Reg comments213

Inside our three-month effort to attend Apple's iPhone 7 launch party

Alan Hely, why don't you just admit it and relieve the pressure in your skull?

It's been a number of years since an Apple PR staffer secretly admitted to one of our reporters that The Register was on a blacklist.

We also learned that they were under strict instructions never to admit to the blacklist – presumably because it would make one of the world's largest companies look, you know, pathetically petty.

And so, for a decade now, we have played a game where we ask Apple's US office for review products or to attend launches or go to events and they respond with silly expressions like "I'm sorry, but we cannot accommodate your request" or "all the seats are taken" or the current favorite "you are on our media waitlist."

Back in June, I decided it was time to stop playing the game. Or, more accurately, play a different, more persistent game in which we encourage Apple to either get over itself and kill our blacklisting or simply admit it and stop the pretense.

Today – on the day Apple will reveal its iPhone 7 to the press in San Francisco – we present that effort:


Date: June 8
Subject: WWDC and HomeKit?
To: Ted Miller

Hi Ted,

Just wondering if there is going to be any HomeKit related news at WWDC (and so whether I should pay attention to it)?

Also, are you a good person to ask for a press pass to the conference?


Ted got back.


Date: June 8
Subject: WWDC and HomeKit?

Hi Kieren,

Thanks for reaching out.

Unfortunately, we don't pre-announce any news or give a heads up on what we may be announcing.

As for a media pass, my colleague Michaela, copied here, is our point person, but I believe at this point we are booked solid. We did announce a live stream of the keynote, so you can follow along on Monday.

http://www.apple.com/apple-events/june-2016/

Ted


Unfortunately this is another Apple white lie: the company routinely provides information on its upcoming products to "friendly" publications but always claims it doesn't. So I got back.


Thanks Ted,

I asked because today I've been seeing lots of pre-announcements. Quick examples:

http://www.loopinsight.com/2016/06/08/phil-schiller-apple-making-major-changes-to-the-app-store/

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/2016/06/08/apple-to-launch-major-overhaul-of-app-store-with-paid-search-ads/

Either way, would prefer to be at the conference, especially since it's so easy for me to get to (we're right by Montgomery BART) so if you could chase up for me. I'm just one person.


The next morning, an email from Alan Hely, a senior comms person at Apple, appears. Alan become my go-to person for all future inquiries.


Date: June 9
Subject: WWDC and HomeKit?
From: Alan Hely

Thanks for your emails Kieren.

At this stage WWDC is a sell out. We have allocated seats for media but those too are taken.

Sorry we cannot accommodate you this year.

Best wishes.


Ok, thanks Alan.

Can you put me on the list for the next conference now so I can be guaranteed a spot?

Also, do I need to chase you up on something like this so my request doesn't get lost?

Kieren


Have noticed your interest Kieren. Thx.


So far, so normal. Apple pretends there just isn't space and we let it drop. But not this time. One month later...


Date: July 11
Subject: WWDC and HomeKit?
To: Alan Hely

Hi Alan,

Just occurred to me that Apple typically has an event in September too.

Can put me down on the list for that too please.

If you need any additional details, just ask.

Kieren


No response.


Date: July 26
Subject: WWDC and HomeKit?
To: Alan Hely

Just following up on this Alan.

I know you must be busy but want to make sure you have me down for the September event too. I understand Apple might be refreshing its laptop line.

Just occurred to me that you may be on holiday and that's why you haven't got back yet. I highly recommend using an automated vacation reply if that's the case – saves all sorts of misunderstandings.

All the best, look forward to hearing back from you.

Kieren


Alan does not like this.


Thanks Kieren for your email.

You make three assumptions.

The first re: a "September event." We haven't announced an event in September.

That you "understand Apple might be refreshing its laptop line." Speculation.

And that when I go on holiday I don't put an OOO on. Wrong.

As mentioned before, should we have an event in the future we will look at media to invite that are relevant to the news of the day. We will of course make all media aware of how to cover the news should we host an event.

Best wishes. A


The next day, we get back.


Hi Alan,

I'm worried I may have offended you. Not something I intended – especially as you seem to be the gatekeeper to Apple events.

I did notice though that for the past three years, Apple has held big events in September – on the 9th in 2015 and 2014 and on the 10th in 2013 – so I just wanted to make sure I was on the list for this year's.

Anyway, I hear you re: laptops. I know you're not allowed to confirm things but I can read between the lines – so thanks for the tip.

Will you let me know when the September event is announced so I can formally request an invite?

Kieren


Alan goes silent again. So, one month later...


Date: August 24
Subject: WWDC and HomeKit?
To: Alan Hely

Hi Alan,

Looks like I was on the right lines. Did you see an article on Bloomberg on 10 August that said Apple was planning to refresh its MacBook Pro – and at an event in two weeks time – 7 September?

I feel foolish now – I should have picked up on your hints and written a story. I hope this won't discourage you from helping me out in future.

