Steve Jobs Hoopla Dominates ...


When we last addressed Mr. Jobs he was taking a pass on Macworld.

More recently, unless you’ve spent the last week in the proverbial cave, you’ve seen the cavalcade of stories on Steve Jobs taking a leave of absence from Apple.

The common denominator in the stories revolves around understanding his replacement, Tim Cook.

It’s revealing to contrast a blog posting from The Wall Street Journal by Nick Wingfield with a story in the San Jose Mercury News penned by Brandon Bailey “Iron Reporter”-style (further proof that I’m spending way too much time on the Food Network).

Let’s start with the headlines.

“When Steve Jobs Met Tim Cook” (Journal) versus “Tim Cook – Jobs’ temporary replacement at Apple – seen as strong manger” (Merc).

No contest.

The Journal story promises to put me in the room for the first Jobs-Cook interaction, with instant drama coming from the question “what happened?”

Was it “like” at first sight?

Did Cook wear a “Vote for Ike” button as an icebreaker?

On the other hand, the Merc header indicates that we’re likely going to read a rehash of what’s already known by even pedestrian Apple watchers.

And that’s about how it plays out.

Wingfield deserves credit for tracking down the recruiter at Heidrick & Struggles who served as the matchmaker back in 1998. (The fact that the recruiter no longer works for Heidrick tells me that Heidrick PR did not pitch the story angle.) While the walk down memory lane won’t evoke foreshadowing like F. Scott Fitzgerald, at least it’s different from the thousands of Cook-knows-how-to-make-the-trains-run-on-time stories. The anecdote that Steve isn’t big on collecting barber chairs adds some levity.

The Merc story kicks off with the premise that Cook is the right man for the short-term gig, supported by “scintillating” quotes from two sources:

“He’s the guy that makes sure everything gets executed properly. He’s excellent at getting things done.” (Tim Bajarin from Creative Strategies)

The 48-year-old Cook is “not a product innovator. But he runs a very tight ship.” (Brian Marshall from Broadpoint AmTech)

Needless to say, we won’t be adding these quotes to our art of storytelling curriculum … which isn’t to diss the two sources. We know Bajarin, who is absolutely clued into Apple and often communicates with a compelling bent. But what shows up in this particular article from the sources interviewed doesn’t make for an enlightening read.

It turns out that the best color in the Merc piece gets borrowed from Fortune’s profile on Cook last year:

A recent article in Fortune magazine described a management meeting in which Cook was discussing a problem with Apple’s Asian operations. “This is really a problem,” Cook reportedly said. “Someone should be in China driving this.” Thirty minutes later, Cook turned to a subordinate and calmly inquired: “Why are you still here?” The man immediately left the meeting, the magazine said; he drove straight to the airport and flew to China without a change of clothes.

Even with the limitations of a 24-hour news cycle, you would think the paper in Apple’s backyard could do a little better on the original reporting front (although finding a tidbit in the Cook family’s hometown paper, the Robertsdale Independent was a nice touch).

I do recognize that both the Journal and the Merc have published multiple stories on this topic. It’s plausible that with a little more initiative on my part, I could have found a dull Journal piece and a Merc story with panache.

It’s also not lost on me that the blog as a medium for reporting offers the latitude to capture vignettes that otherwise wouldn’t be substantial enough to make the printed page.

Still, I think this exercise sheds light on how to create – or suffocate – drama in business communications.

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