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BlackBerry’s week of darkness

MRM's Tom Desborough

After a week of shame for BlackBerry, MRM’s Tom Desborough looks at how the firm’s crisis communications could have been improved.

By any reckoning, last week was a pretty disastrous week for BlackBerry and its manufacturer Research In Motion (RIM).

Services are up and running again after outages disrupted email for millions of users worldwide but the company has a way to go before returning its reputation to pre-crisis levels.

So where did it all go wrong for BlackBerry? The issues were caused by a backlog of emails to Europe from Asia and the Americas, according to RIM. From a PR point of view, RIM did little to respond to the crisis and help ease the worries of disgruntled BlackBerry users. There was little in the way of public statements and, perhaps even more surprisingly, given the nature of the service – ie tech-based – not much was done to manage the crisis online.

It didn’t take long after the disruption to users’ email, web browsing and BBM (BlackBerry Messenger) services, for social networks to explode with a flurry of frustrated users.

Twitter saw BlackBerry related activity boom over this week with hashtags such as #getmybloodyblackberrybackon starting to emerge. High profile users put the boot in, led by Tony Blair’s former director of communications Alistair Campbell.

In short, Blackberry appeared to fail in each of the tried and tested crisis management steps.

All of this couldn’t have come at a worse time for BlackBerry, as it all happened in the week that Apple chose to release its new flagship iPhone model, the 4S

Along with the new iPhone, came Apple’s latest mobile operating system iOS5, bringing with it, its own instant messenger service. Instant messaging was, of course, one of the few selling points on which Blackberry had its nose ahead of its rival.

And all of this came only weeks after another huge reputational crisis – BlackBerry Messenger’s (BBM) alleged part in the August riots – so you would have thought BlackBerry would have made sure its communications team was ready for future crises. Apparently not.

For those of us in PR, this can only serve as a reminder as to the importance of crisis management, and that you can never be too prepared. Perhaps BlackBerry and RIM can learn a few lessons from the likes of KFC, which successfully navigated a crisis of its own in July after some footage of staff tampering with food leaked online.

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