And the clear winner of the PR failure of the week is… Research In Motion. Following the catastrophic and still rather mysterious BlackBerry service failure, the outbursts of emotion have been extraordinary – both from disgruntled BlackBerry users and from smug iPhone fanbois.
Yet the Great BlackBerry Failure of 2011 should not be trivialized by handset wars. What the fanbois fail to grasp is that the BB kerfuffle is definitely not about whether or not I’ve got an iPhone (read my lips: if I wanted an iPhone, I’d get one).
Instead, the main issue is that GBF 11 highlighted the fatal flaw in what I’m calling RIM’s “three monkeys” communications strategy (see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil). Maintaining a stony silence in the face of customer outrage isn’t going to stop the media from covering the story. In fact, it removes the need for journalists to add balance to the story, by including RIM’s comments. And once the damage is done, it’s too late: After the Titanic hit that iceberg, it was only a matter of time until it sank.
This week, an apologetic, action-oriented statement from RIM would have been enough to at least take the edge off some more-scathing stories. But that would have been only the tip of the iceberg – the bulk of the work should have been done in advance, in preparing so that the company was ready and watertight to deal with any crisis. Years back, handling PR for a client whose business fringed on adult entertainment, the first line of our crisis plan read: “None of the following is optional”.
RIM didn’t have an effective plan and as a result, has been portrayed as arrogant, vacillating and tone-deaf to its customers. As many commentators already noted, the timing was catastrophic, since BlackBerry sales are falling – and the epic outage further fueled speculation about the company’s vision and leadership. When after more than 24 hours, RIM finally broke its silence about the outage, the reason – a “failed switch” – didn’t sound plausible.
Do I still trust this company with my data? Or to provide communications services? With the mobile market still evolving fast – it already seems unbelievable that just this time last year, Nokia was still shipping more smartphones than Apple, Samsung, RIM or HTC – then RIM management should have been more savvy to the fact that if they drive customers away, they’re not coming back.
It is time for RIM to be decisive and move to put that crisis management plan together – because lightning does strike twice, and there are plenty of icebergs in the sea, to mix some metaphors.