Anyway, I know it hasn't been officially announced yet but could you put me on the list for the upcoming event. Do you know if it will be at Apple HQ or Moscone? Excited to see what Apple has done with the laptops and also I hear a new iPhone! Should be exciting. See you there!

Kieren


Still nothing. But five days later, Apple officially announces that – guess what – it actually will have an event. And on 7 September. Time to let Alan know, complete with a new subject line.


Date: August 29
Subject: Event next week (was "WWDC and HomeKit?")
To: Alan Hely

Hi Alan,

So it's official: 7 September at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium.

Can you confirm I'm on the press list?

Thank you


Alan gets back.


Kieran I have placed you on the waiting list as all media seats are allocated.

We expect high take up for the event and will keep you posted should an opening appear.


This doesn't seem right, so I let Alan know.


Hi Alan,

I have to say I don't find the idea of there not being room very credible.

I've been to the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium – it's huge. In fact, I just looked it up and it has a 7,000-person capacity.

How many seats have you allocated for the media? And how long is this waiting list?


Three minutes later...


As I said Kieren, I have placed you on the waiting list. Will let you know if a space becomes available.


It took seven minutes to contemplate this new information.


Hi Alan,

I have a couple of questions and a related press query.

* How long is the waiting list? (will be helpful to know likelihood of attending)

* When will you let me know if space is available? I am happy to check in with you each morning if you wish – do you have a telephone number I can call?

On a related note, seeing as you'll be announcing new laptops, does Apple have a response to this site that offers "full Mac OSX" laptops?

http://hacbook.com/

I'm assuming this is not an officially licensed Apple product.

Thank you


Alan goes silent again. And so the next morning...


Morning Alan,

Just following up on this. There's only a week to go and as I've been saying since June, I'm keen to attend.

Are you able to explain to me how the media waiting list concept works? I've never come across it before. Do you reserve publication slots or a specific number of seats? I know a lot of other tech journalists and I am sure they would figure out a way to give up a seat so I could attend. If you're willing to work with me, I am sure we can resolve this.

On the hacbook press query, I assume you're still working on a response so you should know that our Australian office has already covered the story here.

You can still send some information through but I will forward it to the relevant reporter or an editor.


It takes some time for Alan to respond this time. But in the meantime, amazingly, the email software I use starts informing me that someone at Apple is opening other emails I have sent to the company. Of particular note: a request earlier this year asking for a review copy of the new Apple TV. That email, and my follow-up three months later are repeatedly opened.

It dawns on me that Apple may actually be doing research on my many, many efforts to elicit some sort of response from the company on a whole range of issues over the past few years. Is it possible that Apple is actually reconsidering its blacklist? Has it finally grown up?

Nope.


Date: August 30
Subject: Event next week (was "WWDC and HomeKit?")
From: Alan Hely

Hi Kieren

Yes sure. Our media list consists of media we work with and who review our products and as you know we don't have a relationship with the Register and I don't believe you review products.

With global events such as this we need to prioritize given limited space and extremely high demand across the world for access. That's why I have said we will put you on the waiting list.

Regarding the hacbook query we'd decline to comment on that story adding on background you do realize it isn't a product that is shipping.


Overlooking the fact that Alan is not being entirely truthful here about us not reviewing products, let's be positive and try to resolve this issue once and for all. Or, alternatively, see just how far down the rabbit hole we can go...


Hi Alan,

This is great news.

Let's start that relationship now. We do review products – in fact I recall emailing asking for a copy of the latest Apple TV back in February and following up in April – but I never got a reply. If you like I can send you a list of product reviews written by myself and others.

If that is the only barrier facing us, we can knock it down today. Put me on the list and I can promise you a review of at least one of the products Apple is due to announce next week. An iPhone 7 or whatever you decide to call the new laptop(s).

What do you say? Are we on?

Kieren

Oh, and thanks for your follow up re: hacbook.


But the shutters come down again.


As I said Kieren you are on the waiting list.

Thanks.


Let's try to jimmy them up a bit.


Come on Alan, don't get stuck in the corporate treacle, you have a chance to do some good here – and get additional coverage for your employer.

As you yourself said, the whole waiting list idea was predicated on a wrong assumption: that we wouldn't review Apple products.

Looking at it from that perspective, all the strange behavior makes sense: why would you invite someone to a product launch event if they're not going to write about the products?

But we will.

There's still plenty of time to correct this mistake, the event isn't for a week. If it's a bureaucracy thing and you don't have the authority to make a change, I'd be happy to talk to your boss about it, help oil the gears.

Let me know what you want me to do.

Kieren


Alan copy-pastes his previous response (you can tell by the color of the text) and sends it back.


As I said Kieren you are on the waiting list.

Thanks.


Now's not the time to give up. So, the next morning:


Morning Alan,

Just checking in with you.

Are you waiting to see whether some media outlets say they aren't going to attend? Or is it a matter of them having to actively confirm they wish to attend?

If the first, there's little benefit to them to responding, so I'm concerned there will be space but you won't know it until the day. If the second, is there a cut-off response date? If so, I will know when is best to check in with you about possible spaces.

