Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Apple’s Intriguing New PR Strategy for the iPhone X

Joe Rossignol, MacRumors:

In addition to journalist Steven Levy’s first impressions of the iPhone X, Apple recently invited a number of YouTube channels to try out the highly-anticipated device at a nondescript building in New York City.

The YouTube personalities invited to a building that appears to be 144 Duane Steet include two reporters from Highsnobiety, “Soldier Knows Best”, Enobong Etteh of BooredAtWork.com, and Sam Beckerman of Fashion magazine. Not on that list include notable personalities like MBKHD and iJustine.

This sort of stuff interests me, for no reason other than it’s different than Apple’s usual pattern. It’s not important, in the big scope. It won’t change how you use the iPhone, when yours will arrive, or the company’s engineering and design. But it’s interesting to me, at least, and maybe you.

For the past few years, Apple has invited tech journalists from around the world — mostly from big newspapers and magazines, but increasingly from web-only publications as well — and a few YouTube personalities to their unveiling event in California. There, they get hands-on time with the new products. Some of these journalists and YouTubers then get review units; they’re covered by an embargo that almost always lifts at the same time for everyone, allowing them to speak freely about their thoughts.

But this is, obviously, different. None of the personalities invited to the event in New York nor any of the handful from other channels that received early access to the iPhone X were at Apple’s September unveiling, as far as I know. And Apple followed their usual review blueprint for the iPhone 8 models launched last month.

My guess is that the month-long lag between the September event and the iPhone X’s release merited a different strategy. The round of YouTube videos posted today are effectively a new round of the first impressions that event attendees get in the hands-on area after the event. They serve as a reminder of the iPhone X’s imminent release. The in-depth reviews that you would expect from some writers and prominent YouTubers will likely be posted tomorrow or Wednesday.

That leaves Steven Levy’s piece in Wired as the outlier, and it seems like it’s a nostalgia trip. Levy:

I’ve had this phone since last Tuesday. Apple had given me this early peek in part because I was one of the first pre-release reviewers of the original iPhone. Given that history, we all thought it would be interesting to get my impressions of what the company clearly believes is the next milestone in a journey that has pretty much altered our relationship with technology.

It’s a deviation from Apple’s normal PR strategy, but the release of two different models of iPhone this year — one markedly higher-end than the other, and with a delayed launch — also represents a deviation from their normal release strategy. If next year’s iPhones launch on a single date, I wouldn’t expect to see this PR strategy, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if the in-person hands-on experience is repeated for those outside of Apple’s typical sphere of tech-centric YouTubers.

Again, this isn’t really important. But because Apple tends to have a fairly predictable and deliberate playbook, and this is different, it’s an interesting case study, especially for those in a marketing, PR, or media job.

Update: Soldier Knows Best was, in fact, at the September event. Sorry for the mistake, and thanks to Alec for catching it and emailing me.

Update: I want to clarify something: I’m pointing out that this PR strategy is different, but I am not claiming that it is a better strategy: Levy’s “insider” articles are already too puffy for my tastes, and these YouTubers are not reviewing the product with a critical eye.

To be fair, they are first impressions, not reviews. I hope Apple has provided other publications with proper review units, and for enough time that they can form more rounded opinions of them; I certainly hope that Apple’s PR department isn’t simply looking for people to read the press bumf.

It isn’t negativity or some supposed “balance” for the sake of balance that makes for a good review; it’s criticality. That doesn’t necessarily need to be published before a product ships — especially when it’s backordered by several weeks — but it’s valuable nevertheless.

Update: Last one, I swear, on this post. Mike Allen of Axios received a review unit which, apparently, he passed along to his nephew. I didn’t realize that was something Apple allowed under their prerelease review nondisclosure agreement. At any rate, he noted that:

Ina Fried, Axios chief tech correspondent, will have our official review soon.

So I think my initial hunch was right: these early previews are buzz, and the full slate of reviews is still to come. The question remains whether other reviewers have been able to spend enough time with their devices to be able to make well-considered observations.