BlackBerry uses global series of events to launch Passport smartphone

Text100 and APCO Worldwide helped BlackBerry show off the Passport smartphone on Wednesday.

WATERLOO, ONTARIO: Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky lent BlackBerry an assist on Wednesday as the company unveiled the Passport smartphone.

The device, which features a square screen and touch-sensitive keyboard, is a key part of the company’s turnaround strategy.

Agency partners APCO Worldwide and Text100 supported the launch.  

The company live-streamed the Toronto event, which was held at the Real Sports Bar and Grill, on its website. It also said on the Insider BlackBerry blog post that it will post video coverage of the event. BlackBerry also encouraged the public to follow and post updates on the launch and device using the Twitter hashtag #BlackBerryPassport.

BlackBerry communications SVP Heidi Davidson confirmed via email the agencies’ involvement with the launch, which included events in Toronto, London, and Dubai.

The Wednesday morning Toronto event included an appearance by former professional hockey player Gretzky, who touted the new device’s long battery life. Although the device itself got mixed reviews at launch, BlackBerry executive chairman and CEO John Chen’s presentation was well received on social media.

The Passport’s target audience is "productivity-driven business professionals who want a smartphone that empowers them with the mobile tools they need to get things done, without sacrificing style or portability," BlackBerry said in a statement on its website on Wednesday.

It was created to "fundamentally change" the way business pros get work done via smartphone, Chen said in the release.

BlackBerry emphasized in the release that the phone’s features differentiate it from market-leading competitors, such as its 4.5-inch square screen, which makes it easier to read and write emails, review and edit documents, and browse the Internet. It also has a touch-enabled keyboard, which it called an industry first.

The phone also includes the BlackBerry 10.3 operating system, which has features such as BlackBerry Assistant, BlackBerry Blend, and the Amazon Appstore.

The company posted several times on its blog Wednesday morning to describe how to set up the phone and get the most out of its features. It also created a Passport unboxing video, as well as a post disclosing its pricing and availability.

The launch is one part of BlackBerry’s overall Work Wide campaign to promote Passport, which highlights the advantages of a wider screen.

To get the word out about the campaign, BlackBerry will use a variety of social tactics and digital advertisements to "go after [potential users] where they go for information," BlackBerry marketing SVP Mark Wilson told CNET News.

Last April, BlackBerry hired APCO Worldwide and Text100 as its global agency partners. The account has been estimated to be worth more than $10 million.

A representative from BlackBerry was not immediately available to comment on the communications strategy for the product launch.

Text100 and APCO deferred to BlackBerry for comment.

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