Showing posts with label verizon. Show all posts
Showing posts with label verizon. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 22

Missing The Problem: AT&T

“The way we see the problem is the problem.” — Stephen R. Covey

Believe it or not, AT&T doesn't have a network problem. Not really. What it has is an increasingly critical public relations problem. And until it sees public relations as the real problem, things won't get much better.

Bob Geller was among the first to call it so, citing an article that confirms AT&T's throughput is 40 to 50 percent higher than the competition, had faster average download speeds, and signal strength of 75 percent or better more frequently. Most challenges are simply related to the adoption rates of data hungry consumers.

And yet, AT&T's strategy in the AT&T-Verizon smackdown continues to aim at censoring the Verizon message as much as it wants its own message out there. The latest attempt included purchasing two day-long "netblocks" across the entire Time Warner cable division. Sites included CNN,,,,,, and The "netblock" buy was a step up from the ill-advised lawsuit, but not by much.

Even more telling than the actions of AT&T is how people react to what it says. When Ralph de la Vega, president of AT&T Mobility, framed up the company's challenge to convincing consumers to curtail consumption, most people translated his message to mean restrictive monthly usage limits. He meant something else, but the reaction still gives everyone a glimpse of how much consumer trust is bestowed upon AT&T — not much to none at all.

AT&T unwittingly reinforces the Verizon message.

Do you see any patterns in the actions of AT&T? Censor. Block. Drop. Limit. Curtail.

None of these words resemble anything close to what you want associated with a phone company or cellular network. And yet, almost every AT&T article includes those words, which prompted Saturday Night Live (SNL) to drive the point home with a joke.

How did it happen? Simple.Verizon is employing a classic political campaign strategy in its bid to regain the top spot. Verizon defined its competitor before AT&T even knew it was in a fight. Since, AT&T has unwittingly done everything possible to reinforce that message in an attempt to defend its brand.

But as the old saying goes: if you're defending, you're losing. And AT&T is certainly defending. Even with its Luke Wilson ads, which are meant to be an attack, it still comes across as overly defensive.

As a side note, a second message that seems to be sticking is that AT&T is somehow more "Ma Bell" than Verizon. In reality, both companies are decedents of the same parent. AT&T seems to own it, except in Vermont where they call Verizon "tinker bell" instead of a "baby bell."

So how was it that AT&T was defined by its competitor?

Once a negative message sticks, it's increasingly difficult to shake off. A quick situational analysis reveals how it happened:

On the front end, there were some existing misgivings about AT&T simply because it won iPhone exclusivity. Back then, it was Verizon that looked foolish and greedy. However, when AT&T and Apple launched the iPhone 3G, it did underestimate the demand on its HSUPA network.

The added data demand did impact service, which Verizon leveraged in its "there's a map for that" campaign that makes it appear as if AT&T has virtually no coverage. The campaign was a stretch, but AT&T all but agreed with it by launching a lawsuit that Verizon laughed at, along with everybody else.

What's not covered by the various insights and posts from public relations professionals, however, is the grassroots impact. Basically, Verizon made what was a "sluggish" challenge seem to be a real "deal breaker" with enough noise that everybody heard about it. But that's not where the real stickiness occurred.

The stickiness happened because anytime an iPhone customer had a problem during the campaign, they couldn't help but to think their problem was related to what Verizon said. Adding self-inflicted injury to this insult, AT&T went on the defense. Doing so only affirmed that there was a problem and AT&T was trying to cover it up.

When it couldn't win with legal, the counter attack came too late to be anything but defensive in the face of Verizon's "the truth hurts" rebut. After that, AT&T confirmed it had a problem and somehow its message morphed into blaming consumers.

How to fix the fiasco for AT&T.

AT&T still seems to be a better carrier in a world where every carrier is challenged by increased demand. Detracting from the ability to pay for these upgrades are price point wars that make many phones free, with strings attached. In addition, many phone companies are struggling because they have to have to support 3G services, maintain 2G services, invest in 4G services, and (in some cases) improve bandwidth along land lines.

That is part of the tradeoff for being in a high demand industry. And, it's only going to become more challenging as the future of all communication becomes mobile. (In the future, the only thing that will separate a device is the docking station).

So where does that leave AT&T? It needs to focus on its Achilles heel, which is obviously public relations.

