scanning pertaining to the wants and needs of the FBI and how it might eventually affect their company. And because Apple knows how loyal and large their customer base is, they must have developed a crisis plan to protect their customers, if there was a situation where a governmental organization like the FBI were to ask for private information about a customer, in order to solve a case.

While Apple continued to deal with this crisis, in their strategic phase they had to be able to assess the damage that the FBI could have on the reputation of the company. While they were assessing this they could see that customers would most likely be continue to be supportive of their brand if they had legitimate reasons for not giving up the data, (such as the one mentioned above) as well as the fact that if these customers were in the same situation they would probably also want their privacy respected. Apple also used conflict positioning strategies to put them in a place where their customers wouldn’t boycott them based on what Donald Trump or the FBI said because these customers value their own privacy. 

In the reactive phase of this crisis apple has dealt with, they handled their crisis communication extremely successfully.In an article called The Biggest PR Crises Of 2016 So Far (And What Brands Can Learn From Them), Ronn Torrosio the CEO of 5wPR states, Apple is handling this situation well by taking it to the consumer and to their stakeholders; the company almost immediately opened up to the public by sending out a press release to let iPhone users know they are resisting the request.” (Torrosian 2016) They also were very open to the public about the situation in a letter to their customers.'”The government is asking Apple to hack our own users,’ Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote in an open letter to customers last week.”

In my opinion, this was Apple’s best move; being transparent and open with the public about their case with the FBI was the most beneficial part in fixing their crisis. But, to counter that action, I’m sure the victims who were injured and their families as well as the families of the victims who died  were upset with Apple for not actively helping to solve the case.

“Apple says the government is trying to force it to build a “backdoor” into the phone and thereby weaken the security of all iPhones, making them more vulnerable to hackers and government surveillance.” (Devlin 2016)

Finally, in the Recovery stage Apple has continued to work on their encryptions to protect the information of the customers and continue to build their reputation after this crisis. Apple is constantly updating to make their phones safe from hackers, government and criminals trying to use the data a customer creates against that customer. The damage to Apple’s image wasn’t extreme because they were so proactive in the way they handled their situation, so image restoration wasn’t drastically needed to correct any of the damage that may have happened in the process of resolving this conflict.

Overall, in my opinion Apple handled this crisis strategically and successfully. They’re actions obviously were thoroughly planned before, and in this situation their unwillingness to give up the data and information about their customers, in my opinion only helped them. I don’t think Donald Trump or the FBI will have much success attempting to call the public to action to boycott apple products. Truly, if anything I believe it boosted customer and brand loyalty for Apple. At least for me, to know that Apple is invested in the privacy of their customers is satisfying to me as an owner of a MacBook, Ipad and Iphone. Kudos to them.

References:

Wilcox, D. L., Cameron, G. T., Reber, B. H., & Shin, J. (2011). Think Public Relations (2013th ed., pp. 171-172). New Jersey, NY: Pearson Education, Inc.

Devlin, B. (2016, Feb 22). Apple-FBI phone fight gets technical; justice department, apple trade salvos over basic issues in locked-iPhone case. Wall Street Journal (Online) Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.gvsu.edu/docview/1766917542?accountid=39473

Winton, R. (2016, December 2). We may never know why the San Bernardino terrorists targeted a Christmas party. Here’s what we do know. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-san-bernardino-attack-20161202-story.html

Selyukh, A. (2016, December 2). A Year After San Bernardino And Apple-FBI, Where Are We On Encryption?. In Npr. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2016/12/03/504130977/a-year-after-san-bernardino-and-apple-fbi-where-are-we-on-encryption


Torrosian, R. (2016, March 16). The Biggest PR Crises Of 2016 So Far (And What Brands Can Learn From Them). In Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesagencycouncil/2016/03/16/the-biggest-pr-crises-of-2016-so-far-and-what-your-brand-can-learn-from-them/#5c888dfd5e78

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