Mixed Signals

Apple, Google/YouTube, and Yahoo!: 3 "Communications" Companies That Won't Communicate

9/05/2010 9:15 AM

In too many parts of today’s telecom worlds, including those run by Silicon Valley’s top “communications” companies — specifically Apple, Google/YouTube, and Yahoo! — they just don’t seem to properly understand what they are really doing, i.e., communicating.Moreover, they certainly don’t understand the idea of doing that in a respectful, civil, and professional manner. In short, they repeatedly and consistently act uncaringly, uncivilly, and unprofessionally toward the media, and many others.

Who They Hurt and Why
Importantly, by treating the media rudely, they are, by extension, treating consumers and the public rudely. This is because for most of the public, and many of these companies’ business peers, the media is one of their few and foremost sources of objective communication with that company or industry subsector. Whenever a timely and professional return call or email might do the trick, they simply - either purposefully or negligently, but either way, certainly unprofessionally - do not return the call/email. Or when they do, the actual response is woefully rude and/or inadequate, as noted further below. By treating the media poorly and with a lack of respect, they are, as publicly-held companies, arguably violating their duties of transparency under federal and state securities laws

And why is this? Well, some would blame their arrogance, which is very likely true. Others would point to immaturity, because these are all relatively young companies. Still others would say it’s an abundance of secret-keeping. I would say it’s just a downright lack of caring, which equates to a solid lack of professionalism.

Ultimately, one has to think that they, themselves, as “communications” companies, suffer too, because they miss the dialogue and opportunities those dialogues represent.

Another Time, Another Profession
I used to practice law. Unfortunately, and again so ironically, I found too many lawyers who were poor communicators, and who often exhibited that illness by acting rudely. When I transitioned into the media and analyst communities, especially with highly paid “communications” departments, I was again surprised, because the last thing I expected was their lack of communication and rudeness.

Indeed, I’ve always been amazed when “communications” companies - and especially when the specialized “communications departments” of these communications companies — end up being such abysmal communicators. The irony simply astounds me.

Another Example: Bad Manners Spread
But, alas, modern telecom has apparently become like the practice of law and many other traditional professions; and unfortunately, I have another recent example to prove it. This one has to do with a media request I made Wednesday, Aug. 25, for an in-person interview a week later on Tuesday, Aug. 31, for two topics I was writing about.

The irony would almost be fun, or perhaps humorous, were it not so wasteful, illogical, and unprofessional. In many ways, one can’t help but to compare this trend to Communist Russia of 20+ years ago, where the idea of something not working (that should be working) was the very essence of everyday life.

As yet another recent embarrassing example of this pathetic consumer- and media-centered saga, the following series of communiqués and attempted communiqués took place with a company that may one day end up running the world’s - or at least the U.S.’s - video and TV businesses. We’ll call the two entities the parent, Company XYZ-A, and the child, XYZ-B.

Monday July 26: At the GeoWeb conference in Vancouver, I met and talked at length with a Company XYZ-A rep, and respectfully ended the conversation with a polite explanation of several unprofessional dealings I had had with Company XYZ-A’s communications, press, and PR departments. My hope was that my experiences might help to one day address and correct the problems of Company XYZ-A;

Wednesday, Aug. 25: I asked my new contact with Company XYZ-A for help getting to the right Company XYZ-A person. However, he could only tell me to write to an anonymous nobody at press@companyxyz.com, which I promptly did;

Thursday, Aug. 26: Having heard nothing back (and time running out on my Tuesday meeting request), I emailed and called the main Company XYZ-A telephone number, also leaving a message. By now, I had left three voicemail messages, all civil and polite, yet also somewhat urgent, within about a 36- to 48-hour time frame;

Friday Aug. 27: A pleasant, NYC-based, but very apologetic, young man, who shall also remain anonymous, said he represented Company XYZ-A and XYZ-B, had gotten one of my requests. He said that he would make sure that the two meetings were arranged, and in a timely manner. Indeed, I did hear back from XYZ-B, whose response was close to nothing, but was nonetheless wonderfully ironic. It’s written again below. I never did hear back from anyone at XYZ-A, the parent company;

