Friday, August 09, 2013

The best public relations company in the world: Apple!

Way back in graduate school, one of my first year apartment-mates was a doctoral student in marketing.  One of his favorite humorous takes on convincing people, which I later came to understand is a staple in the marketing and public relations realms, was about the wonderful job that Austrians did in making sure that the world knew Hitler as a German and Beethoven as an Austrian.

Over the years, it has been fascinating to observe the many, many variations of this Austrian job.  This post adds one more to that list!

There is a growing sense of anger and frustration, and rightfully so, at the inequality gap between those to whom a larger and larger share of income and wealth are accruing versus the millions who feel like they are working longer and longer hours that do not translate into wages that assure them of that "American Dream."

This frustration quickly reaches a bottom-line of "those greedy corporations and their CEOs."

In the populist narrative with the bottom-line of greedy corporations and their CEOs, rotten eggs are thrown at the likes of fast food restaurant chains like McDonald's, big box retailers like Walmart, oil corporations like Exxon.

One company is pretty much never, ever attacked. It is a multinational corporation that is the largest in the world.  This multinational corporation has profit margins like you won't believe.  This corporation employs very few people in its "home" country of the United States.  Stories abound about its shoddy treatment of workers and the environmental impacts of its factories.

Yet, this multinational corporation is rarely ever attacked compared to the daily assaults on WalMart or McDonald's or Exxon.

A masterful Austrian job of public relations, right?

Of course, the corporation that I speak of is Apple.

Here is a succinct comparison of the employment and profit aspects of the "good guy" Apple and the "bad guys":
Walmart and Target earn between three and four cents on the dollar; a typical McDonald’s franchise restaurant earns around six cents on the dollar before taxes, according to an analysis from Janney Capital Markets. In fact, the combined profits of all the major retailers, restaurant chains, and supermarkets in the Fortune 500 are smaller than the profits of Apple alone. Yet Apple employs just seventy-six thousand people, while the retailers, supermarkets, and restaurant chains employ 5.6 million.
 Did you get that? Let me repeat:
the combined profits of all the major retailers, restaurant chains, and supermarkets in the Fortune 500 are smaller than the profits of Apple alone
Yet, the assault is on McDonald's and WalMart?  Aren't you convinced by now that Apple has done one heck of a Austrian-style PR job to market itself as the angelic corporation?

People protest outside fast-food establishment. Outside WalMart.  But not outside Apple.  For a simple reason: those working for Apple at Cupertino have nothing to complain about, when their work is handsomely rewarded.  (Apple's productions are offshore--but then, when did we Americans start caring for factory workers employed by American corporations in the rest of the world anyway!)

Those working at a McDonald's restaurant or at a WalMart, on the other hand, know all too well that they are barely earning the minimum wage.  Thus, the corporations that employ 5.6 million people and with paper-thin profit margins are attacked day in and day out, whereas very little is said about Apple.

What you see is not always what you see.


Ramesh said...

The internet and technology companies have been a disruptive force in business in many ways - including the dimension you talk about. You could perhaps say the same thing about Google, Microsoft, ........

Software dominated companies like Google employ no labourers at all. And they have no factories (although their huge server farms have every resemblance to giant factories). So the don't fit the traditional model of robber baron companies which the public gets all agitated about.

This inequality thing has several gaping loopholes. As you say, techie zillionaires seem to be exempted from the scorn. Ditto, wildly overpaid sports stars and entertainers.

Sriram Khé said...

Agree ... especially when you mention sports ;)

It has always puzzled me that people rarely complain about the humongous profits that Apple makes. In my office hallway, my colleagues are way left of me on the political front. The have nothing but the harshest words for Nike, WalMart, McDonald's ... one even proudly proclaims himself as a socialist, with a Karl Marx graphic on his door ... most of them use Apple computers at work! Which is crazier considering that an Apple computer typically is double the cost of a Wintel PC! Ah, the tragic ironies of life!!!

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