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Back off the RIM – Blackberry CEO’s PR tussle with BBC

April 15, 2011

This week, the BBC’s technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones spoke to Mike Lazaridis, the co-chief executive of Research In Motion (RIM), the Canadian firm behind Blackberry.

That sounds like a good PR opportunity doesn’t it? Well, it would if he and/or his publicist had prepared fully first.

If you aren’t aware, after some nice and cosy questions him about the new Playbook tablet (exactly what the PR wanted), the  focus shifted onto RIM’s problems in India and the Middle East, where governments want to gain greater access to the tight security system used for Blackberry’s business users.

PR response wasn't in the Playbook

Ah, awkward. Not what the PR wanted. However, these guys are pros, they would have anticipated that this might come up surely? Alas, it seems not.

Mr Lazaridis described the question as “unfair”, signalling the interview was over – the PR can be heard muttering similarly in the background. Now, whether unfair or not, whether the clip doing the rounds on the internet is unfair and unbalanced or not (it is news by definition as there is interest in it) the pair of them should have had a better response than throwing their toys out of the pram and taking the metaphorical ball home.

By doing this, they have exacerbated the problem and drawn even more unwanted attention to something that perhaps only specialists were aware of. A calmer response would have been better and would have been simpler if they had foreseen this line of questioning ahead of the interview. It was, afterall, a possibility. The CEO knows it is an issue, so should the PR.

Journalists by and large are not out to make trouble, they are out to ask questions. Sometimes they are tricky questions but therein lies the trade-off. This is a two-way street. PR team gets cosy opportunity to profile new product, journalist gets one on one access to the top dog.

99 times out of 100 it all works beautifully. However, it just takes one moment for everyone to wonder whether it was all really worth it.

Remember guys, fail to prepare, prepare to fail.

A more complete cut of the interview will be broadcast on the television edition of BBC Click later in April.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. April 15, 2011 1:26 pm

    In the simplest terms, my view was that if he’d listened to the PR (who he looks at, acknowledges, and ignores), let her do the talking, and just shut up, we’d never even have seen the footage.

    I don’t doubt that Rory CJ would have referenced the PR killing the interview in his blog about the Playbook (which he wrote up before the BBCClick footage become available, and added the footage to later) and I’m sure that a few people would have seen it and the PR might have got a bit of stick.

    I know for a fact that it wouldn’t have gone viral and been talked about globally. It wouldn’t have been covered by the Wall Street Journal, that’s for sure.

    And I can understand why they didn’t want to talk about it – they were there to talk about Playbook, not about India/ME, and anything that detracts from their coverage of Playbook is detrimental to their work. I get that, and this is BlackBerry – they can be that controlling of their message. Even with the BBC.

    But… RCJ had every right to ask that question on the day. And they should have expected that. And the CEO should have had a bland, placating answer that offered nothing to detract from the key messages of the Playbook, and gave RCJ nowhere else to go. “Sorry, nothing new that I can say on that right now. We’ll update you as soon as we possibly can, Rory” would probably have gone a long way towards being sufficient.

    My guess is that RCJ’s expectations for a good answer were rock bottom low. They gave him gold!

    The PR people should have made sure they had a plan for dealing with the question. To not do was criminal so anything and everything that follows was their fault – that’s the crux of your view, I guess. They were forced to try to desperately rescue the situation [of their own making] and the CEO wouldn’t let them.

    Classic – why pay the girl to be there and then flagrantly ignore her? But someone better should have been there in the first place.

  2. April 17, 2011 12:37 pm

    Anticipating tough questions before an interview, and preparing responses to them, is part of PR 101.

    A PR pro’s greatest value to the client is BEFORE the interview, when there’s time to rehearse answers to difficult questions. People who bring along their PR pros to double as body guards when the going gets tough during an interview appear weak and unable to fend for themselves.

    Interview subjects who chastise a journalist for asking “unfair” questions and then abruptly end the interview look unprepared, uncomfortable and guilty.

    When doing media interviews, prepare yourself for every bad question imaginable.

  3. Jordan Pizarro permalink
    April 20, 2011 3:48 pm

    This is not the first time I have seen such an awkward situation, but coming from a CEO, he should have acted a bit more refined and simply answer the question rather than attracting more interest and attention to themselves. While Apple is ripping RIM apart in the tablet PC war, they’re doing a good job of helping them their competitors by making poor decisions like this.

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