Stop Defending. No one can dismiss a problem while confessing there is a problem. AT&T might as well own it and stick to talking about the future and its upcoming solutions, which include increasing the availability of free WiFi.

Start Selling. As good as the campaigns look, tit for tat campaigns don't work when they are the result of failed lawsuits. A primary message needs to be forward focused. Despite what many people say, AT&T is looking much further into the future than Verizon. It has been for a long time.

Centralize Social Media. AT&T needs to centralize its fragmented social media program. It is so fragmented, most people don't even know which typo-heavy account to follow on which social network. Once they figure it out, they are often directed to follow someone else. Their Facebook pages are no exception: walls filled with fluff, customer complaints, and spam.

Shore Up Public Support. It would be easier if the social media architects knew what they were doing, but they obviously did not. (The AT&T social media program is in itself a case study in why author-consultant expert models are not scalable.) So in the short term, AT&T might fare better with localized campaigns that reach out to customers in specific markets and communicate solutions to those markets.

Generalize The Attack. There is no reason for the market share leader to elevate the name ID of the number two service provider. As the current market leader, it makes more sense to generalize any attack messages so that anyone who knows Verizon will get the message while anyone who doesn't know Verizon won't be introduced to them.

For example, Verizon feels justified in doubling its early termination fee to $350. The penalty is far and away more expensive than AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile, which charge $175 to $200 and prorate those charges over the course of the contract.

AT&T coming out strong with a short-term "no penalty" enrollment program would hurt Verizon. Without mentioning the competition, it would give AT&T an opportunity to brand Verizon as a company that tries to trap its customers while demonstrating that AT&T is not afraid to let new customers leave if they don't experience better service. Of course, that would require making good on that promise or at least presenting a compelling plan to make it work.

The alternative is to keep taking lumps and invest heavily in a 5G network (whatever that means) that will leapfrog over anyone attempting to develop a 4G network. That strategy served Apple well when when it changed smart phones forever.

Ultimately, however, unless a company is poised to think four or five years out from anyone else like Apple tries to, the lesson AT&T has to embrace is one of the toughest of all. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter if you have the better product or service. It only matters that people "think" you have. And if they don't believe it, you can't talk your way around it.

"You can’t talk your way out of what you’ve behaved yourself into.” — Stephen R. Covey

Tuesday, December 15

Looking For Market Share: Verizon

In 2006, beginning with a boost from rumors of the iPhone, AT&T accomplished something few would have thought possible. It captured market share in a field that was once dominated by Verizon.

Everyone knows the primary reason. The iPhone was the only smart phone capable of turning the tables on the cellular selection process: Whereas most people chose a carrier and then a phone, Apple and AT&T convinced people to buy an iPhone regardless of the carrier.

Today, the iPhone commands about 23 percent of the market share, which undoubtedly keeps AT&T in the lead position as a carrier. The effect on Verizon has been profound.

After grossly underestimating the impact of the iPhone and serving up a series of distress campaigns, Verizon has finally decided to draw a line in the sand and set its sights on clawing its way back to the top.

In 2009, Verizon invested heavily in a multi-front comparative attack against its competitors that now rounds out three of the top ten most expensive attack campaigns this year: $100 million to introduce Fios against Comcast (unrelated to the AT&T spat); and $100 million to introduce the Droid as its weapon of choice against AT&T.

Framing Up The Verizon vs. AT&T Smackdown

Saving the Comcast battle for another time, the two-prong iPhone/AT&T attack seems to be working but not in the way Verizon anticipated.

While it has gained ground, it has yet to recapture significant market share away from AT&T. It is also a long, long way from generating profit on smart phone sales given that Verizon spends about $100 per $199 Droid for advertising and offered customers a $100 rebates.

In terms of awareness, Verizon's attack against AT&T and AT&T's counterattack have generated brand awareness for both companies, with Verizon eking out a slight lead.

In terms of market share, the Droid seems to be capturing people who decidedly wanted iPhone features without (less so) the Apple brand and/or (more so) AT&T service. Still, in the third quarter, AT&T signed up 2 million new subscribers; Verizon signed up 1.2 million new subscribers.

