On Tides and Tall Poppies

The Australians have an expression ‘Tall Poppies’. When poppies get too tall they get chopped down.  Mostly they use it to talk about bringing people down to size when they’ve got too big for their boots.

In the UK, we champion the underdog. We incubate little businesses until they get to the size where they have growing pains, and throw them to the Wolves. Two one-time nifty little underdogs have been getting a hard time as we come into 2012: Apple and Google.

They both came to represent something – a different set of values to the big corporate Wintel hold.


Apple has had a chequered past, and has been far from a media darling at various points of its career. It was largely thanks to the work of PR consultancy Bite that the tide began to change, but the real change happened when Job’s returned. I often wondered how Apple had managed to stay in the media good books when it was blatantly antisocial, wouldn’t do the speaker circuit and some of its products, albeit beautiful, were technologically blatantly sub-standard. We forgave them antenna-gate. We forgave them all kinds of things.

In amongst the ‘obits’ for Jobs was the missing link. Steve Jobs was Mr Attention to Detail. Or Mr Control Freak. Depends on your (dis) position. When a big story was about to break, he didn’t set the PR company on the job to try and set up a briefing. Oh no! Mr Jobs picked up the phone to the senior media himself.

Last week I read a piece in the Financial times. Tucked away in the wording was the sentence that rang the changes: “No-one at Apple was available for comment”. In the same week I heard rumblings of discontent around Apple’s hold on the apps market. People have been dissing the iphone 4S as a change for the hell of having a change (inevitable, since I just signed up on a two year contract with one) and rumours of a long overdue Nokia fightback are rife. Add to this utter discontent with ‘discoverability’ for new apps in the AppStore and new music in itunes, and public sentiment doesn’t seem as warm as it was a year ago.

Apple’s lost it’s biggest PR tool, and whilst the ‘we’re above all that’ stance worked with Jobs at the helm, without him, it remains to be seen what loyalty it retains when its products are judged on being just products without a  media predisposal to love them.


And while we’re on the subject of discoverability – search – the other underdog that’s come in for a bit of a bashing this week is Google.  A nifty little start up just a decade or so ago, Google had an extremely bad Friday 13th.

Rumours suggested that the changes that it’s making to increase the value of Google + within its algorithm (Search + Your World) would kill its value (although perhaps I’m a little more attuned to those kinds of murmurings than most). Twitter is pretty unimpressed and went on the offensive.

We were all shocked to hear allegations that it seems to have abused its access to information in Kenya by using the data it acquired from search to compete with Mocality, a local database company. Even Google itself was “mortified” and issued an apology, but I suspect a deeper look is merited (see monopoly, selling people’s data and wider Google free search engine listings projects).

This came hot on the heels of the company being embroiled in a paid links ‘scandal‘. It has imposed a two month ban on Chrome appearing in search for browsers. Another hot air puff? (It paid for videos, not links, and are people’s browser download habits affected by search to any huge extent?)

The Internet’s a wild frontier, with most bloggers not having the resources to dig into stories in the way that the media should, it’s hard to unravel.  Google’s grown up, got big and less personal.  It’s a tall poppy. I can’t claim or call on any insider knowledge, but in each of these stories, the old adage ‘follow the money to find the truth’ probably applies. Twitter was Google’s golden boy until Google + changed things. Mocality buys and sells people’s data. Google serves it up free.

As it does more, Google will inevitable upset more apple carts. It’s PR machine seems pretty responsive.  It set out with a lofty ambition to do no evil. Let’s hope that this is just a bad start to the year rather than a big company deliberately abusing its power.

The tide really is turning at the top of the tech tables. Mobile’s finding its feet and the ‘good guys’ are being challenged. Whoever thought a decade ago that we’d be looking at Microsoft as an underdog? (I still wouldn’t bet against them!)  I foresee exciting things ahead for 2012.



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