Jim Goldman, CNBC’s Silicon Valley bureau chief since 2003, left the network in early July to join Burson-Marsteller as U.S. Technology Practice Chair in the agency’s San Francisco Office.
PRNewser spoke to Goldman this week, in his first extensive interview since joining Burson-Marsteller. Read on for Goldman’s thoughts about covering Apple — “they are maniacal about controlling the message” — and what he is looking forward to in his new role: “I get to now move from the front row to back stage.”
How has the transition been so far?
I’m in the midst of the transition, so I guess the easiest way to say it is, so far so good. I thought there would be some things I’d miss a lot more and lot more quickly. I haven’t missed waking up at 2:30 or 3 a.m. or being a slave to my Blackberry. I haven’t missed being constantly connected to everything all at once.
I have missed a couple of key stories and being able to cover them. That was very challenging to be on the sidelines of the Apple press conference for iPhone 4. And, I certainly missed covering earnings season for the tech companies that I had been responsible for. Earnings were my favorite thing I did at CNBC and watching others do them was difficult, but you know, that’s what transitions are about.
Speaking of Apple, we’ve heard PR executives say before that their clients ask them “how they can be more like Apple” in terms of marketing. Having covered the company, and now that you’re in PR, how would you answer that?
That’s a tough question to answer, because the knock on me has always been that I’ve been too easy on Apple. The fact is Apple is breathing rarefied air. This is a company that, love them or hate them, fan boy or detractor, you have to respect and admire their financial performance and innovation that occurs there every day. They have enormous cash flow and huge profits.
They also have great products that people really want, whether they need them or not. That is tough to create if you don’t have it already. The best thing I can recommend is to create mystique around your product and make sure you have a very good understanding of what the market wants. Apple does that better than any other company today.
What was it like covering Apple?
Covering Apple was very much a love hate relationship. You love what this company does in the marketplace. You don’t necessarily love the way they are maniacal about controlling the message. And, I referenced this earlier, some people believe I was too easy on Apple. I don’t necessarily think that was the case.
I would push back and say that during the Steve Jobs health madness: was he dying? Already dead? Rumors happening every day made it extremely hard to cover. When he left on health hiatus Apple’s stock was in the $80’s, now it’s at $260. Steve Jobs is not only alive but he is firmly in control. It’s not a question of being too easy or too hard. I believe I was more than fair. If you bothered to put your money where why mouth was, you did OK. That’s the difficult part of covering this company that everyone cares about.
I have a good relationship with people there. I still do. It doesn’t necessarily mean that would color any of my coverage. It made it difficult and challenging, but that’s what you’re paid to do. I enjoyed covering Apple. It was a big part of my job. There were days where I really felt challenged, but I have never been around a company or a topic that people care more about than Apple, and that made it very fun.
There have been a lot of changes in cable news this year. What are your thoughts on the future of the industry?
It’s tough to say. I had a sense several years ago that cable news, that traditional nightly news would be undergoing some significant change and we’re seeing that really take shape today. It’s one of the key reasons I decided now would be a good change in my own life and my own career. It’s not good or bad. It’s just what is happening in the industry.
The news cycle is second to second and it never stops. The idea that citizen journalism is really shaping the way stories get told. New media, digital media, we’re seeing a blend. I think it’s a huge, technological and journalistic land grab, and nobody knows quite where it’s going, so everyone is going in as many directions they can as once. That’s only the beginning.
NBC is being acquired by Comcast. What changes are we going to see there? What happens to ABC? Do they do a deal with Bloomberg? What would that mean? I don’t think anyone has a clear understanding of where it’s going, only that it is going. For me, turmoil brings opportunity and I think the kind of opportunities right now for Burson-Marsteller and companies like it are tremendous.
As a reporter, what are some things public relations professionals did that allowed them to maintain a good relationship with you?
You just said it: maintaining the relationship. That to me is important. I can’t tell you how important it is to maintain relationships with people you work with. I really never had a contentious view of the PR industry. I always looked at is as teamwork. That side has a job to do, my side has a job to do and if we can work together, both of us win. It’s quite simple.
Things that have always stood out to me, is maintaining those relationships, getting on the phone not just when you need something, but just to check in. Getting on the phone to offer background on a competitor, even though you have nothing to share on your own client. These [PR] people are experts. Sure, they have a slant. but if you’re operating in journalism today and you think journalists don’t have slants you’re not getting it.
Are you more sympathetic to PR professionals and their work, now that you’ve joined Burson-Marsteller?
I don’t think it’s a question of being sympathetic to PR people, it’s a thing of mutual respect. Some PR people do great work and some people are really obnoxious and do horrible work. But I’m pretty confident you can say the same thing about professional journalists, too.
It’s about working with the right people who do the best job. It’s more of a question of, “I know what people like me need to get their jobs done,” and I’m hoping I can bring that to companies that I get to work with, and bring to colleagues I get to work with. For the past 20 some-odd years, I have had a front row seat to some of the greatest tech news. I get to now move from the front row to back stage and that is really exciting to me.
Do you still crave the excitement that comes with reporting? And, will you be involved in any content creation (video, blogging, etc.) for Burson?
I would hope that I get to be involved in any content creation Burson would think I be useful for. Wherever they think I can contribute, I am happy and excited to do so. Blogging at CNBC was the most fun that I had at the job. The interaction with viewers and readers and getting that instant response, I loved it. I hope that there is some value there that I can bring to Burson and clients.
As far as generating new content via video, and web video and working with clients on that front, that would be tremendous. As far as missing stuff, journalism to me was something I knew I wanted to do since I was seven years old. This has been a part of my life in varying degrees for 35 years.
Saying good bye to that on that level after reaching a certain level in this industry, that’s difficult. But journalism for me, the reason I loved it is everyday it was a new job. Now I get to turn the page on a new chapter. I’m thrilled about that. I think this is the right time for me professionally, personally, and I am ecstatic Burson is putting faith in me in this new role. So much show that I am embracing my new career because I get to work with people like this.