What Cameron Learned From 10 Years of Doing PR for Apple

A recent post about the Cloud Computing company, Digital Ocean, got me thinking about what makes certain corporations superstars in their industry. It seems to be an elusive combination of outstanding products that add value to peoples’ lives and great communication about those products. Cameron Craig highlights his five most important communication lessons in the Harvard Business Review article, “What I Learned From 10 Years of Doing PR for Apple.”

  • Keep it simple
  • Value reporters’ time
  • Be hands on
  • Stay focused
  • Prioritize media influencers

It’s a fascinating read and the article was so popular that he wrote a short follow-up on LinkedIn called “One more thing.” This post explained the importance of Apple’s Surprise and Delight philosophy as well as the benefits of in-house versus outsourced marketing. I worked with Apple before, during, and after their “turnaround” and saw their acoustics team apply these concepts. Apple went from one acoustic engineer using the anechoic chamber as a storage room to multiple state of the art chambers staffed by the best and brightest acoustic engineers in the industry. We were all “surprised and delighted” when even the first iPhones were a breakthrough in cell phone audio quality.

ApplePainting smallThe pros and cons of Apple’s products are constantly argued, sometimes quite vocally. For example, a recent Reddit thread “The Galaxy Note 7 is miles ahead of the iPhone” has over 1,200 comments. However, the fact remains that Apple still adds value to a massive number of customers and consistently communicates that value effectively. It’s a lesson many tech companies ignore at their own peril. Even Google, with a virtually unlimited marketing budget has some questionable practices like announcing news too far in advance. Yahoo, of course, is the ultimate recent example because less than a decade ago, it was in Google’s dominant industry position. Could Google succumb to the same fate? The next post in this series will explore some of these questions.

Exploring the Digital Ocean of Cloud Computing

A recent Monthly Recap introduced a company called Digital Ocean (DO) that provides virtual servers for software developers which run “in the cloud.” If you are unfamiliar with this concept, it’s fascinating and their minimalist homepage has a 20 second animated GIF that explains it.  To summarize, you click a few buttons, wait 55 seconds, and can then login as a superuser to your very own barebones Unix server complete with Internet access. A basic server can be created for an arbitrary length of time for just $0.007 per hour or run continuously for only $5 per month. In either case, the price is the same: 30 x 24 x $0.007 = $5. There’s no hardware to configure, no monitor/keyboard to plug-in, no USB memory stick needed. Just click and poof, a server magically appears ready for use.

Needless to say, this service has become extremely popular and scrappy little DO has been compared very favorably with massive solutions from Amazon (AWS) and Google (GCE). However, DO’s founders certainly have had a rough path to their “instant success.” You can see from one of the founder’s public LinkedIn profile that he has spent years in a wide variety of roles honing his skills.


He is clear about the challenges he has faced along the way. In his description of his position as President of ServerStack, he says, “Where I learned how to do things wrong for a decade so that we could make DigitalOcean an overnight success.” He is even an active participant on Quora answering a wide variety of questions on startup strategy including questions on his own company like, “Is it still worth to copy DigitalOcean?


Also, as I mentioned in the previous post, DO has crowdsourced their documentation. It’s a genius idea. Many techies love to play with servers and the incentive of up to $200 for writing an in-depth tutorial makes it even more compelling. To their credit, DO has made it easy by providing “Writing Guidelines” that explain how to write a technical article describing their services and a comprehensive author application.

The result has been a set of 1,379 tutorials covering all the major features of their products which are available at no charge. There’s always so much to say about companies that seem to be run well with the right intent, but I’ll close by simply posting DO’s Core Values again. While “Love is what makes us great” is my favorite, the rest provide that glimmer of hope that there are some companies out there that continue to “Think Different!” and still succeed.


Monthly Recap: The Hard Work (and Love) Behind An Instant Success

This month’s posts covered a wide range of topics.

Do You Know Where Your Customers Are?” used Google’s concept of micromoments to demonstrate the importance of the fact that a company needs to be present when and where a customer needs to find them. Today many high tech companies in niche markets still do not utilize the most basic online tools such as Google, LinkedIn, and Email marketing.

Just for Fun… Computer Hardware Then and Now” was a brief tribute to the massive computing hardware of yesteryear. It ended with the observation that in a way, computing has come full circle from large centralized mainframes to personal computers with local storage and back to cloud computing running on large centralized datacenters.

Finally, “Pokémon Go: The Hard Work Behind An Instant Success” provided an overview of the decades of technical and creative genius that have gone into making Pokémon Go the massive success it has become. It focused especially on the conscious design philosophy developed by it’s chief designer Shigeru Miyamoto, creator of classic games like Mario, Donkey Kong and Zelda.

DOInvoiceSoon after writing these posts, I came across Digital Ocean, a company that demonstrates several of these concepts. They provide cloud based virtual servers for software developers. I have dabbled with Linux for decades, starting in the 1990s when I installed an early version of Slackware Linux that was distributed on 24 floppy disks in order to run open source scientific software written in Fortran. Today, Digital Ocean can deploy a cloud based Linux server in under a minute that can be used for less than a penny an hour.

