Why BlackBerry failed…

There’s been a lot of discussion about RIM since it announced its Q1 2013 earnings yesterday.  Today it’s stock price fell almost 20% and the company appears to be in free-fall. While some have blamed it’s outdated handsets and others the failure to keep pace with Apple’s iOS mobile operating system, the problem is, I believe, far more simple than that. RIM has failed to understand its market and, as a result, has failed to market on its strengths.

Rather than being proud to be a BlackBerry and providing compelling reasons – in terms of handset design, operating system functionality and application eco-system – the company lost sight of its market and became obsessed with being an alternative to an iPhone. It forgot that customers who buy BlackBerries don’t want iPhones.  They also – wrongly in my opinion – believed they could convince iPhone lovers to switch to BlackBerry.  Reports even suggest that the reason for the delay to BB10, announced yesterday, was that senior executives felt that it couldn’t compete with the iPhone 5, which many expect to be launched later this summer.  The truth is that a BlackBerry will NEVER be an iPhone… but who, apart from RIM, ever expected or wanted it to? Certainly not loyal BlackBerry customers!

I wrote a few months ago that I believed RIM was the biggest threat to the long-term sustainability of the business, suggesting that it should embrace – and own – it’s niche. BlackBerry users love their devices. The BlackBerry was designed to be a business tool, not a toy. The Enterprise is routed deeply in RIM’s heritage – it’s the foundation on which the company’s success was built, and, I believe, neglecting it – in the pursuit of consumers – will ultimately be responsible for its downfall.

It’s not a new story… RIM won’t be the first company to fall because of a failure to understand its market. It also won’t be the first to have good technology become the victim of misguided marketing.  It’s worth remembering that Apple suffered the same problems back in Steve Jobs’ first ‘act’ at the company, but whether RIM will be able to do the same, and pull up from the death dive it finds itself in, will depend on refocusing its attention on business users, developing products that fulfill that niche in the market – and marketing them like its life depends on it.  And it very well might!

Other stories you might like:

10 Years?! BlackBerry 10 won’t serve RIM for the next ten weeks!

How Well Do You Know Your Audience?

Is Apple Starting To Lose It’s Competitive Advantage?

Why RIM Must Eat It’s Own Marketing ‘Dog Food’

Why RIM’s Biggest Challenge Is To Change Perceptions

Let’s be honest… the PR ‘sausage factory’ doesn’t work any more

The PR industry is hiding a dirty little secret that it doesn’t want you to find out about.  Don’t tell anybody I told you… but the traditional PR ‘sausage factory‘ of client win… press release… e-mail/wire distribution… media outreach… interview… coverage… product release… press release… email/wire distribution… media outreach… interview… coverage… [repeat to fade] doesn’t work any more.  It actually hasn’t worked for quite a while.

If you work in PR, or are an in-house marketing communications manager, however, this is pretty much the rhythm of your professional life.  The PR company tells its client that it needs news to build momentum… everything relies on news for a release.  When a client has news, a release is written, re-written, signed off and sent out.  Usually only one release is written. Regardless of  how many publics [audiences] the company is trying to talk with, it’s distributed over a wire [usually a generic circuit – in my case it’s generally been a technology one] and emails to key journalists.  The release is then  followed up with calls to journalists – this is usually done by the junior team members – it’s a menial job, after all.  If you’re lucky, there will be an interview, or two, and some coverage. I say if you’re lucky, because the pitch is usually something like, ‘did you get the release I emailed you?’.

Once this process has been repeated a few times, its success is measured by a quarterly, half-yearly or annual PR review.  When I say measured, it’s usually a finger in the wind or activity driven calculation – we wrote, distributed and followed up X releases, managed Y interviews and received Z pieces of coverage.  If it feels like enough has been done to justify the investment then the process is repeated.  If, however, the client feels that there’s not been enough value delivered [usually measured by the number of pieces of coverage in the right titles] then the agency is fired and the client selects a new one.

The new agency does exactly what the old one did, but… well they’re new.  They need time to settle in.  They need news. They need case studies.  After a few cycles, guess what,  the client fires the PR company and selects another one that does – yes, you’ve guessed it – exactly the same as its predecessors.

Albert Einstein is quoted as saying that Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  Yet, the PR industry continues to do the same thing it’s always done.  Why? Because the ‘sausage factory’ actually suits both sides of the equation!  Both sides know that, ultimately, the agency will be fired if the sausage factory doesn’t produce enough ‘sausages’.

