BlackBerry Brand Damaged – What’s Next in Crisis PR?

Blackberry service has seemingly now returned to normal after four days of global outages – but after terrible communications in crisis PR, the brand is damaged – Whats next ? Blackberry failed to fail some of the basic rules of crisis PR – and will reap the damages for quite a while to come, and its more problems for a company that  reported a 59% drop in second-quarter profits and a year-over-year decline in BlackBerry shipments.

Blackberry missed some classic crisis PR 101 rules, and handled the situation terribly. In a month which has seen PR nightmares from other brands including Netflix, Bank of America and others, lets review some crisis 101 basics:

  • Act Quickly As Timing Matters – Especially for a brand which has exploded because of their ability to provide instant communications, Blackberry failed miserably with only two tweets in 3 days addressing the issue, and they seemed to not realise the need to drop everything and address crisis situations as they happen. In times of crisis PR  it’s impossible to sit behind a computer and “outwork” catastrophes.
  • Honesty & Clarity Matter – Blackberry spoke of “switch failures” – using technical jargon doesn’t resonate with consumers.  They then went on to tell us our blackberries were working – when for many people they stayed down.  That’s not what should be done – in times of crisis PR, honesty matters.  Explanations in simple language would have gone a long way.  And now that its behind them, tone matters. How you say things is as important as what you actually say – “A clue to malpractice history” in Surgery magazine revealed just how important delivery is in a crisis. The study’s authors found that doctors who spent more time in a room with patients talking to them in a kind manner faced significantly fewer malpractice lawsuits than doctors who spent less time in a room with patients and talked to them brusquely or insincerely. That’s regardless of whether the news was good or bad. Never underestimate the power of equanimity: the study further found that if patients liked the doctor they were less prone to sue even if that doctor actually made a sue-able mistake that adversely affected the patient’s health. It is both the time spent and the bedside manner of the speaker that counts. People who liked their doctors actually refused to sue them, even when malpractice occurred. This is a transferable lesson for crisis communication: if the people you are addressing like you, your problems will be less severe in the long run. There are plenty of “crackberry” addicts – engage them – quickly and immediately.
  • How you say things is as important as what you actually say – “A clue to malpractice history” in Surgery magazine revealed just how important delivery is in a crisis. The study’s authors found that doctors who spent more time in a room with patients talking to them in a kind manner faced significantly fewer malpractice lawsuits than doctors who spent less time in a room with patients and talked to them brusquely or insincerely. That’s regardless of whether the news was good or bad. Never underestimate the power of equanimity: the study further found that if patients liked the doctor they were less prone to sue even if that doctor actually made a sue-able mistake that adversely affected the patient’s health. It is both the time spent and the bedside manner of the speaker that counts. People who liked their doctors actually refused to sue them, even when malpractice occurred. This is a transferable lesson for crisis communication: if the people you are addressing like you, your problems will be less severe in the long run. There are plenty of “crackberry” addicts – engage them – quickly and immediately.
  • The Boss Counts – It’s not always the case, but if you are the boss you often have to be the face of the crisis and the source of the apology. This was a big problem, and Research In Motion’s two co-CEOs —emerged only on the 4th day of the crisis. Their users were active on digital media constantly, and not responding had the media providing updates without active Blackberry commentary.

Blackberry forgot that communications is vital – “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently” said Warren Buffett.  The brand is damaged and needs to get back to business – Keep apologizing, and make sure our damn blackberries work.

 

Ronn Torossian is CEO of 5WPR, 1 of the 25 largest PR firms in the US, and author of the just released PR book “For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations” which is available for purchase at: http://www.amazon.com/Immediate-Release-Deliver-Game-Changing-Relations/dp/1936661160

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