Marinaccio: How did Apple deal with the press?
Richards: Mac was clearly very orchestrated. I think you're onto something in saying that it was really a landmark in event marketing and press relations. They certainly tried to hype up the publicity. Through conscious or unconscious leaks to the trade press, they got the press interested in Macintosh. The Lisa had already been out. So the people who cared about it-- which was a small group-- had an idea that there really could be some easy-to-use computer.
And I would say with the idea of the sneak previews, they were really able to drum up interest. In terms of the press coverage there were just little things here and there in the trade journals, as I recall it, little leaks about Apple's machine that's being made in this different building under Steve Jobs. There wasn't very much material about the Mac in the general press as I recall.
Marinaccio: I'm interested in how Apple dealt with the press before the introduction of the Mac, and whether their dealings with the press were more polished, and how that affected you as a journalist.
Richards: With the sneak preview, they really took product introductions to a new level, by really trying to get hype, trying to get exclusive coverage in national magazines, giving exclusive interviews, playing up the personality of Steve Jobs. And by using all the hyperbole he used about a computer for the masses-- talking about a bicycle for the mind, being like a telephone for your house, and so on.
So I would say in the high-tech industry it was a turning point in trying to market for the masses, trying to market technology in a consumer way, and trying to get the press hyped up about it.
Marinaccio: How did other high-tech companies deal with the press?
Richards: Most product announcements were very techie: they focused on bits and bytes and the operating system, and how many megabits of memory a machine had. Their press releases were pretty unreadable. There were huge trade shows like the National Computer Conference. It's like what Comdex is now. It was just industry insiders; it wasn't really consumer-focused. There were of course consumer companies like Commodore and Atari, but somehow Apple managed to create this panache around themselves.
Marinaccio: So how did these companies that had been doing very techie introductions change after the Mac introduction?
Richards: I think everybody went to the sneak preview idea, and to the idea that you would give certain press preferences. You really want to get it in Time magazine, or in Fortune, so you give them a preview a month ahead of time, while everybody else gets two weeks, or one week. There were also the embargoes. But it was really only the companies with money, like IBM and Apple, that could stage big events. It wasn't like every company could do this. From the press point of view, it got really complicated with all these sneak previews. Our position was not to participate in them.
Marinaccio: You mean the embargo process?
Richards: Yes, the embargoes. It just ties your hands too much. So I don't know what our policy is today, but at that time we did have discussions about what to do. In most cases we decided not to participate until right before the release date. That was our policy.
We did finally attend a sneak, a day or two before the introduction. The sneak we went to was a newspaper one: it was for all the dailies who didn't want to be hamstrung. Newspapers don't want to be hamstrung by an embargo. So the Examiner, the Chronicle, the Mercury, and a couple other papers, all went. Steve Jobs did the talking, and made the presentation. It was in a small room, so it was intimate. He was polished, and all the metaphors like "bicycle for the mind" just rolled off his tongue. Sure, he'd said it 50 million times. But for people in the press, it was exciting to be able to talk essentially one-on-one with him.
Apple got an incredible amount of publicity out of this whole thing. It really worked for them. Across the board, there were huge articles in major publications. I assume that they felt it was a success. We clearly were elements in a hype process, manipulated by the company.
Marinaccio: Is that what it's like today?
Richards: Yes, now, that's just the way it is. But since I don't cover that, I don't know if there are more leaks, or fewer leaks. There was also the issue of leaks at the time. At some point, Apple made it very clear to their employees that if they said anything that they weren't supposed to-- which was basically nothing-- they would get in trouble. I don't know if that was in place at the time of the Mac intro, or later, when it became clear that the press was always trying to find information about Apple.
Marinaccio: How did you feel about Apple's relationship with the press, and the use of the sneaks and the extensive press kits?
Richards: Well, even through we knew we were being manipulated, we tried to minimize that as best we could, by not agreeing to go to an early sneak, and trying to find out as much as we could on our own, without relying on official press kits. So that's what we did. And that's what everybody was doing.
But Apple had it so hyped that the last couple of weeks before the introduction everybody was writing their guesses about the machine. If you look at the press then, everyone was spelling "Macintosh" differently: nobody knew how it was going to be spelled, because nobody had seen any of the official documents. So it was spelled with "Mc" and a capital "I" [McIntosh], or "Mac" and a capital "I" [MacIntosh], or with a space [Mac Intosh]. The whole press was full of rumors.
Marinaccio: So you were all quite aware of the hype.
Richards: Absolutely. But nobody had really perfect sources because nothing was exactly right-- until our story came out.