October 13, 2011 12:23 pm

RIM needs ‘something bold’ to ease PR troubles: expert

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TORONTO – BlackBerry’s makers and users breathed a collective sigh of relief Thursday after Research In Motion announced its smartphone services were fully restored worldwide.

RIM suffered a global outage of its BlackBerry email and popular messaging services Monday, now believed to have stemmed from a switching glitch in the UK.

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After days of shoddy service and total silence from the company’s top brass, irritated customers turned to social media to vent their frustrations, breeding the trending hashtag “Dear BlackBerry,” while the telecommunications giant apparently broke the cardinal rule of its own industry: they stopped communicating.

And the timing could not have been worse for the Waterloo, Ontario based company.

With recent layoffs, poor product sales and fierce smartphone and tablet competition, RIM’s place in the global marketplace is as uncertain as ever. It seems the only certainty for RIM is the public relations nightmare it now faces coming out of this latest crisis, the biggest outage in the company’s history.

It took three days before RIM’s mea culpa: co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie finally emerged from the dark to speak to media and ease customers’ concerns about the major service disruptions.

“For a communications company not to communicate is surprising, unbelievable really. It’s just inexcusable that it took as long as it did,” said Aileen Pincus, president of the Pincus Group, a Washington, D.C.-based communications firm specializing in crisis communications and media coaching.

With RIM decidedly private about the cause of and solution to its very public problem, the door was left wide open for customers, experts, analysts and everyone in between to speculate about what was happening with the troubled company.

“When the stuff hits the fan, it’s very hard not to hunker down and try to figure out how to respond as the clock is ticking. But you have to tell what you know, when you know it,” Pincus said, reciting the golden rule of crisis communications. “Even if that’s incomplete…you have to issue something immediately, particularly for a company like this.”

RIM did issue an apology by way of a lacklustre YouTube video starring Lazaridis, a move that may have caused more harm than good, Pincus suggested as she referred to the delivery of statement as “unfortunate” and “inadequate.”

“It’s sort of an empty apology…You have to know how to apologize. An apology is not just literally saying, ‘we’re sorry,’ and then not taking the next step,” she explained.

“This is not someone who looks like he’s in charge. This is someone who looks defensive, a little put off…it did not look heartfelt. When you listen to the content of what (Lazaridis) talked about, there was a lot more he didn’t say than he did say,” Pincus said of the staged presentation.

“It would have been far better to sit him on a stool, have somebody throw questions at him from behind the camera and just edit the real moments,” she said.

To the experts, these communication gaffes bear the hallmark of an internal corporate team rather than the finesse of a ‘big-guns’ outside PR firm. And suggest that with the right maneuvering, RIM’s loyal and largely corporate customer base won’t soon dump their BlackBerry for something a little more, shall we say, ‘iConic.’

“Is it a fatal blow, no I don’t think so,” Pincus speculated. “It’s not that you never are allowed to make a mistake. It’s that when a mistake happens, you have to do right the thing. We’re all taught that as kindergartners, right?” she said, adding that the ‘right thing’ is to keep people in the loop when a problem occurs.

“Recognize (an issue), verbalize it, talk about how you’re going to make it right, what lessons have been learned and how you’re going to prevent it from happening again,” she said.

“I would hope someone gets in the C-suite and convinces them to do something proactive rather than sit around and wait for this to blow over,” she said, suggesting RIM now needs to “come up with something bold, no pun intended, to take the lead…and let people know that they’re in the game.”

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