PR companies know that clients fire agencies regularly and circle like vultures in anticipation.  Most marketers realized that more agencies fail to live up to the expectation – but hire them anyway, knowing that if they don’t deliver they can be fired and replaced with another bright, shiny agency. PR agencies have a reputation for this sort of thing, after all!  They can’t possibly be blamed for the failure!

It’s the way that PR has always been purchased, and there is comfort in the process.  The use of the term retainer – money paid in order to buy favor – should tell you everything.

Doing something new, something different is… well… risky – it exposes both sides.  It might not deliver the anticipated outcomes.  But it doesn’t have to be like that.  PR can deliver real value – as part of a targeted marketing communications strategy that understands who the audience is, what an organizations USP is, what drives the target audience and that effective communication is not about broadcasting it can deliver incredible results.

Public Relations done right is about building meaningful relationships between an organization and individuals, using the right message, to the right people, with the right delivery mechanism, at the right time.  It’s also a two way process – listening is as, if not more, important as talking.  In a generation of big data, where everything is measurable, there’s no reason for PR not to be  accountable.  It just requires the identification of objectives and the basis on how success [or failure] should be measured.

Marketeers [and their PR companies] can deliver real value from public relations, but in order to do so they must not only start to THINK differently, but also DO differently!  It also requires that we start to close down the PR sausage factories.

Other posts you might like:

PR People Are From Venus… The Media is From Mars

The Days of ‘Scattergun’ PR and Marketing Are Dead

Marketing Communications Is Not A Science

4 Reasons A Press Release Is Horrible

What Social Media Can Learn From Radio

It was one of the very first things I was told when I entered J School – while the delivery medium was a broadcast one, the key to effective broadcasting is to make it personal. Despite the fact that when I worked in radio I was sending messages to tens or hundreds of thousands of people, the key was to make each one must think that we were talking only to them.  It’s something that I’m mindful of every time I press send on a tweet – does what I’m broadcasting – because that’s effectively what I’m doing – have the potential to start a personal conversation with my ‘listeners’?

Now I know that in the same way that it wasn’t always possible to achieve it when I was on radio, I don’t always achieve it with my tweets.  But I try.  And, it’s a lesson that businesses need to learn when developing their social media strategies.  Rather than broadcasting they need to understand who their target audience is and target the tweets, Facebook updates, LinkedIn group posts and Google + updates accordingly.

Attending #140Conf12 in New York earlier this week I was reminded of the importance of integrity, credibility and humanity in social media.  In a world where so much of corporate communications is electronic it would be good to remember that people, ultimately, buy from people.  Isn’t it time your business started personal conversations with your audience, rather than simply using social media to broadcast your message?


#140Conf12: Human-shaped, not business-shaped

At my first #140Conf in London in 2010 Stephen Fry explained that twitter was, ‘human-shaped, not business-shaped.’  I’ve yet to find a better description to describe Jeff Pulver’s 140 Conference events.

There are very few established ‘experts’ – and the ones that are are not of the self-appointed variety.  There are no lectures, no how-tos, no vendor pitches… there’s no ‘this is what I did – you should do it too…’ and there’s no simmering rivalry between the presenters [otherwise known as characters].  140 Conferences are about honesty, humanity and real stories of how social media has contributed to changing lives and about search for meaning from the real-time Internet.

There’s always lots of laughs; no shortage of hugs – rather than handshakes; and they re’s raw emotion – and sometimes tears; but what strikes me most is that 140 Conference events are about community.  There’s a sense of shared purpose amongst #140Conf attendees – they are there to find ways to use the real-time internet to make the world a better place.

I’ll post more about my specific experiences of this year’s event in the coming days, but as I decompress from the last three days in New York it strikes me that what defines 140 Conferences are the moments of shared humanity. They are opportunities to look beyond the digital souls of our online community and know that we’re not alone in wanting to make the world a better place.  I can’t think of a better testimony to both the value of the real-time Internet and The 140 Conference – can you?

#140confNYC | Social TV Panel

Social TV is a hot topic right now and I’ve been meaning to post this video for a long time.  It’s a panel discussion at last year’s #140Conf in New York.  It might be a year old, but many of the discussion points are still extremely topical – it’s a must watch for anybody working in the broadcast industry trying to figure out how social TV will play a part in their platforms or service offerings.


As soon as the social TV session from #140Conf12 is available on the #140talks YouTube channel, I’ll add it to this post.

Social Media – Finding Meaning from the Real Time Web [Part 1]

As a child I always looked forward to Christmas Eve because I knew that something amazing was going to happen.  As I write this post I can feel that same sense of excitement. Tonight is actually the night before the night before Christmas, but tomorrow I fly to New York City for #140ConfNYC, now known as The State of Now and I just know that it’s going to be an amazing few days.

