< iLeak


Friday, January 08, 2010

BOB GARFIELD: So the sudden breakout of tabula rah-rah went into full swing on Tuesday, with an article in The Wall Street Journal. Reporters Yukari Iwatani Kane and Geoffrey A. Fowler revealed that Apple would soon unveil its long-rumored i-whatever. It was quite a scoop, providing previously unreported details about the new gadget and setting off an avalanche of tablet coverage. Former Apple marketing manager John Martellaro, now of the Macobserver.com, is pretty sure he knows how The Journal penetrated one of Silicon Valley’s most secretive companies. John, welcome to the show.

JOHN MARTELLARO: Nice to be here, thank you.

BOB GARFIELD: Early in the week there was this very revealing story in The Wall Street Journal, Apple’s plans for its new tablet device. I guess that was the result of some unbelievable digging by the two Wall Street Journal reporters who managed somehow to ferret out this information from the notoriously secretive Apple. Is that how it played out?

JOHN MARTELLARO: Well, I kind of doubt it.

[BOB LAUGHS] I could be wrong but based on previous experience, having worked at Apple and having done them myself, I took a shrewd guess [BOB LAUGHS] that this was one of those carefully controlled leaks.

BOB GARFIELD: Key word being “controlled.” If Apple management catches an employee leaking, that employee can get just fired right on the spot.

JOHN MARTELLARO: Absolutely. And that’s in the news a lot. People tend to think of Apple as a very secretive company but you have to have worked for Apple to realize that every once in a while it’s in their best interest to get some information out there, for reasons I mentioned in the article.

BOB GARFIELD: Let's look at some of those reasons. One is to preempt competition. Another is to signal pricing to see how consumers and Wall Street react to that. And then there’s just the issue of creating buzz.

JOHN MARTELLARO: Absolutely. You get these announcements from Apple that there’s going to be an event somewhere and Steve’s going to talk, and then the rumor mills start. And people make some guesses about what might be presented, and then they're very disappointed when he doesn't talk about what they had hoped. So another reason for this authorized managed leak is to make sure that everybody understands that you do want to be there and they are going to talk about the tablet, and you'd better get in line. And Apple hates empty seats. They want standing room only at these events.

BOB GARFIELD: If your surmise is correct and this was a controlled leak, I want to call your attention to the fourth paragraph of The Journal’s story which is, in its entirety, “An Apple spokesman said the company doesn't comment on rumors and speculation.”


BOB GARFIELD: Now, if you’re right, that paragraph is, at a minimum, disingenuous and, at a maximum, fundamentally dishonest; it’s a charade.

JOHN MARTELLARO: Well, sure. It’s all part of developing that relationship for these, you know, controlled and authorized leaks. It helps Apple because Apple gets to maintain that impression that they never talk about unreleased products. But, sometimes it’s strategically important to get that information out in a very subtle way. And if you have friends in the press who know how to handle it properly, it’s nice.

BOB GARFIELD: You were a marketing manager and in your piece you said you had been, at various times, directed to pull off one of these controlled leaks. What were the ground rules between you and the reporters?

JOHN MARTELLARO: That if they wanted to maintain the relationship they wouldn't mention my name. There would be no emails, so there was never a paper trail. It would be a casual, friendly conversation with the understanding that this is information that Apple wanted to get out but couldn't be attributed to any specific source. Apple wins because they get the information out. The journalist wins because he gets to talk about something that he didn't know about before.

BOB GARFIELD: Okay, Scooter Libby. [LAUGHS]

[JOHN MARTELLARO LAUGHS]] Does, does this all sound familiar to you, that is other institutions perhaps do business this way like, oh, I don't know, the White House and all of inside-the-Beltway, Washington?

JOHN MARTELLARO: I think so. Every company has its agenda and information that it wants to get out in its own, controlled, focused and, and very managed way. I think Apple’s no different than any other company.

BOB GARFIELD: John, thank you for joining us.

JOHN MARTELLARO: It’s been a pleasure. Thank you for having me.

BOB GARFIELD: John Martellaro is senior editor for The Mac Observer and a former senior marketing manager for Apple. We reached out to The Wall Street Journal reporters who wrote the story. They referred us to a Journal spokesman who said The Journal does not discuss its newsgathering processes.