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Ron Burgundy Anchorman bad journalism

Journalists enjoy taking a shots at the PR profession, often with justification.

From classics like BusinessInsider’s “Dear PR Lady, Here’s Why I Didn’t Open Any of Your 3 Email Pitches” to my own “Why Journalists Get Cranky About PR,” this genre delivers a never-ending stream of commentary.

Flipping the equation, PR is reticent to return the fire for fear of biting the keyboard that feeds it. Naturally, I feel such fear is misplaced.

Which brings me to a recent episode of bad journalism, a USA Today feature with the headline, “7 Companies Outspend Apple on Innovation,” by Matt Krantz.

Given that every publication in the free world — and some in the paid world — covers Apple’s product announcements, coming up with a fresh story angle to lead into the actual press event is like trying to differentiate celery. To USA Today’s credit, the premise of the headline offers the promise of contrarian storytelling. After all, it stands to reason that the most innovative company in the world must spend on R&D accordingly. It turns out seven companies in the S&P 500 spent more on R&D than Apple in 2013 and Q2 of this year.

I suppose this tidbit — seems a stretch to call it an insight — could be quasi interesting.

It’s when journalists suddenly morph into McKinsey consultants that their narrative can lose its way, as is the case in this piece which makes the point:

Apple’s R&D looked at this way [as a percent of sales] is even tinier. Apple spent just 4.3% of its revenue on R&D in the second calendar quarter of 2014. That means it ranks as just 95th of the biggest spenders on R&D among the S&P 500 looking at it this way.

Really? Taking R&D numbers from last year and Q2 prompts the journalist to connect the dots with this closing punch line:

But with the iPad getting stale, and competition in the smartphone arena kicking up, investors might wonder if Apple might need to pick up its R&D game.

Correlating Apple’s investment in R&D with “the need to pick up its R&D game” can nicely be described as flawed.

Perhaps USA Today’s recent cutbacks eliminated its research function, preventing the journalist from digging into a longer-term view of Apple’s R&D.

I understand.

In the spirit of helping out, our crack research team pulled together Apple’s revenue and R&D spend over the past 10 years. Here’s how it plays out.

Apple R&D -USA Today bad journalism

Numbers aren’t my strength. I last touched math during my sophomore year in high school. It didn’t end well, a story for another time.

But looking at Apple’s R&D spend and revenue over the past 10 years, even I can see the company’s ROI — one of the few financial acronyms I do understand — on its R&D seems pretty darn impressive.

Now, it might turn out that Apple does hit a dry spell in producing hit products. History suggests that this has nothing to do with the dollar allocation, the premise put forth by USA Today. It’s how that money is put to use that matters.

As a goodwill gesture to USA Today, we’re happy to help out with research if the publication find itself short-handed in the future.

It’s the least we can do.


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