Apple's Employee Media Policy - Really?

A quick show of hands. Does your employer prohibit you from talking to the media?

June 26, 2012

"Apple prohibits its staff from talking to the media….."

from the NYTimes, 6/23/12 -  Apple’s Retail Army, Long on Loyalty but Short on Pay

A quick show of hands. Does your employer prohibit you from talking to the media?

Maybe Apple's policy is fully in line with corporate America. Is anyone tracking this?   

Certainly Apple has the right and responsibility to protect its brand. According to the annual BrandZ report, Apple has the most valuable brand in the world, with a brand value estimated to be worth $183 billion.  

But does a blanket policy prohibiting employees from speaking to the press make any sense? Could it be that Apple's policy is even counterproductive?

Questioning Apple's employee media policy is not the same as saying that Apple employees have the right to disparage the company, its products or its customers. My employment at my institution would quickly come to an end if my writing was either irresponsible or damaging.  

A "no talking to the media" policy, if this is really Apple's policy, strikes me as a terrible idea because:

  • The "no media" policy ignores the reality that we all have the potential to be media producers.  After Googling "Apple's Social Media Policy" I learned that Apple seems to have a pretty sensible set of guidelines. Employees are not prohibiting from using social media, but they cannot speculate about future Apple products or do anything inconsistent with Apple's policy (including policies around privacy and professional conduct).  What I am unclear on is if an Apple employee could write about the larger technological or educational or media landscape, and give opinions about Apple's and other companies role in these industries? Does Apple's social media policy provide education around what a productive social media presence would look like? Does the company see any benefits for idea generation or professional development in recognizing that employees might have ideas, opinions, and questions about the industry in which they work - and may want to express themselves online?   
  • A "no media" policy inhibits the flow of information and ideas within the organization. Is it possible that Apple's top management could have learned something if current employees would have been supported in speaking with the NYTimes?  Assuming that the NYTimes reporting was fair and representative isn't it possible that some ideas for how to increase employee satisfaction and productivity may have emerged? It seems doubtful that an Apple employee speaking on the record would disparage their employer. Rather, I'm betting that Apple employees strongly identify with the brand and the company, and any suggestions would be aimed at improving the company that they love.
  • A "no media" policy may result in less favorable press for the company. Apple did not come out of the NYTimes article looking all that great. This message might have been tempered with more honest interviews with Apple employees - people who may have provided a more nuanced and positive view of working at Apple.   It seems to me that employers should have more faith in their employees, and more courage in supporting the rights of these employees to express opinions. Employees should be a company's best ambassador, and following a P.R. script is exactly the wrong way communicate authentic brand values.

When it comes to Apple I think that we are in danger of falling into the logical trap of thinking that:  a) Apple makes amazing hardware and software, and b) Apple is totally non-transparent - therefore c) Apple's success is due to it's non-transparency policies.  And it's hard to argue with Apple's success.  But Apple is starting to pay a price for policies designed to control the flow of information. The NYTimes article on store employees, and earlier problems with supplier Foxconn, are two examples where a more open culture may have avoided some negative press.   

As a higher ed guy I need to be comfortable that the values of my partners aligned with the basic cultural norms of our industry. These norms certainly include a value on employee empowerment, transparency, and open exchange of ideas. I can't help but to be somewhat worried that my love for Apple's products is diverging from my opinions about how Apple treats its employees. 

This is one of those cases in which I'd like nothing more than to be totally wrong.


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