An Open Letter To RIM CEOs: The Epic Blackberry PR Fail

Dear Jim and Mike,

I wanted to write and send this on my BlackBerry – but since the service is still offline, I can’t.

I’m amazed by how badly your PR is handling the BlackBerry Internet Service (BIS) outage that currently appears to be blanketing the whole of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. My Torch hasn’t received a mail since midday, and after fiddling with and finally rebooting my own handset without being able to solve the problem, it slowly dawned that there might be a more widespread problem.

Lucky BB users on Orange and T-Mobile in the UK were “tweeted” to let them know about the outage, according to The Register, although that wouldn’t have worked on my handset, since it is not sending or receiving any data over the air right now. My smartphone has gone dumb. The only BlackBerries still working are those belonging to enterprise customers whose networks have own BlackBerry Enterprise Servers to provide emails.

Speaking frankly, this has not been handled very well. First your PRs weren’t available for comment, (or was it a lazy journalist who couldn’t reach you?). Then we heard you were “investigating” – a word that simply underlines that you’re as confused as the rest of us. Only some four hours after the outage struck did a RIM spokesperson tell the BBC you were “working to resolve an issue currently impacting some Blackberry subscribers”.

Some? That’s a good phrase for the entire EMEA BB BIS customer base…

Your PR response simply isn’t good enough, and I’m sending you back to the PR drawing board. Where is your PR crisis management plan? Surely you must have planned for the eventuality that one day, there would be an outage that would require some firefighting?

Here’s what RIM PR needs to do now:

  1. Play fair. Confirm and apologize for the outage. Don’t try wiggling on the hook by claiming it’s only affecting “some” users, this isn’t going to wash
  2. Be honest. Confirm that the problem is being addressed by an expert team of dedicated techies who will work around the clock ‘til they fix it
  3. Provide reassurance. Tell the media you’re taking “every possible step” to reassure customers that this will not happen again – and make sure there’s some substance behind those words. Surely in this cloud-enabled world, it can’t be that BB services for the whole of EMEA are all going through one server in the UK? This is not disaster tolerance…
  4. Be visible. Your PR teams should be accessible. Not being available for comment means you cannot influence the story – you’re at the mercy of the media
  5. Reach out. Ask every single MNO that provides BlackBerry service to contact its customers – probably via SMS – with an outage advisory. This might not be possible this time but if I were RIM’s PR honcho, I’d be instigating this today
  6. Keep providing regular updates. This is where you could gain a few hundred thousand followers on Twitter, and with a bit of luck, you might even be able to hang on to a decent percentage afterwards
  7. Take the blame. Once the service does come back up, please don’t blame an errant construction worker for cutting an essential fiber-optic cable. Take it like a man

The world is watching!

Best wishes, Simon Jones

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