In term of public relations, Verizon clearly comes out on top despite consistently fudging facts. What is interesting is that AT&T has a better network, but public perception consistently positions AT&T as an inferior network. (Here is the truth that was buried beneath the bad publicity generated by an ill-advised lawsuit against Verizon).

In terms of marketing, AT&T seems to be relying too heavily on its ability to be exclusive iPhone carrier. If the contract ends in 2010 or 2012, AT&T will be forced to find new solutions ... unless it can reverse its partly undeserved image. (While most consumer reviews place AT&T second in terms of dropped calls, people talk about it as if its last. It's not.)

When you add it all up, AT&T will be in a real fight next year to retain what began as Verizon's unwillingness to meet Apple's initial conditions to be an exclusive carrier. While AT&T previously held a better marketing strategy and still holds the superior market share, it has yet to communicate tangible consumer benefits in terms that resonate with the public.

*Comparison chart by Gigaom.

Thursday, July 31

Pulling Under Pressure: Mars Inc., Nike, Heinz, Verizon

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), which is a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization, has convinced Mars Inc. to pull an advertisement running in the United Kingdom.

According to the HRC, the ad featured a man whose appearance and actions – speed walking in an exaggerated manner – conjured up stereotypes of gay men. Worse, they say, that the advertisement portrays homosexuals as second-class citizens and that violence against GLBT people is not only acceptable, but humorous.

Although the HRC praised Mars Inc. for the decision, it seems getting the advertisement pulled was not enough. They lamblaste Mars Inc. for another Snickers advertisement that ran in 2007. Ironically, that advertisement seemed to poke more fun at men who were more homophobic than homosexual.

The Guardian, which posted the commercial, has a different opinion. It called the HRC claim — that the speed walker in the spot is homosexual — preposterous. The article suggests that Mars Inc. might listen to Mr. T rather than coddling what seems to be sensationalized oversensitivity. Apparently, Mars Inc. is not the only company.

Nike also pulled advertisements, which can be seen at the Gawker, because it was claimed they carried an anti-gay message despite the context. Verizon also pulled an advertisement under pressure from another activist group.

Meanwhile, Michael Wilke, executive director of Commercial Closet Association, which advocates and honors advertisements that feature gender identity/expression and sexual orientation issues, laughed about the advertisements being pulled.

Bill O’Reilly commented as well. He reminded viewers of a Heinz Company advertisement that was pulled for the opposite reason. It featured two guys kissing. Heinz caved, he said.

All of this sounds familiar to me for some reason. Oh, right.

“… minorities, each ripping a page or paragraph from a book, until one day the books were empty and the minds were shut and libraries were closed.” — Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

Ho hum. I’m starting to wonder if I have to write another post about the difference between a writer implying context and a reader inferring context.

You know, based on the release from the HRC, I’m not so sure that Mars Inc. communicated sensitivity to the issue as much as it simply demonstrated its willingness to be browbeaten. And maybe the same can be said for Nike and Heinz and Verizon.

In fact, I’m not even so sure the activists communicated sensitivity to their own issues. It seems to me they all promoted the adoption of inferred stereotypes as identification. And that’s bad for everybody, equally.


Tuesday, January 8

Missing Customers: Verizon Tries Distress

While most cellular phone customers are savvy to text messaging, some are becoming all too familiar with distress messaging. Specifically, anyone who makes up the 27 percent of the smart phone market captured by the Apple iPhone, especially if they were a Verizon customer.

These folks, like me, are probably receiving distress message mailers. The latest from Verizon, sent about two weeks after I become an AT&T iPhone windfall customer and about a week after Verizon’s letter that claimed “I made a mistake,” tells the real story:

We miss you already.

• Free BlackBerry Pearl with GPS Navigation
• $100 off any phone of your choice
• Free activation

Call today!

While I’m not privy to the response rate, my best guess is that it’s flat. It might also be causing some brand damage to what once was the network of choice among 1 million subscribers, at least those who recently made a switch.

Messages such as take $100 off, come back and save, and come back to the network you trust are emblazoned on almost every panel of an 8-panel direct mail piece. Most of them, if not all of them, are misdirected, clearly reinforcing that Verizon has no idea why it has to send a “miss me” mailer anyway.

It’s not the network, it’s the phone. But now, looking back, maybe there is something questionable about the service strategy at Verizon anyway. As a former customer, why did I have to quit in order to get offered the best package perks ever?

