BlackBerry Ad Urges Customers Not to Hang Up on Them

 BlackBerry Ad Urges Customers Not to Hang Up on Them

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for BlackBerry.

One can’t help but think of the old joke from Monty Python and The Holy Grail: “I’m not dead yet.” That’s the underlying message of a full-page ad from BlackBerry running in 30 publications worldwide

Newspapers and the rest of the media have been reporting for the past few years on the downfall of a product once so ubiquitous and addictive it was commonly referred to as “CrackBerry.” Since then, the Canadian-based company has been eclipsed by Apple’s iPhone and other smartphones. Occasional technical difficulties and product misfires have led to BlackBerry laying off 40 percent of its workforce and putting itself up for sale, amid speculation that it’s terminal anyway.

Interestingly BlackBerry chose print ads to give its customers an update: the province of an older demographic, while younger smartphone users are happy with touch-screens.  The most loyal of BlackBerry’s customers say they’re holding onto their phones because of its now old-fashioned keypads and the ad, in the form of an open letter, reads, in part, “These are no doubt challenging times for us and we don’t underestimate the situation or ignore the challenges…” but, “You can continue to count on BlackBerry.”

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for BlackBerry. On one hand, good to reassure people it’s still alive; on the other, bad to have to do that.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: One option for damage control is image control. The company has a high media profile, but the news is almost all bad  and next steps are crucial when standing on a crumbling precipice. Given that the biggest demographic in America is Boomers, it might be wiser for BlackBerry to appeal to them and make a virtue of its old fashioned appeal. Appearing rejuvenated with a mild face lift, as the phone not of a future generation but the current one, might be the positioning that reassures that BlackBerry is alive after all.

Is Apple’s PR Bruised?

 Is Apples PR Bruised?What to think of Apple? To hear stock analysts and business anchors talk, one would think Goliath had just taken a severe hit to the head. Apple has been the undisputed giant of tech for so long that the slightest waver on its feet has everyone talking about how the mighty may soon be falling.

True, profits are down – about 18 percent this quarter, and the first decline for Apple in a decade. Speculation that the company might slope downward following the demise of leader Steve Jobs didn’t come to pass immediately, but the birth of competitive, and cheaper, products are starting to pose a threat. And there are no new products coming from Apple, which is bad news for a company that caters to consumers mad for the latest in tech devices.

Another first for Apple is having to borrow money. The explanation? Rather than face taxes on bringing in offshore assets, Apple will take a loan to pay $100 billion to shareholders by 2015, which pleases some, but perplexes others. Bottom line: should Apple be in crisis mode or business as usual?

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Apple. The news isn’t good, but then again it isn’t all rotten.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: A company’s reputation can precede, and quiet, speculation. Apple may be wavering in its long-held number one slot, but one of the company’s priorities has been building a brand. People don’t speak of phones; they talk about iPhones and lead iLives. Consumers still see Apple products as cool and a cut above the rest despite their ubiquity.  While cheaper products may come around, it will take far more than that to put a dent in Apple’s brand loyalty. Apple’s PR should continue to polish its image and brand and let the stock price see-saw of its own accord. Apple’s upward unrelating share price climb had to come to an end at some point. Best thing is to pause and catch a PR breath.

A Sweeter Apple?

 A Sweeter Apple?

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Apple’s apology to Chinese customers.

What a difference a CEO makes. The change in Apple Inc.’s executive suite was evident this week when the company posted a fulsome apology from CEO Tim Cook on the Apple China web site. Apple, it seems, was not properly responding to complaints about its warranty and repair programs, prompting the Chinese government and state-run media to launch a fortnight of blistering criticism. In Cook’s mea culpa, which ran 12,000 Chinese characters (about 800 words), he apologized for appearing arrogant and outlined several changes the company will be making in China.

This is the second time in recent months that Cook has taken the higher road. Last September, he acknowledged the failure of Apple Maps, a cartographic catastrophe so inaccurate it stranded several iPhone users in an Australian desert wasteland with no food or water for more than 24 hours.

The softer approach is a departure from that of Apple co-founder and longtime leader Steve Jobs, who was called egotistical as often as brilliant. When customers complained in 2010 that holding the iPhone at a certain angle obliterated reception, Jobs snapped “Just avoid holding it that way” before eventually, begrudgingly, apologizing and giving away free cases.

Apple’s most recent apology seems to be smart. China is Apple’s second biggest market today and, as Cook told state-run Xinhua news agency in January, he believes it will become its first. All the more reason to keep customers extremely happy.

