With iPhone sales slipping 5% from Q4 2016 to Q4 2017, Apple’s #ThrottleGate debacle was an ill-timed misstep. Karla Jo Helms of JoTo PR examines Apple’s lessons learned and how proactive public relations could have helped the brand.
(Tampa Bay, FL) March 19, 2018 – A recent industry report revealed a 5% dip in iPhone sales between the fourth quarters of 2016 and 2017, while Apple ended the year as the second-place smartphone brand, with a 2017 market share of 14% to Samsung’s 21%.(1) More bad news emerged in late December, when Apple was forced to admit it had been throttling the performance of older iPhones to compensate for declining battery life—a revelation that has left the brand struggling to repair its public image and facing multiple lawsuits.(2, 3) Karla Jo Helms, founder and CEO of JoTo PR, examines Apple’s response to this public relations crisis, identifies ways the company could have avoided its current woes and outlines best practices for maintaining consumer goodwill.
Helms credits Apple for its history of exemplary brand-building and public relations, which have helped fuel demand for the iPhone; however, she notes that those accomplishments have been overshadowed by the recent debacle dubbed #ThrottleGate in social media.(2) After a 17-year-old user performed tests proving that Apple intentionally slowed performance on older-model iPhones,(3) the company subsequently issued a public apology, offering a steep discount on battery replacement—from $79 to $29—and promising a new iOS update that will provide better insights into battery health.(4)
However, some feel Apple’s attempts to make up for the misstep have fallen short, especially considering the actual cost of a replacement battery is less than $10.(3) An attorney who filed a $5 million class-action lawsuit called the offer “an insult to loyal customers,” claiming that it “fails to compensate [those] who were forced to purchase new iPhones.”(3) Apple has also faced criticism for opposing the “Fair Repair Act,” which would require companies to sell replacement parts and tools, publish repair guides for their devices and refrain from software lockdowns.(2)
“Over the past decade, Apple has succeeded in building a strong base of brand evangelists and iPhone devotees,” remarked Helms. “However, the company made a critical mistake with its iPhone throttle debacle—one that has squandered years’ worth of positive PR and consumer goodwill. And though Apple has tried to make amends, many regard those efforts as ‘too little, too late.’ I believe the brand could have prevented its current dilemma and legal troubles with greater transparency and proactive public relations.”
While Apple insists it “has never—and would never—do anything to intentionally shorten the life of any Apple product, or degrade the user experience to drive customer upgrades,”(4) the viral coverage of #ThrottleGate stoked suspicions that the brand engages in planned obsolescence to boost profits. Helms asserts that Apple should have been more forthcoming about its solution for declining battery life, and says she would have advised the company to take a proactive approach to PR:
- Educate consumers about how batteries age, and the effect that process has on device performance.
- Preemptively explain why Apple introduced a software update that intentionally slows down processing in an effort to prevent unexpected shutdowns.
- Offer consumer-oriented solutions, such as giving users the ability control the battery-saving slowdown feature with an on/off toggle and offering battery replacement at or near cost.
- When faced with a crisis, mitigate reputational damage with a good-faith effort to compensate customers for their inconvenience and/or expenses; in this case, by offering free battery replacement to those affected by the slowdown and supporting consumers’ right to repair devices themselves.
“It’s far more cost-effective to invest in proactive public relations than to deal with the fallout from a PR crisis,” noted Helms. “When you factor in the costs of reputational damage, crisis management, consumer brand-switching and potential lawsuits, proactive PR can save a business millions or even billions of dollars. I would encourage companies—including Apple itself—to learn from the iPhone throttle debacle and take steps to address potential problems, create a communications plan, improve customer satisfaction and foster consumer goodwill.”
JoTo embraces a nonconventional approach to public relations, with Helms serving as the company’s Chief Evangelist and Anti-PR Strategist. She has identified three key stages to achieve return on investment in PR—disruption, exposure and influence—parlaying her extensive expertise in crisis management into effective proactive campaigns.
About JoTo PR:
After doing marketing research on a cross-section majority of 5,000 CEOs of fast-growth trajectory companies and finding out exactly how they used PR, how they measured it and how they wanted the PR industry to be different, PR veteran and innovator Karla Jo Helms created JoTo PR and established its entire business model on those research findings. Helms is the Chief Evangelist and Anti-PR Strategist for JoTo PR. Experienced in crisis management, she learned firsthand how unforgiving business can be when millions of dollars are on the line—and how the control of public opinion often determines whether one company is happily chosen, or another is brutally rejected. Astute in recognizing industry changes since its launch in 2009, JoTo PR’s team utilizes newly established patterns to create timely PR campaigns comprising both traditional and the latest proven digital media methods. This unique skill enables them to continue to increase market share and improve return on investment (ROI) for their clients, year after year—beating usual industry standards. Based in Tampa Bay, Florida, JoTo PR is an established international public relations agency. Today, all processes of the agency are streamlined PR services that have become the hallmark of the JoTo PR name. For more information, visit JoTo PR online at https://jotopr.com.
- Gartner, Inc. “Gartner Says Worldwide Sales of Smartphones Recorded First Ever Decline During the Fourth Quarter of 2017”; press release issued February 22, 2018.
- Altavilla, Dave. “Apple iPhone Throttling Debacle Underscores Critical Right To Repair Legislation Issue”; Forbes; December 30, 2017.
- Graham, Jefferson. “Apple’s Apology for Batterygate Didn’t Go Far Enough”; USA Today; December 30, 2017.
- “A Letter to Our Customers About iPhone Batteries and Performance”; open letter published on Apple.com December 28, 2017.