For all these efforts, they were four months too late. That was the beginning of the end. Four months ago, my second-to-last Verizon phone was damaged during my ”never fly US Airways unless I absolutely have to again” flight.

Naturally, once I returned home, the first order of business was replacing my broken phone. The choices were slim without a contract. So, my company made a Band-Aid LG phone buy. It was the worst phone I’ve ever owned.

Contrary to the mailer’s claim “Your phone is only as good as the network it’s on,” $5 more per month for an iPhone opened my eyes up to what I was missing, starting with unlimited data, something Verizon never wanted to talk about until now, assuming you’re a lapsed customer (ie. unlimited data is now available on select phones, for new and returning customers, with one- and two-year contracts, for about $5 more than AT&T offers with the iPhone). They don’t get it.

“The best time to start missing a customer is before they stop being your customer.”

Sure, no one can say that Verizon is dead, but it’s very telling when a once perceived market leader does more following than leading. While they did pretty well launching the LG Voyager concept copy, a phone that Today’s Paul Hochman called the only viable competitor for the iPhone (I’m less convinced). However, the plan still lacks where AT&T came through. Customers don’t want 2-year contracts because technology is changing too fast to commit.

More to the point, Verizon would be better served by revisiting its marketing strategy from the ground up. They need to invest more on existing customers, recognizing that the recapture rate seems thin if you wait until after a lost customer already signs another contract or are unlikely to use their iPhone as a paperweight. Besides, it costs more to recapture a lost customer than attract new customers. Why? Lost customers already made up their mind once.

Here are a few quick tips for the Verizon marketing department:

• Improve your marketing to existing customers before their contract ends
• Re-engage customers who fulfill their contract with new customer perks
• Keep existing customers engaged, offering opt-ins on new customer perks
• Stop playing games with location rates; a national price plan is long overdue
• Verizon is a prime new media candidate; a presence last year would have went a long way, especially if you could have hinted at Voyage 9 before people bought iPhones

But above all, fix your messages. Touch gets more stylish? Come on. Honestly, the best thing Verizon has going is the geeky phone guy. He’s become a great icon on television but everything with text falls flat. It doesn’t connect to the smart phone market, which by all accounts, is the new market. Even Citigroup knows that. And they’re not even in the phone business.


Monday, July 23

Preserving Freedom: Net Neutrality

According to Ghost In The Machine, written by Sharon Herbert, more than 29,000 comments were submitted to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) since it opened an inquiry into net neutrality. An additional 670 comments were filed by groups and individual Internet users on the deadline, July 16.

So is that it? Theresa Hall reminds BlogCatalog members that’s not it. She wrote U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Maryland) with her views that Internet service providers should not be allowed to discriminate by speeding up or slowing down access to Web content based on its source, ownership, or destination.

How did the senator respond?

I understand your concern that the Internet should not favor certain content or services over others. I believe that the Internet is not only an important tool, but a vital resource. It has allowed millions of Americans to communicate instantly with people around the world. It has put access to libraries of information at everyone's fingertips. The use of the Internet continues to grow, and the ways we use it continue to expand. Your views on network neutrality will be very helpful to me as Congress considers this issue.

As someone who frequently works in political arenas, I might point out that Sen. Mikulski's response is largely neutral, demonstrating little movement from her position last year. This is surprising to me, given Maryland state legislators acted on their own to put a mandate into place.

So what is this all really about? Some, like the New York Times, suggest it has to do with Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile, and others always being afraid of the competition, which is why iPhone is only available from one carrier (in Europe, you can change carriers any time regardless of the phone you want). In the years ahead, that competition is likely to include companies like Skype and Google, which have called on the FCC to open up more equipment and software options in the wireless industry. In fact, Google is looking for another leap forward with a wireless spectrum in which chunks of radio frequency currently used for analog TV would be freed up by a switch to digital.

Regardless of this behind-the-scenes wrangling, however, the real stake holders in net neutrality are people like you and me because we funded its creation with a combination of tax dollars and subscription fees. Without net neutrality, Internet carriers would very feasibly be able to control content on the Internet by favoring those sites willing to pony up cash for the carrier; or, as they have with mobile phones, lock up technologies so they can be exclusive providers; or create steeper tier systems similar to cable programming; or, quite possibly enforce net censorship.