THE PR VERDICT:  “C” (Distinctly OK) for Apple. While the apology was the right move, it came two weeks into a negative PR blitz. It will be interesting to see if Apple sales in China have been affected.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Markets change, and so must marketing strategies. Part of Apple’s early allure was that its groundbreaking technologies and higher pricetags created an air of exclusivity; the attitude that occasionally exuded from leadership contributed to the appeal. Today, however, the competitive landscape is much more crowded, and Apple can’t afford to alienate buyers in such fertile ground as China. An apology today helps pave the way for a bigger footprint tomorrow.

Guest Column: Nokia’s Embarrassing Stumble

 Guest Column: Nokia’s Embarrassing Stumble

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for Nokia. (Pictured: Nokia CEO Stephen Elop)

Last week, Nokia introduced its new smartphones, the Lumia 820 and 920, at a media launch. The biggest selling point? Lumia’s “PureView Camera Technology,” which separates this phone from the rest of the pack. A fancy launch, complete with a promotional video and advertisements, showed images taken using Lumia’s new “optical-image-stabilization” feature (OIS).  The trade press was meant to swoon.

But – whoops – the press noticed that neither the promotional video nor the still images in the ad were taken with the Lumia 920 camera in the phone. Did anyone get photos of Nokia executives’ red faces? But wait, the cringing wasn’t over yet: Nokia was unable to state a date as to when the product would arrive in the market. After all, they’ve been busy… Apparently finding good photos to use for press materials.

The company issued a pro forma apology for the ad, saying that it “should have posted a disclaimer stating this was a representation of OIS only” [emphasis added]. Nokia said that its aim was to show what the Lumia 920′s OIS technology will be able to do once available and apologized for the confusion it caused. No intention to mislead, and yes, “There was poor judgment in the decision not to use a disclaimer,” a Nokia spokesperson told Bloomberg.

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for Nokia. See what can happen in the rush to market products?

The PR Takeaway: Don’t be bullied by the market, and you’ll avoid later embarrassment. Companies need to control their competitive impulses. The smartphone market is driven by quick sales and product differentiation demands; everybody appreciates that. But what is the point in creating demand when the public will find only empty shelves, and the company may be accused of manipulative sales tactics? In this case, further damage was arrested with a quick apology, but in the future, how about a more thoughtful and cautious analysis of reputation risk? After all,  the rule is simple: be careful what you promise and when. That will avoid vividly red faces from showing up in the press.

What else should Nokia have done to avoid this kind of media embarrassment? Give us your PR Verdict!

 

Guest Column: Is Samsung Passing the Buck to Customers?

Main Note 10.1 N8013 h front 9 150x150 Guest Column: Is Samsung Passing the Buck to Customers?

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for Samsung.

What do you say when a jury takes $1 billion out of your pocket and hands it to your arch rival (while calling you a big, fat copycat)? If you’re Samsung, the answer is, tell your customers you may be raising their prices. Samsung declared last Friday’s Apple verdict a “loss for the American consumer” and said it will lead to “potentially higher prices.” Is that any way to preserve a reputation?

Compare that to the sharp, smart statement from Apple: “We make these products to delight our customers, not for our competitors to flagrantly copy.”

Samsung has built a well-deserved brand as one of the world’s great tech innovators. Yet of late, even when it wins in court, it loses. Just last month, a UK High Court found that Samsung couldn’t have infringed on Apple’s patents, because Samsung’s products “are not as cool.” Not good.

But frightening your customer base by warning of higher prices is unlikely to turn the tide. Samsung would be better served to hew more closely in its public statements to the legal positions it is presenting in court–in particular, that the inventions claimed in Apple’s patents have been around for years and were not actually developed by Apple.

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for Samsung. Scare tactics, especially of higher prices in economically challenging times, are unlikely to win hearts and minds. Better to use the forum to carefully explain one’s patent law positions.

The PR Takeaway: Sometimes the PR solution is right under your nose. Samsung’s business partner, Google, responded to the verdict by emphasizing how “the mobile industry is moving fast, and all players, including newcomers, are building upon ideas that have been around for decades.” This is essentially the patent law defense of “anticipation.” In this case, coordinating better with its legal team and staying on patent law message might have been the easier route and ultimately more reassuring than issuing stern warnings about higher prices and future lack of innovation.

Is Samsung right to be honest with customers about impending higher prices, or is this adding insult to their own injury? Give us your PR Verdict!