Industry view: Was BlackBerry relaunch 'dictated by fear'?

RIM's long-awaited product launch and surprise rebrand as BlackBerry was 'slick' but 'dictated by fear' and its media handling showed 'the same old BlackBerry', in the view of tech PRs.

Launch: CEO Thorsten Heins and newly named creative director Alicia Keys
Launch: CEO Thorsten Heins and newly named creative director Alicia Keys

A widely criticised media performance on BBC 5 Live (listen below) and BBC Breakfast by BlackBerry’s European MD Stephen Bates on the morning of Wednesday’s launch demonstrated a refusal to engage with consumers, said Fever PR deputy MD Bruce McLachlan. ‘It showed he didn’t understand users, which is what led to the company's troubles in the first place,’ he said.

‘He had the opportunity to turn it around, acknowledge previous mistakes, move on and change the agenda,’ said McLachlan. ‘For journalists it framed the company as the same old BlackBerry and that nothing has changed.’

However an agency source familiar with BlackBerry downplayed the significance of Bates’ poor performance, which they claimed was quickly forgotten once the product was revealed.

The insider admitted that it was a crucial time for the company and with regard to adopting the BlackBerry name across the business, said: ‘if the product doesn’t work, then the company won’t work,’ calling the launch ‘the last roll of the dice’ for the company.

Another insider with knowledge of BlackBerry’s communications said PR and comms activity had previously been dictated from Canada, creating a ‘culture of fear’. They warned that responsibility needed to be devolved and a level of trust established with those outside of its Canada-based management in order to reflect the needs of different markets, and as a way of differentiating itself from Apple’s approach to comms, which is highly controlled.

Liberty head of business and enterprise technology Alexis Dalrymple said Bates should have answered what was a reasonable question, but pointed to the good reception of the device, a result of a slick launch event which kept journalists happy with working wifi and desks. ‘They sound like minor details but it's things like these that determine the success of such a big event,’ he said.

He added: ‘The comms around the launch were handled well, with leaks, teasers and the big reveal, and the timing was good ahead of Mobile World Congress.’

McLachlan agreed that BlackBerry created successful buzz pre-launch especially among influential tech bloggers and tweeters such as Stephen Fry and Jonathan Ross.

However this jarred with the event itself, which although ‘big, showy and slick’, McLachlan described as ‘trying too hard in the context of declining credibility and coolness and showed a company still not comfortable in its own skin. It was a performance dictated by fear.’

BlackBerry’s retained agency for b2b and consumer work Good Relations was briefed to begin launch activity for the new device and operating system in August last year, focused on building interest among journalists pre-launch and around Wednesday’s event.

Frank PR, also retained for consumer work, has started post-launch media relations and celebrity outreach work and will run the BlackBerry press office.

It is understood that social media activity for the launch was handled by Edelman.

Hanover was brought in as BlackBerry’s retained agency for public affairs work last year and has worked with the company on media training in the long term, but was not involved in the product launch.

BlackBerry announced two new smartphones and a new mobile operating system on Wednesday at an event that was live streamed online across the globe (watch the event below). Alicia Keys was also announced as creative director for the company.

 

 

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