The two-day event, organized by Jeff Pulver, isn’t like any other social media event I’ve been to because it’s not about self-appointed experts telling the audience how they should, or should not use social media to improve their lives.  It’s about people with stories to tell sharing their experiences.  Sometimes they are positive experiences; sometimes they’re not. What is guaranteed is that there are lessons that everybody can apply to how they use social media.

Actually, I’m resolved not to call it social media any more – I think the term Realtime Internet is a far more appropriate and accurate description.  If you have the chance during Tuesday or Wednesday this week to tune in I’d thoroughly recommend you take some time and attend the event.  Failing that you can watch a session or two via the live stream.

At a time when businesses are trying to figure out how the real-time Internet can benefit their organization you’ll not have a better opportunity than during The State of Now.

The future of TV will be won [and lost] by marketing…

…and a failure to understand this is the biggest threat to Pay TV operators and technology vendors’ prosperity. It’s an industry that I love – and I make the statement as a call to action, before it’s too late.

The situation facing operators and vendors isn’t new, or exclusive to the television industry.  The history of the tech industry is littered with great products and services that fell by the wayside because they failed to capture the imagination of their intended audience or failed to provide a compelling reason for people to buy.  Unless it acts quickly the TV industry runs the serious risk of failing to make the case for why people should want to pay money for social and connected TV applications, multi-screen, hybrid and TV Everywhere services.  We’ve been talking about them for years… but it appears that we’re still unable to provide compelling evidence for how they can improve the viewing experience.

Why the urgency to fix this now? One word… a word that should strike fear in to the heart of every company in the industry.  Apple.  While the company didn’t unveil the now mythical Apple TV set at this week’s WWDC it is, according to any number of people in the know, only a matter of time.  Both former CEO Steve Jobs and Tim Cook have also alluded to the fact that it’s coming [it is stated in his biography that Jobs claimed to have, ‘cracked the code’ to TV].  Whether that’s an ‘insanely awesome’ and ‘revolutionary’ TV that will change the way people watched it or a new viewing experience – the industry had better be ready!

It’s unlikely that Apple will have a significantly better technical solution for multi-screen viewing, or offer any significant insights on how to integrate social networks [I think the knowledge and experience in the industry will always surpass anything that the Cupertino-based company can offer], but I do think that whatever they launch will be disruptive.  Very disruptive.  My instinct tells me that Jeremy Toeman has it pretty much spot on in his piece, ‘Decoding “I cracked it“].

But, when it comes to convincing consumers that a product is a ‘must have’… nobody can touch Apple.  You can be sure that when the Apple TV does launch the marketing will be another master-class in how to position a technology and convince consumers they need it.  If you’re in any doubt you need look no further than the iPad!  I think Jobs’ “I cracked it” will be the way Apple markets a new social, connected, multiscreen TV experience!

You have been warned.

Read ‘Why Apple’s ‘TV dream’ could turn into a nightmare’

Read ‘New iPad is Another Part of Apple’s Bid to Change the Face of TV’

Is Apple starting to lose its competitive advantage?

Apple’s #WWDC is upon us again and consumers are waiting with baited breath, hoping for something new and shiny.  But, if this article from Business Insider is anything to go on, they might feel more than slightly disappointed come the end of Tim Cook’s opening keynote.  The most exciting announcement according to the report, is likely to be the launch of iOS 6.

Which begs the question, if the reports are correct, is Apple starting to lose its competitive advantage? Will a company notorious for the legendary marketing of its latest products be able to convince an audience anxiously waiting for the iPhone 5 and mythical Apple TV set, that it’s worth spending thousands of dollars for evolutionary improvements to existing hardware?

Where Apple stole a march on the mobile market with the launch of the original iPhone, the 3G and 4, the competition has made significant inroads into Apple’s market leadership in recent months:

Google’s Android OS is now the leading smartphone platform in the US.  Devices from the likes of HTC, Motorola and Samsung offer consumers 4G wireless internet speeds.  Samsung is also making a strong play for consumers wanting a larger screen than the 3.5″ offered by Apple.  There appears to be growing support amongst consumers for a larger screen iPhone, but this Tim Cook appeared to rule it for the iPhone at the recent All Things Digital D10 conference.  Without a revolutionary new iPhone will Apple still be able to claim to be at the cutting edge of mobile device innovation?

