Yes, Steve Jobs, We Can Hear You Now

In recent months we’ve seen the way a media master can quickly become a disaster (ahem, Tony Hayward). But it is less common to see things happen the other way around. Today Steve Jobs provided us with just such an example.

Analysts and reporters (not to mention new Iphone customers) were taken aback by Apple’s initial defensiveness over the Iphone 4′s now infamous “death grip” issue, which apparently causes signal loss when the phone is held a certain way.

But during a highly anticipated (doesn’t that apply to all Apple events?) news conference Friday, Jobs changed his tune.

Leave ‘em Laughing….and Start Them Off That Way, Too

“Antenna-gate” isn’t a matter of life and death. It isn’t a crime or a political scandal. Jobs chose to start his news conference with a viral video that poked fun at the issue. This kind of humor can be a great ice breaker, as long as the rest of your announcement offers some kind of substance. Which leads me to my next point…

Offer Some Kind of Substance

When the first “death grip” claims emerged, Apple alternatively questioned the reports, downplayed the problem, blamed phone users for holding the phone the wrong way, suggested the phone’s signal strength meter was the real issue, and defensively insisted other smart phones have the same problem. None of it was any consolation to frustrated Iphone early adopters, the brand’s most loyal customers (many of whom also seem to have blogs).

But Friday’s news conference struck a different tone. “We’re not perfect”, Jobs admitted, and outlined an ambitious plan to satisfy Iphone 4 owners, including free cases, a software patch, and full refunds for customers who still aren’t happy (How many do you think will actually take him up on that?). Jobs also circled back to some of Apple’s prior arguments, including the insistence that other smart phones have the same problem. But Jobs’ relative humility and offers of remedies made that an easier pill to swallow this time.

“Not Perfect” Indeed

There will be some –perhaps many– who still aren’t satisfied. They will say the solutions offered still do not address the underlying antenna issue (true),that Apple faces lawsuits demanding a solution (true), and that a recall would have been a more appropriate announcement (perhaps). But from a media/PR perspective, Apple and Jobs made a very bad situation a little better today. And if Jobs is not a true Media Master, then perhaps we can at least agree that his Iphone 4 is now sending a better signal.

Mark Bernheimer

Mark Bernheimer is a former CNN correspondent and the founder of MediaWorks Resource Group, an internationally renowned media training and consulting firm.