Also with respect to this waiting list – is there an order to it? Is it first-come, first-served? Would be good to know where we are in the list.


Nothing. So a day later, it's time for a more drastic approach – use the "P" card.


Hi Alan,

I get the sense that I have hit a bit of a brick wall with you. As such, I would like to appeal to your sense of professionalism.

My job is to write tech news, and big product launches are a key part of that. I can – and have – covered launches remotely, but I find it is always better to physically be there, especially if you are able to talk to people who have been working on those products for years.

Frustrated at not being allowed into WWDC, I did the right thing and asked ahead of time to attend the next one. We have quite a trail of emails here going back months where I have respectfully requested to attend the next big product launch.

It is much easier for me to follow a webcast and write a story but I wish to invest my time and energy in digging deeper and writing more rounded articles. Whether you realize it or not, you have been quite unhelpful in that goal.

I was ready to put your responses down to sheer laziness – which is surprising because Apple has never struck me as that sort of company – but when you explained it was your understanding that we did not write product reviews, I realized that with such a high-profile company you are probably fielding all sorts of unsuitable requests and mine had fallen into some kind of bucket.

I feel we have resolved that misunderstanding, so it is a little disheartening to receive the same stock response about a media waiting list, especially when you seem unable or unwilling to provide even basic information about what that actually means or the likelihood of being able to attend an upcoming event.

I have no doubt you are a very capable communications professional and you are most likely overloaded with work, but can I appeal to your better nature and ask you to disperse with whatever unnecessary barriers exist that are preventing Apple from simply confirming my attendance at the event next week. We can work forward from there.

Thanks


The next morning, amazingly, the phone rings. It's Mandy from Apple's PR department and she is calling on behalf of Alan. It's not good news, as I related back to Alan three days later...


Hi Alan,

So the big event is tomorrow but I'm afraid I'm still none the wiser about whether I can attend or not.

I got a call from someone called Mandy on Friday who said she was calling on your behalf. She left me disappointed and confused, I'm afraid to report.

First off she said that the waiting list was closed. I'm not sure why she said this since you've been saying we're on the waiting list for quite a few weeks now. She also couldn't provide any more information about the list.

I'm beginning to wonder whether this waitlist exists at all to be honest, since no one seems to know anything about its contents or how it functions.

She then, somewhat bizarrely, offered to email a link on Monday to the webcast of tomorrow's launch. As you no doubt know, yesterday was Labor Day and everyone was on holiday – as was Mandy it seems because I never received an email.

But beyond that, I'm confused as to why you would ask one of your staff to call to offer a link to a public webcast. I can only assume there was some kind of miscommunication. Sadly, all of this is making Apple look a little hapless. Honestly, I expected better from such a huge and successful organization.

Anyway, getting back to the point: is there a spot available for me at the event tomorrow? If you don't know right now, when will you know latest? Is it worth me simply turning up and asking for you by name?


Maybe it was offering to use his name at the front door to the event that ended Alan's self-imposed silence.


Date: September 6
Subject: Event next week (was "WWDC and HomeKit?")
From: Alan Hely

Hi Kieren

Yes I asked Mandy to call you to say that we do not have a seat for you at the keynote and that you would be able to watch it live online at http://www.apple.com/apple-events/september-2016/.


But hang on, what about this waitlist?


Thanks for clarifying Alan.

What do you think of my plan to turn up regardless in case someone doesn't turn up and there's a spare space?

I could wait in the foyer. Do you know if security has a copy of the waitlist? Is your name a good one to give if there are questions? Or is there someone who runs things on the day who would be better to reach out to?


Alan knows if he can just hold out a few more hours...


Kieren, security will not allow turn ups on the day. All media seats are pre allocated with confirmations received. It's full.

You can watch it live online.


Well that would appear to confirm it. But best check in with Alan one more time before the big launch.


Ok, March it is then.

I want to make sure I'm on the attending list this time. When's best to follow up with you?

Kieren


The End. For Now.


As to the question why The Reg is blacklisted by Apple, well, who knows for sure.

Perhaps it was the fact that our story, including the headline "APPLE: SCREW YOU, BRITS", was read out in the London High Court as evidence when Samsung complained about Apple's mealy-mouthed apology. Perhaps it was our spirited coverage of its deceased cofounder. Or that we pointed out that HomeKit isn't happening any time soon. Or Jagwyre. Or maybe Apple execs just don't like Dickens' Great Expectations.

The truth though is that large tech companies, especially in Silicon Valley, often use access to their events and their executives as a way to force positive coverage of themselves. If you write one bad thing about them, they threaten to stop talking to you. If you ignore the warnings, they blacklist you.

Unsurprisingly, The Register is not all that flexible when it comes to tech companies trying to intimidate us into writing nothing but positive press coverage. The question you should be asking yourself is: does that mean that everyone who is invited to Apple's events can be relied upon to self-censor any negative comments? (Quick clue: the answer's yes.) ®

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