The competition is also getting smart about how it markets its new devices. A failure by Apple to deliver substantial updates to its mobile and personal computing lines at today’s WWDC will, undoubtedly, provide fodder for competitor marketing campaigns and bolster the competition – although I hope that they do a better job than RIM did recently.  Consumers are also starting to see through Apple’s ‘distortion field’ – as widespread reports of Siri’s lacklustre performance have grown.

So, is Apple starting to lose its competitive advantage?  How long can it maintain the reality distortion field without new products? What do you expect Tim Cook will unveil later today?

Other posts about Apple:

Why Apple’s ‘TV Dream’ may become a nightmare!

Why Apple Will Acquire RIM

How Apple will spend it billions

The new iPad is another step in Apple’s bid to change the face of TV

Marketing and Sales

How often have you seen anybody with the title Marketing and Sales Director? I don’t think I’ve ever seen it in my fifteen-year PR career – it’s invariably Sales first and Marketing second. Why? Because the majority of organizations fundamentally misunderstand the inter-relationship between sales and marketing & PR.

When times are tough, organizations traditionally pour money into sales activities and look to cut back on PR and marketing spend.  The thinking is that by focusing more effort and investment on sales, they increase the chances of closing deals.  The truth is that when things are tough for the sales team, organizations should be investing more in marketing – not less.

  • Marketing and PR help you correctly position a product or service within a market, ensuring that people understand why they should choose you over a competitor
  • Marketing and PR help you deliver a personal message to a mass audience of prospective customers
  • Marketing and PR deliver in-bound sales leads
  • The opportunity cost per lead for marketing and PR is a fraction of having a sales representative find it

So, next time you’re thinking about cutting marketing and PR spend ask yourself one question.  What would you rather have the sales reps doing: chasing leads or closing deals? You’ll also find that the chances of closing a deal resulting from a well crafted marketing and PR campaign are significantly higher than from speculative outbound sales calls.

PR folk are from Venus, the media is from Mars [A response]

When I read the title of an article by Asohan Aryaduray entitled ‘PR folk are from Venus, the media is from Mars‘, I was intrigued. Hasn’t this story been written many times before? Isn’t it already widely accepted that the majority of PR people don’t understand journalists… and vice versa? Haven’t both sides come to a mutually workable arrangement, because they have realized and admitted – often through clenched teeth – that they need the other? What could this article add to the debate?

Actually, quite a lot!  Two sentences from the article jumped off the page: “…there’s still a yawning chasm when it comes to [PRs] understanding the media” and “[too many journalists] have allowed PRs to set the agenda”.

I’ve long said that the majority of agency PRs [and their in-house counterparts and most clients] fail to understand how the media works. This is increasingly the case as the media landscape becomes more complex and multi-platform. One example of this is deadlines.

The majority of clients I’ve worked with in the last 15 years haven’t understood that journalists don’t call up looking for comment with a 15 minute deadline because they want to. They’re also not doing it ‘just’ because they can. It’s because they’ve been given an equally tight deadline by their editor and being first to break or cover a story has a significant impact on their business. Most PRs don’t understand that being able to help a journalist to meet his deadline wins friends in the media.  Sure, they like beer and dinners at nice restaurants, but if you really want to earn their respect then helping them to be the first publication in their space to break or respond to a story will mean you’ll be top of their list the next time they need help meeting their copy deadline.

I also agree with Asohan that PRs have long been allowed to set the media agenda – far more than they should be. There are a number of reasons for this: one is the increasing workload that journalists are faced with. Where, a few years ago, they had a weekly or monthly magazine to produce, plus a newsletter or two, most journalists are now faced with the prospect of hourly deadlines to ensure they’re covering breaking news stories online, the creation of multimedia content and managing personal and corporate Twitter, Facebook, Google +… [insert social networks as appropriate] accounts. The majority also still have to produce a weekly or monthly print magazine. This is why journalists have been happy to allow companies that understand this to lead the agenda.

Actually, it’s not so much being happy about it. Perhaps ‘tolerate’ is a more appropriate description.

Another reason some PRs have been able to set their own agenda is because there are a few who DO actually understand what journalists want, and have been able to take advantage of the increased workload facing the media and its requirement for content.  They also understand the audience that a publication is targeting, they get that company promotional material doesn’t constitute a story, they provide independent third-party quotes, striking high definition images and multimedia [when did you last send audio to a broadcaster to accompany your press release?]. They also draft their press releases to tell a story, rather than simply promoting their client or its product or service.  These individuals have been welcomed by the media with open arms.

So, while PR folks are mostly from Venus and the media is from Mars, there are a few from both sides that have worked out how they can work effectively with their counterparts.  If you want to help your client or your organization then the most effective way is to understand the  challenges they face and find ways to help them to overcome them.