PR Blunder or Just Desserts?

This is a guest post by Lisa Samuelson, founder of Samuelson Communications.

Recently Steve Jobs was incredibly rude to a journalism student who was working on an assignment about iPads as a teaching tool. When the PR department at Apple didn’t respond to her many calls and emails, she found Steve Jobs’ email and reached out to him. He brushed her off the first time telling her it was not his job to make sure she got a good grade.  Their dialogue continued and finally he told her ‘please leave us alone’.  She then took her story public and ended up telling it on Good Morning America

The whole story surprised me on many fronts.  First that Mr. Jobs and Apple would treat a customer this way.  Secondly that they seemed unaware–or perhaps didn’t care–that even small actions like this can very quickly escalate in our Web 2.0 world .  I’m sure Mr. Jobs is inundated with requests of all kinds but I don’t think that’s any excuse for that kind of behavior.  At the very least he could asked the PR department (who clearly wasn’t doing their job in the first place) to respond to her.  But to send an email that says ‘leave us alone’ seems to me to be not only a PR blunder but also an etiquette faux pas.

However I was surprised by the reaction of some of my brethren in the communications world.  On an industry web site, many defended Mr. Jobs’ actions. One said: “If anything, I would have been more blunt with this precocious kid.” Another said: “Sorry journalism student but you deserve a failing grade for not working the proper channels. A CEO of a public corporation has better things to do and worry about than replying to a student’s information request.’  To which I respond that Mr. Jobs is the one who chose to engage by responding (rudely) to her initial email instead of forwarding it along for someone to take care of, and then added insult to injury by dismissing her.

What do you think? Was Mr. Jobs out of line or did the student deserve what she got?


A full-service communications firm, Samuelson Communications specializes in helping clients stand out in the crowd, through brand, marketing communications and public relations strategies. Services include: Strategic planning, brand strategy, key message development, public relations campaigns, social media strategy and campaigns, marketing communications, website and collateral writing and project management.

Please note: We have a new method of delivering blog posts to your inbox. If you have previously received these blog posts through Feedburner, please subscribe to receive these blog posts through the form below and unsubscribe to the posts you receive through Feedburner.

Feel free to share:


Arden Clise is founder and president of Clise Etiquette. Her love for business etiquette began in previous jobs when she was frequently asked for etiquette, public speaking and business attire advice by executives and board members. The passion for etiquette took hold and compelled Arden to start a consulting business to help others. Read more >>

Leave a Comment