Apple's immensely expensive, hard-to-find and dream holiday gift the iPhone X isn't just doing the usual job of sending the media into a froth. It's sent them into a rage, as Apple changed their normal strategy of iPhone review unit deliveries. Instead of providing the creme-de-la-creme of the tech press with the iPhone X, they started by sending them first to seemingly random (but not if you leave the tech media) YouTube people. Nobody was more furious than avid Apple blogger Jon Gruber, who posted a play-by-play of blogs that weren't his that got it first (such as HIGHSNOBIETY), even furious enough to swear about a man's "emoji expert" nephew having a view of the new iPhone before he did.
Notably, CNET, The Verge and others were behind outlets and bloggers that many PR people ignored. This was called "short-circuiting" the media by Cult of Mac, which ironically may have fallen into a trap that I believe Apple purposefully laid.
You see, to me this wasn't something PR people can learn from in the classical sense. There are many YouTubers to go after, and yet very little in the way of actual data as to which one drives what where. Subscriber numbers are a great metric, but there're just so many to go after, and it requires way more time to evaluate each one (IE, you have to watch a video versus read an article), something that most PR people can't do when it comes to the simple written word and beat of the average reporter. However, none of these outlets were "unknown" - they just weren't known by a majority of the tech media (and I'd add tech public relations people), as former Samsung mobile PR product man Philip Berne put. In essence, his salient point is that to many in the tech media or popularist tech, some of these may be "unknowns" - but they're as present and attentive at events and in their coverage as the big names. At least, in some cases. In others? Well...
Beyond those directly covering technology, I mean, sure, you can absolutely say "hey, I now know some new outlets that might take some of my products," which would be really dumb if you didn't read their website/watch their videos (HIGHSNOBIETY isn't a great shot for your tech product, and neither is Fashion magazine). You could say "it's unconventional." But I want to really break down what this was, and what it means for you, the public relations person.
It's Apple. Apple Does Not Play In Your Sandbox.
I want to make something abundantly clear: if you went to these outlets with a phone from HTC, or even Google's new Pixel 2, you'd get a much less excited reaction. If you went to them with another consumer electronics product, you'd likely get no reaction at all, because who the hell are you? The answer is you aren't Apple. Your product is not the new iPhone X (this would have absolutely worked with the iPhone 8, by the way). Apple is a gigantic, consumer-loved product that hundreds of millions of people want to hear about. Apple could give the iPhone X to 100 random people and say "post your thoughts, whatever they are, at exactly 12PM in your time zone on this date," and it would go absolutely viral. Tim Cook could walk out and just hand fifteen random people the iPhone X and it would go viral.
Apple will get press no matter what they do. You are not Apple, and you will likely never be Apple. Only Amazon has the sheer force of brand cache that Apple has.
The Business and Tech Press Were Always Going To Review The New iPhone
It's absolutely no dig at CNET, the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times or any other major outlet covering technology to say that they'd cover this phone even if Apple didn't provide a review unit at all.
Perhaps Apple has finally realized that effectively anything they do gets press, and their new phone is guaranteed to get coverage. Perhaps they have realized that the tech press has a duty to their readers to review this phone, and as a company with billions of dollars just sitting in the bank there is no need to give them the first look. They can do basically anything they want. Which includes, but isn't limited to, seeding the first review units of the iPhone X to seemingly "random" YouTubers. An audience they haven't hit before, one that they can effectively experiment a press strategy with with the absolute knowledge that the only thing that will happen is the tech press will be surprised. Most people won't care. Heck, they'll find it endearing - Apple being "real" - even if it's as manufactured and mechanical as the phone's production run.
Those who have worked with Apple for access may, indeed, be finding out that it was a one-sided deal. To paraphrase Darth Vader, Apple is altering the deal, pray they do not alter it any further.
Apple Got More Press By Doing This From The Tech Press
By doing an "unconventional" strategy, Apple has literally got coverage of them getting coverage. They are getting people writing about people writing about the iPhone X. It is a masterwork of trickery - a sleight of hand that only they could pull off - pontifications about a strategy that Apple will never reveal any details on, one that will send people noodling endlessly, desperate to find the deeper truth. They created not just a press storm around their new, fascinating phone but an absolute tizzy around the way they did it.
Which was...that they gave the phone to some other people early. The why confounds people as the answer is so much clearer - that they are looking for more ways to get press, and they found one - and have absolutely seen that they can get press for anything. Even if it's getting press for getting press.
Apple Aren't Public Relations Magicians
Much is written of Apple's dominance of public relations, of their masterful strategy, and they certainly do have a large public relations department. They also have the single most successful smartphone and literally the world's strongest brand.
This is not magic.
This is not telepathy.
This is not "genius."
It's having a 100% certainty that you have a product that anyone will want to be first, or even tenth, to look at.