The next post will explain the technical details, but my ah-ha moment came when I was reading their documentation. I came across a post “Digital Ocean’s Writing Guidelines” that explains how to write a technical article describing their services. Digging deeper, I realized that they have completely crowdsourced their documentation and even pay up to $200 for accepted articles. As a result they now have almost 1,500 tutorials. There is some controversy about this practice, but overall it seems like it has been good for both Digital Ocean and their writers.

DOCoreValuesIn the digital world, this company is considered an instant success. They are highly funded and the second largest web hosting provider in their technical niche. However, the founders have traveled a difficult road to arrive at this point. This is another topic for the next post, but one reason for their success might be buried at the end of a very long, “About Us” page. This is where Digital Ocean has published their Core Values. The last of these is “Love is what makes us great” and that might be one of the most transformative values of all.

Do You Know Where Your Customers Are?

Google has done a great job with storytelling in their video on Micro-Moments. As part of their Think with Google series, it is a two minute introduction to capturing a customer in their “moment of need.” It’s especially powerful on LinkedIn where it presents complex scenarios as images delivered regularly. Four can be found at the end of this post.

When marketing jargon like a “micro-moment” is stripped away, the underlying idea is that a company needs to be present when and where a customer needs to find them. Many high tech companies in niche markets that I have worked with still rely primarily on trade shows, industry magazines, and other traditional methods. They do not take advantage of even the most basic online tools. There are many reasons, but most center around lack of resources and the challenges of reaching customers in fragmented markets.

Potential solutions vary hugely by industry, but here are three that almost every niche, high tech company should be addressing:

LinkedIn – Despite being bought by Microsoft, it is still an excellent resource. At the very least, have marketing deliver regular updates to your company page at least once a month to boost customer awareness. Avoid having random employees provide status updates unless coordinated by marketing. This looks amateurish.

Google – A basic Google Adwords campaign is a good idea, but even better is “organic search results.” Many “SEO consultants” charge expensive fees for this, but it can easily be developed over time by publishing technical content on your website that customers can find via a Google search. Over time, your company’s website will rise to that coveted first page position… at zero cost!

Email – Contrary to popular belief, email is not dead. You can even reuse the technical and marketing content you are already creating. Assuming this content is useful, your customers will be happy to signup for regular updates. One warning however, once you start, don’t stop, it could look like your company is having troubles.

As I quoted Elon Musk (Tesla / SpaceX) in a recent post, “When you have a product that really resonates with customers, the word of mouth grows like wildfire.”








Monthly Recap: Storytelling and Making Up True Stories

All of May’s posts featured the word ‘Storytelling’ in the title and I’m beginning to dislike the choice. It rarely sounds good in a corporate environment so it gets translated as “silver bullets, talking points, key takeaways, core competencies” and many other corporate-speak phrases. My primary goal when creating and delivering training programs is providing the right type and amount of information to maximize learning and understanding. What happens next is a bit of magic where people translate that information into an internal story about the product. There are many fancy names for this including Cognitivism, Constructivism, and Transformative learning theories, but at its core, it is storytelling. Salespeople are especially good at this. When there is a good fit between their product and a customer’s problem, they spontaneously create compelling stories illustrating the connection in real time. Of course, this is a gross simplification, great salespeople are great listeners and questioners first, but the result of this process is still a story.

Rereading this month’s posts made me realize that there should be a better word for professional storytelling. The post “Storytelling: Pixar and International Science Fairs” explores the role of stories in scientific advancement, but nobody goes to an industry conference for scientific ‘stories.’ They go for the “technical presentations, round table discussions, and expert panels.” The posts in the “Dangers of Negative Storytelling” series (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3) dove deep into the epidemic of clickbait in journalism these days. I equated these stories to the dangers of crying wolf, but a recent Verge article points out that the punishment has become financial. Gawker’s inappropriate stories has gotten them into legal trouble to the tune of $140M: “A Silicon Valley billionaire is reportedly funding the legal war to end Gawker.”

Maybe the new word for professional storytelling should be taken from German. Any language that features words like Kuddelmuddel for an unstructured mess, der Ohrwurm (ear worm) for an unshakable tune, and die Schnapsidee for a crazy idea (thanks to schnapps…) should have a word for this.

All kidding aside, a phrase came to me while I was musing over this word, “making up a true story.” Thanks to Google (who is not doomed by the way), I found that this was from a book I hadn’t read in decades called “Illusions.” The full quote reads: “There was a part of me listening that didn’t think what I said was fiction. I was making up a true story.” In a sense, this is what we are all doing, making up true stories as we go through life. Making up positive, uplifting true stories leads to a better world for everybody. By the way, the same author also wrote the more famous book, “Jonathan Livingston Seagull.” If you have some time over this long weekend, get a copy of “Illusions” on Kindle. It’s a fast read and I guarantee your stories will never be the same after!

Now back to that word: “Ackamarackusry?, Schmegeggy?, Fictography? Subterwriters?… hmmmm… ” (courtesy of the Nonsense Word Generator)