Why Steve Jobs' Flash Letter Wouldn't Work for Your CEO

Last Updated May 3, 2010 12:07 PM EDT

Any good executive who reads Steve Jobs' open letter "Thoughts on Flash" will wonder why his own company bothers to spend millions on marketing and PR when they can just write a letter and everyone reads it, everyone gets it. Boom, mission accomplished.

That sort of thing works if you're Steve Jobs. But most of the time, and for most executives in most companies, not only won't it work but it's likely to backfire.

Jobs has a bully pulpit like no other CEO. I might even argue that, for the first time in history, a CEO has a more powerful bully pulpit than a sitting president of the United States. That's because a speech or message from President Obama is common. From Steve Jobs, it's rare.

When Jobs makes an announcement or writes a letter, a couple of unique things happen.

First, everyone who counts will read it because it'll be plastered all over every news outlet on planet earth. So he gets exposure. You know what it takes to get over the thundering noise level of the Internet these days? That's right; it's damn near impossible.

In fact, you know how many news releases go out over the business wire every single day? Okay, I actually don't know how many, but I'm pretty sure it's a really big number, like in the hundreds. Anyway, it takes most companies an army of PR people to get even token coverage for a news release.

Second, everyone who counts will understand and interpret the message and its implications the way Jobs intended. There are several reasons for that. For one thing, Jobs speaks and writes really, really well. His messages are crystal clear. And don't think for a minute that anyone else has a hand in his speeches and letters. Not a chance.

Then there's the law of averages. When Jobs sends out a message, there's so much news coverage and commentary that, while a few idiots may screw it up or some eyeball seekers may take an extreme position, the vast majority will get the story right.

For the rest of us, putting out a message and, even if it is picked up by one or two news outlets, expecting it to be correctly interpreted and not torn to shreds by an increasingly skeptical and jaded media is sort of like telling your wife she looks fat in those jeans and expecting to get some that night. It's not going to happen.

Just look at what happened to John Mackey and the Whole Foods Alternative to Obamacare. There were boycotts, nasty Facebook pages, threats, calls for his resignation; it was a real mess. And even though Steve Jobs dissing Adobe Flash isn't political or quite as controversial as all that, well, for the tech world, it sort of is.

So, when it comes to getting an important message out, if you want it to be heard by a lot of folks and interpreted the way you intended, I strongly suggest you spend a few bucks and invest in a sales force, a PR machine, or whatever's appropriate for the product, message, and audience. It doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg, but it'll likely require something closer to one-on-one communication than one-on-a billion.

In fact, you might want to check out 10 Breakthrough PR Techniques From a Master for some tips on that front.