Friday Aug. 27: A person calling himself the “Head of XYZ-B Communications” emailed the following obvious brush-off: “Hi Mr. Schaeffler: Thanks for your interest in [XYZ-B]. Unfortunately, we’re not able to accommodate your request to visit [XYZ-B] headquarters next Tuesday, August 31. Best, Head Communicator” (emphasis supplied). This was the entire email!;

Friday, Aug. 27: I responded a few minutes later: “[Head Communicator]: Thank you for getting back to me. Would it be possible to arrange another time? Thank you. Jimmy Schaeffler” And can you guess the next result…? “Head Communicator” has not at any time or in any manner chosen to respond to this communication;

Friday, Aug. 27: I called Company XYZ-A/B rep in NYC and requested his email address, which I never received;

Monday, Aug. 30: I again called Company XYZ-A/B rep in NYC and told him of XYZ-B’s “Head Communicator’s” response, which he said he could do nothing about. He said he would check back with Company XYZ-A, to again try to get a response for a meeting the next day, Tuesday. Needless to say, in keeping with my theme and overall message, I have not heard back from him or Company XYZ-A either.

Indeed, this last email response above from XYZ-B was simply the paradigm of the truly meager communications skills of XYZ-B through its “Head Communicator” [unbelievably, really, that’s the title XYZ-B supplies this person]. For here, we have XYZ-B’s “Head Communicator” communicating on the level of someone who doesn’t speak the same language as just about any recipient of such an email. He certainly doesn’t speak a language of business, which is a language of getting things done. Why? Well, for one, he waits two and a half days to answer a media inquiry that was clearly timely. Then, I have to ask here, “What does XYZ-B’s ‘Head Communicator’ think I am going to do in response to this rather rude brush off?” Could he not have, in professional response, have offered…”Can we try another day for the interview?” Or, “Can we try a telephone conversation instead?” Or, maybe even an extraordinary, “Call me later today, on Monday, and we can talk further about it?”

Brin’s Gift To America
In this case, I am so taken aback at the level of basic communication for Company XYZ-A and its subsidiary XYZ-B that I need to be reminded that the Company XYZ-A communications company I am actually not communicating with, calls itself Google. Perhaps Google’s (and child XYZ-B, AKA YouTube’s) press office is Sergei Brin’s Gift to Capitalist America. That gift is perhaps a little piece of ridiculously inefficient communist Russia. I surmise Mr. Brin might be doing this just to remind us all of how much “communication” irony — and frustration and contradiction — remains in the world today, despite the post-Cold War communications advances coming from services like Apple, Google/YouTube, and Yahoo!

Importantly, there are three more problems here:

Problem # 1: Google treats too many people, including most media I checked, just like this.
Problem # 2: In repeated dealings with Yahoo!, and especially with Apple, they also treat people the same way (whereas I have found during several decades that few other company’s communications departments, and few other company’s people, treat people in such a consistently pitiful manner).

Problem # 3: They can, they must, do better (or risk becoming irrelevant at the hands of those that can care, and can communicate).

Final Ratings
Finally, just to complete some of my own due diligence (and communication), as noted, I checked with several of my fellow media folks: Most said the order of incompetence/arrogance/immaturity/uncaring/unprofessionalism among the three companies I have had problems with should be as follows: # 1 Apple; # 2 Google/YouTube; and # 3 Yahoo!

From my experience, however, my personal “worst” rating is # 1 Google/YouTube; #2 Apple; and # 3 Yahoo!

Whatever the ranking, all three…clean up your act! C-o-m-m-u-n-i-c-a-t-e!

1 Please note that the some names of various participants have been withheld, in order, necessarily, to protect the mostly guilty, and the occasional innocent participant.

Jimmy Schaeffler, chairman and CSO of The Carmel Group, writes about the convergence of pay television and other industry developments.