PR Roundup: DOJ’s Lawsuit Against Apple, Ladies Take Over March Madness and Gannett and AP Part Ways

This week’s PR Roundup features the implications of the DOJ's lawsuit against Apple, women’s basketball taking over March Madness and how a major news organization will maintain trust by parting ways with the Associated Press. 

Apple Is Sued by DOJ

What happened: The U.S. Department of Justice along with 16 state attorneys general filed a lawsuit against Apple on Thursday, alleging that the company has illegally monopolized the smartphone market, and in doing so stifled innovation by locking out competitors from its app ecosystem, harmed consumers and caused prices to be artificially high.

The move sent the tech company’s stock price further south—dropping 4.1% on Thursday—following several weeks of bad news, including the cancellation of its decade-long, costly electric vehicle project, copious Apple Vision Pro returns and a $2 billion anti-trust fine handed down by Europe.

Communications takeaways: Communications experts agree that Apple’s response, which promises to “vigorously defend” against the suit, signals a firm stance in the face of legal challenges. But as the legal battle ensues, Apple could take a more personalized, consumer-led approach.

Eric Rose, partner at public affairs firm EKA and crisis and reputation expert, commends Apple for the company’s “swift and assertive” response. But moving forward, a more personal and human touch is warranted. “The high-profile nature of the altercation demanded more than just a statement," he says. "Apple must quickly pivot and recognize the need for direct and personalized communication.”

Similarly, Geoff Vetter, Senior Vice President of Public Affairs at CLYDE, says that Apple’s response, which emphasizes how the proprietary nature of their technology increases security and interoperability, is a common argument from tech companies facing regulatory or political hurdles in recent years. But a personalized approach that highlights the consumer perspective would be appropriate.

“What’s next for Apple, and an important approach for any organization facing this level of scrutiny, is responding through the authentic perspective of their customers,” he says. So, it would behoove the company to prove that it’s in fact delivering a beloved service for consumers rather than limiting their experiences. “At the end of the day, most people like using their iPhones because they work well,” Vetter says. “Elevating those voices is how you turn a fight over profits and patents into one where you’re protecting consumers.”

As for the implications on the tech industry as a whole, how Apple fares in this legal quagmire will determine how other tech companies behave and operate in the future.

“The lawsuit itself represents a significant challenge to Apple's business practices,” Rose says. "Accusations of monopolistic behavior and anti-competitive practices strike at the core of the company's operations. Apple's ability to navigate this legal battle will have far-reaching implications for the future of the smartphone market and the broader tech industry.”

Gannett Drops AP, but What Comes Next? 

What happened:  On March 19, the largest newspaper company in the United States, Gannett, revealed it would curtail its use of The Associated Press, which provides highly credible articles, photos, videos, data and more to news organizations around the world. 

According to The New York Times, Kristin Roberts, Chief Content Officer of Gannett, wrote a memo to the company saying, “Between USA Today and our incredible network of more than 200 newsrooms, we create more journalism every day than The AP.” Roberts also said the company signed a new agreement with Reuters, for global news, but would still use the AP for election data and its Stylebook product. 

A spokeswoman for Gannett, Lark-Marie Antón released a statement saying the decision allows the company to Gannett, “invest further in our newsrooms.” 

Another newspaper group, McClatchy, home to 30 papers including The Miami Herald, also announced it would be backing away from AP content. 

Communication takeaways: In a country where trust in news organizations seems to be slipping away, thanks to disinformation and the increased polarization of content platforms, the need for a consistent, reputable news source could very well be seen as a priority. 

The Associated Press, in operation since 1846, has journalists covering news in over 100 countries and every state in the republic. It is often the first to be referenced when it comes to breaking news and always looked to for confirming election results. As news organizations downsize local papers and eliminate reporters, particularly on beats such as entertainment, health, business, global affairs and government, readers will often see AP articles and photos fill those news holes. 

This introduces a new wrinkle for PR professionals and communicators when it comes to media relations, pitching and the industry as a whole.

Linda Thomas Brooks, Chief Executive Officer of the Public Relations Society of America, noted the foundational shift in the media landscape, as well as the transformation of another legacy brand’s success and reputation. 

“If Gannett, as they’ve said they would, invests the dollars that had been allocated to the Associated Press into its own newsrooms it could address the local ‘news deserts’ we’ve seen,” Thomas Brooks says. “It could also provide communications professionals with more opportunities to engage directly with reporters in the markets where their employers or clients live and/or operate. However, many local papers now include nearly 50% of AP/wire content so there are large gaps to fill.”

Thomas Brooks also called attention to how PR pros will need to alter their media relations’ strategies. 

“Communications practitioners will also need to expand their relationships with publications who may have relied on AP content previously and pursue other ways to share factual news and information with their constituents,” she says. “The bottom line? Staying nimble must continue to be communicators’ watchword.”

March Madness Begins

What happened: Every year millions of people around the globe take time to fill out those little March Madness brackets with their friends and family. Some play for bragging rights, while honestly, most play to win some financial reward. And for a long time, most of the public only paid attention to the NCAA mens’ tournament. 

This year, some ladies are shaking things up. 

According to the findings of a new Seton Hall Sport Poll, by a more than 2 to 1 margin, the best known player in college basketball today is a woman—Caitlin Clark of the University of Iowa. Many now know Clark as holding the most points scored of any NCAA Division I basketball player in history (man or woman). Among self-described “sports fans,” 60 percent identified her as an NCAA athlete, and among avid fans that number rose to 73 percent. Among the general population, nearly half (47 percent) correctly identified her. 

And Clark is not alone. The next highest recognized athlete was another female basketball player, Angel Reese of Louisiana State University. Four of the top six identified players in the poll were female. The most identified male college basketball player was Hunter Dickinson of University of Kansas, recognized by 11 percent of the general population, 16 percent of sports fans and 27 percent of avid fans.

Research from Meltwater also showcases similar data, displaying the number of mentions globally for all college basketball players on digital media platforms over the past five months. 

And recognition also yields actionable, trackable results. According to the poll, 48 percent of the general population plans on watching the women’s NCAA tournament, which is up 8 points over last year.

Communication takeaways: And as March Madness rolls in, so do the sponsorships, influencers, creative messaging and advertising and experiential promotions. So, it should not be lost on communicators that the target audience will be full of men and women. 

Daniel Ladik, marketing professor at Seton Hall and chief methodologist to the Poll says Caitlin Clark is carrying the March Madness brand this year. 

“It’s likely that viewer numbers for the Women’s tournament will surpass all previous records and her presence alone is a logo shot for the NCAA.”  

Ladik also notes that Clark’s recognition transcends the sport because more than 1 in 5 non-sports fans correctly identified her, which allows for plenty of new eyes on the women’s tournament. 

“Clark’s historic run to the all-time leading scorer in NCAA history in itself was captivating,” Ladik says. “But in addition to being an elite athlete, she has unmistakable charisma, and the public has noticed. Like every athlete considered a GOAT—whether Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretsky, Billie Jean King or Serena Williams— she both transcends the sport and propels it forward at the same time.”

Personalities like Clark can be a real boon for any public relations campaign, due to the multiple demographics her persona can reach, Ladik notes. 

“If a brand is able to leverage that, it can’t miss.”

Nicole Schuman is senior editor for PRNEWS. Follow her @buffalogal