I suggest, as always, education is the key to understanding. Catch the entertaining video version on YouTube, keep up to date by visiting sites like, and write U.S. senators and representatives in your state so you have a better understanding of their positions.

In fact, I am doing the latter today and I'll be happy to share their responses in the days ahead. Good night and good luck.


Thursday, June 28

Controlling Community: John Sumser

John Sumser has taken on a mission impossible because there seems to be a desire to transform, which is currently defined as blog community portal, into a niche social network that will be managed like an online magazine with Sumser as editor.

It cannot be done.

Sumser is not alone in making the mistake of combining what are opposing objectives. Many companies are struggling with the same self-created issue, which is what often gives rise to community members screaming unfair criticism, blatant censorship, and/or totalitarian fascist rule. Eventually, it leads to protest, exodus, or even negative public outcry beyond the niche it serves.

You can see it all over the net. It ranges from alleged censorship of The Black Donnellys fans at NBC online and Jericho fans during the cancellation protest at CBS online to the broadest brush strokes and ample examples being advocated by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. All of it, big and small, stems from the same problem: a lack of strategic oversight on the part of the site moderators that often leads to gross confusion over whether or not the First Amendment might apply on the part of the participants (mostly, it doesn't), which I'm inclined to write about another time.

Today, I'll stick to the misconception being applied by some companies: they think "if we build it (a framework for an online community of sorts, whether it be a blog, portal, forum, social network, or some combination), they will come." And, as soon as the "open" sign goes up, sometimes they do come — participants who quickly take up residence and build their community.

Did you catch that? I said "their community" because it's the most important part of the equation. Companies that create online gathering places only own the framework; it's the participants who own the community. Because without them, there is no community.

And that brings us back to Whereas Jason Davis (former management at moderated with a guiding hand, Sumser seems to use the rule of law. After all, as editor, Sumser claims it's his job to ensure the content is worthwhile by some subjective standards only he knows.

While I understand this thinking from someone who often considers social media and blogging as, more or less, immature and brutish (although, mysteriously and magically, not so in many, many places), it represents the direct opposition to developing an online community. You see, the model for editorial control, beyond the loosest guidelines, (eg. no pornography, etc.) is much better suited to running an online magazine or news source like, well, Electronic Recruiting News.

For a blog portal, like, any sense of community can only be accomplished by applying the simplest of concepts: "it's easier to pull a chain than to push one." That means "editors" must abandon their propensity to manage and attempt to lead.

Real leadership does not work under the rule of law. It requires something else all together. So instead of "editing" and reserving the right to make even the best intended critiques, the moderator who hopes to build a community will see better results if they focus more on making people feel welcome, praising those who provide the best examples, and adding unique value for the residents.

No, it doesn't have to be this way. could just as easily operate as an online content provider or magazine (in which case, it needs more exclusive content) and a blog portal, giving up on the idea that it is somehow a community (it's not). While this means it will rarely be considered home, the model can work just as well while affording the owners control, which they seem to want.

From a more general perspective, any time a company, organization, or group launches a product, service, or online "something" (or applies sweeping changes to such things), it's always best to develop a strategy first. And, if these things already exist, it's never a good idea to remove previous tactics without knowing what you need to replace them with. Ergo, if you blow little things all up without a plan, you might be surprised to find out some of those little things made the big thing work.

Ideally, developing a strategy can be largely accomplished by understanding the environment in which you hope to operate and your true competitors. Then, you offer added values to your product/service/offering or, at minimum, positive communication contrasts between yourself and your competitors.

Apple and AT&T's positioning of the iPhone is a pretty good example. Verizon's new message, which they think will keep customers from switching to an iPhone, is not.

The bottom line. You cannot be all things to all people, especially when you aren't all things.


Wednesday, February 14

Dissecting Demographics: Verizon

Marketing demographics are wonderful things for advertisers, allowing writers and designers to tailor the messages to very specific audiences based on any number of factors: age, income, automotive preference, etc. Although we benefit from such information, every now and then I wonder if we're dissecting our audiences too thin.

For instance, Verizon released information today to inform the media about its new campaign: "To inform African-Americans about Verizon's latest bundled services, Verizon Double Freedom and Verizon Triple Freedom, the company has launched a new television and print ad campaign that focuses on personalization."

