Blackberry fails to connect

Key messages are great but point blank refusals of journalists' questions will only guarantee you poor coverage, says Electric Airwaves' managing director Andrew Caesar-Gordon.

Stephen Bates, European MD of Blackberry, is not comfortable as a media spokesperson. And he should either fire his media trainer or find someone else to undertake interviews.

Bates’ leaden and scripted media performance while UK MD during Blackberry’s network failure in 2011 was widely derided. Nonetheless he was promoted a few months later. But last week the Twittersphere, bloggers and mainstream media had a field day with his BBC Breakfast and then later Radio 5 Live interviews on the morning of the launch of the Blackberry 10.

Bates had an opportunity to excite people who don't read tech publications. Instead we got a masterclass in how rubbish media training, scripted key messages and a refusal to answer the questions put by interviewers on behalf of the public can generate huge negative coverage.

And yes, Blackberry formerly RIM, it does matter. It’s the accumulation of little things which sets the public narrative about the company you are and the kind of products you create.

Three times he avoided BBC Breakfast presenter Stephanie McGovern's question as to what went wrong within Blackberry that it had lost so much of its market share. McGovern finished with an exasperated "We might never know what went wrong…"

On radio, he sidestepped – badly - Nicky Campbell who asked him six times what RIM had learned from the iPhone. Campbell who at one point said: "you sound like you are reading from a press release", then spent the rest of the day tweeting furiously about how badly Bates had done and offering him media training tips. A couple of which Bates used in a subsequent Channel 4 interview that was marginally better.

My favourite tweets? "Just listened to Blackberry interview again because I love it when my toes curl"; "Where do I apply for the soon-to-be vacant job of Blackberry MD?"; "more cringe than an episode of The Office".

More importantly, as one tech blogger wrote: "BlackBerry 10 sounded boring, and RIM clueless about what real people want from a smartphone."


Takeaway Tips:

•    Bates was almost certainly coached to keep to key messages and not to mention competitors. But you must anticipate the negative questions, you can’t ignore the world around you and you must address the question if you are not to be seen as evasive. Bates should have acknowledged past mistakes and moved on to communicating the new agenda.

•    Jargon is a weed in the garden of language. You must use the same language that your audience uses. Bates’ use of terms in a consumer pitch like "unique proposition", "transitioning the essence of what Blackberry is about", a "special new unique capability" can only have alienated this general audience.

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