The decision to create this campaign is based on extensive market research that "African-American consumers have a long history of customizing and personalizing their environments, from music and other artistic expressions to fashion to personal living spaces and more" (whatever more means).

Personally, I had no idea that African-Americans differed so greatly from other Americans on this point. But it is starting to make sense to me, given that all other Americans are virtually identical in terms of "environments, from music and other artistic expressions to fashion to personal living spaces and more" (whatever 'more' means).

As a result, Verizon's new campaign, with the theme "Personalize Life," portrays ways in which African-Americans can customize products and services from Verizon to fit their lifestyle and their needs.

"Verizon has had a long history of providing relevant messages specifically to our African-American customers," said Jeff McFarland, director of multicultural marketing for Verizon. "This new campaign lets our customers know that they can choose the services they need to help them enrich their lives and be on the best network, known for its 99.99 percent reliability."

Oh, I thought we were talking about African-Americans and their apparent dominance over "personalizing environments, from music and other artistic expressions to fashion to personal living spaces and more" (whatever 'more' means). Today's image, by the way, is of Verizon employees closely monitoring the reliability factor of at least 99.999. I cannot be certain, but there is something missing in the context of this topic. Look closely. Any guesses?

I'm not even going to discuss the commercial, which basically shows bundled packages that would probably appeal to most consumers, regardless of ethnicity. To me, the only thing African-American in the spot, as it is described, are African-Americans.

Is it any wonder, given this new campaign, that SnapDragon Consultants, a "brand insights firm," today released (just minutes before Verizon's release) that "Asian-American youth feel excluded and misunderstood by most brands. It's made worse by the fact that they see advertisers actively wooing the African-American and Hispanic markets."

This insight is one of ten things that SnapDragon Consultants says every brand should know about Asian-American youth.

Some other insights include: Asian-American youth are secret fans of "easy listening" adult contemporary music (lite FM is a hidden passion); there's a "hero gap" among Asian-American kids, which is being filled for many by activists from other cultures like Martin Luther King, Jr.; and they are not fond of 15 minutes of seemingly benign American Idol fame for William Hung, who perpetuated the worst stereotypes about Asian people and gave non-Asians permission to indulge in two years of racial stereotyping and mocking.

All this was released in honor of the upcoming Chinese New Year and an "ongoing initiative to deliver qualitative research and high-level insights on Asian-American youth to marketers interested in reaching this influential and growing demographic."

Look, I'm not saying Verizon is wrong for an attempt at marketing to a specific audience (though the news release seemed silly to me) nor that SnapDragon Consultants is wrong for bringing attention to the plight of Asian-American youth (it bordered on questionable to me). What I think is wrong is that marketers sometimes cut too deeply into their research and deduce erroneous conclusions because they either wrap an advertising campaign that appeals to everyone in ethnicity or collect too much qualitative data that seems to lack substance.

Sure, sometimes ethnically targeted marketing is smart, but in terms of research, I've always found "lifestyle choices" are much more revealing than racial profiling. And no, I don't mean lifestyle choices such as personalizing their environments, from music and other artistic expressions to fashion to personal living spaces and more" (whatever 'more' means).

I mean things like what magazines do they read, what artists do they listen to, and where do they go on vacation. That is much more revealing than people who are "secret fans" of a specific music (which I guess means they lie about what they listen to) or people who prefer to "personalize environments," which, the last time I checked, pretty much included everyone who could afford to.


Tuesday, January 30

Fighting On New Fronts: iPhone

When two companies decide to wage a trademark battle, interesting things always happen. People choose sides. Smaller skirmishes ensue. Loose alliances are forged between unlikely players.

USA Today reports Verizon, probably because Cingular got the Apple iPhone deal, tossed in its hat with Jim Gerace, vice president of corporate communications, saying, in one breath, “We have nothing bad to say about the Apple iPhone. We just couldn’t reach a deal that was mutually beneficial.”

In Gerace's next breath, he says the demands were “steep,” including revenue share from service fees, distribution rights and much more. “They would have been stepping in between us and our customers to the point where we would have almost had to take a back seat … on hardware and service support,” he said.

Gee, so much for not having anything bad to say. His message was almost written by Cisco, which also claims the biggest stumbling block between the Cisco/Apple trademark negotiation was about sharing technology. Ho hum, you don't have to be a Fortune 500 executive to know that Apple does not like to be open about its innovations.

Some people don't like that, but whatever. Frankly, if it did share everything, I'm not so sure that there would be an Apple around to shake up the market like it does. So, I don't blame them. (Besides, they tried sharing once, if you recall, and it failed miserably).

Although Cisco has since backtracked on that idea that all this was about wanting Apple technology, it was part of the equation. Moneyweb published an early quote from Mark Chandler, Cisco's general counsel, saying "Fundamentally we wanted an open approach. We hoped our products could interoperate in the future."

Was that the deal breaker? If so, then Cisco knew the deal was going to fail all along because I really don't believe such a media relations savvy company would be so naive that it would think Apple is going to jump to interoperate with Cisco. For the reason I already stated above, it would be "silly."

Even sillier is the misnomer being floated by some analysts (those applying for Cisco fan status, I imagine) is that Apple is doing all this for the publicity. Yeah, right.

Apple has never been a company to think that all publicity is good publicity. Given that the iPhone launch was one of the most anticipated tech announcements of the decade, I hardly think Apple needed a Cisco lawsuit to jazz things up.

But, of course, that didn't stop someone at ThinkEquity Partners LLC from dreaming up this non-reality: "As this trademark infringement case escalates, we are taking the stance that 'any publicity is good publicity.'" Oh well, it's an easy way to get your name in the paper, I suppose. File under not thinking in New York.

You see, Apple and Cisco have always understood that there is a fundamental difference public relations and publicity. Neither have been big on employing the latter because it carries more risk and is generally reserved for companies without name ID or brand value.

In fact, the resulting lawsuit has drawn attention to some subjects neither company wanted to talk about: Cisco's recent violation of an open source license (which it has since thanked everyone for, er, pointing out the oversight) and Apple's iPhone mark up (which prompted some sideline banter that Apple has yet to set a final price). Darn publicity. You cannot control it. I doubt either wants it.

Specifically, the license violation made Cisco look not so good about sharing, which was the case it wants to make about Apple. And the profit margin of an iPhone made Apple look a little less "taken advantage of" by Cisco hoping to cash in on the trademark.

Hmmmm. I think Technewsworld called it right like I did when they said this one has "the potential to turn very ugly." Why any company, Verizon included, would want to comment on this is beyond my comprehension.

The bottom line is that Cisco kind of holds the higher ground, but I'm unconvinced it can keep it, especially as other companies come forward to challenge Cisco's hold on the trademark (which benefits one of Apple's arguments that the the term iPhone should be shared because other companies have been using it for years). Besides, as I said before, the public seems to want Apple to have the name.

So what is this really about? More and more, it looks to me as if this is nothing more than a high stakes game of "you're not playing fair so I'm going to sue you, nana nana boo boo." And in this game, there will be no winners, but a whole lot of losers.

But then again, it might seem obvious to me to because as a journalist student in the 1980's, I learned everything I needed to know about law (as a non-attorney) while writing my very first article for The Sagebrush. To the ire of the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR), I asked what some consider my very first "dangerous" question: "Could UNR find itself caught in a liability suit for injuries related to adminstration-approved events run by private organizations such as fraternities?"

I found my answer by calling every attorney in Reno until one of them gave me the answer. His answer was "yes" (to the chagrin of the UNR). Simply put, however, he also told me, novice that I was in the ways of business at the time, that anybody could sue anybody for anything. He then went on to explain that he could, in that instance, build a strong case against either side.

"Whether or not the plaintiff would win the case would be up to the courts to decide," he said.

This was also my first real lesson in the power of reporting and the importance of public relations. The lesson learned for public relations came from how easy it was to ask questions from the coordinator of campus standards and receive answers that lent well to the story, but did not lend well for her.

My intent was not to harm her (we were friends for heaven's sake). But as I said, I was pretty naive at the time. The fact is, the damage done to her by what was a "good story" became one of the reasons I leaned toward corporate communication and public relations as opposed to reporting. These people needed help, I concluded.

Of course, that's not to say I'm afraid to call a duck a duck either. And the iPhone lawsuit is exactly that. It's a duck. Or, more appropriately, if you are a company thinking of taking sides, you better duck. The publicity is not worth it.

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