Five PR Lessons From The BlackBerry KEY2 Faux Pas! (Updated)

The PR team representing BlackBerry in Malaysia seems to have graduated from the Trump PR University. Tone deaf and arrogant, they shocked the Malaysian tech media last week with an offensive BlackBerry KEY2 email. Let’s take a look at what this BlackBerry PR team wrote, and find out what PR lessons we can learn from the BlackBerry KEY2 faux pas.

Updated @ 2018-07-20 : We added new information and viewpoints from both the media and PR practitioners on this issue.

Originally posted @ 2018-07-17


The BlackBerry KEY2 Faux Pas

On 13 July 2018 (yes, Friday the Thirteenth!), BlackBerry’s PR representative sent everyone who attended the media launch four days earlier an email on the BlackBerry KEY2 review samples. This was what they all received :

From what we understand, most took exception to the “cocky” way the email was written, including…

  • the portrayal that the Malaysian tech media are begging for a review unit.
  • the requirement that the BlackBerry KEY2 (Price Check) be collected and returned PERSONALLY at their office.
  • threatening to charge the media for the loss or damage of the BlackBerry KEY2 review sample
  • threatening to charge the media not just for the replacement of the KEY2, but also repairs costs. In other words, if they damage the review sample, they have to pay BlackBerry the cost of a new KEY2 AND the cost of repairing the damaged device.

To be fair, the last one may be due to bad grammar. After all, the email was replete with bad grammar and spelling.

A few PR practitioners we spoke to were horrified that such a poorly-worded email. Even if it was written by an intern or junior executive, it would have been vetted by a senior team member. It was, ultimately, an unfortunate email that could have been better written.


What Happened At The BlackBerry KEY2 Event?

We were not at the BlackBerry KEY2 (Price Check) media launch, but this was what we gathered… My media friends, please correct me if I’m wrong.

  • Everyone at the event was asked to fill in a review request form. So it was not so much they received a deluge of requests, they just got everyone to fill in a request form…
  • They were also asked to write their own media profile – what their publication is all about, their target audience, their STATISTICS, etc… which suggests that they did not do their homework… or have any idea who they invited to their own event!
  • At the event, a BlackBerry rep told the tech media that there are enough “seeding units” for everyone who attended. Yet in their email, they now claimed that they have more requests than actual review samples. Just some “truthful hyperbole” in Trump-speak?
  • The term “seeding unit” is used when the brand offers you a “keeper unit“, not a loaner. They should advise their clients not to use such terms, lest it leads to misunderstanding.

Naturally, that email offended many Malaysian tech journalists, many who spoke to us earlier about this, suggesting that perhaps we should write about it to start a conversation on such bad PR practices. Here are some choice quips :

“No wonder your phone is DYING sales wise. Good luck.”

“No thanks. We are trying to help you, not the other way around.”

“Pure nonsense. I loled at their email.”

The only similar incident in recent time to receive such derision from the Malaysian tech media was the Ming Hua News insanity. Just like we did back then, let’s take a look at what we can all learn from this BlackBerry KEY2 faux pas.


PR Lessons From The BlackBerry KEY2 Faux Pas

1. Humility Is ALWAYS A Great PR Investment

When you were top dog, sure, you can strut about and spit into the faces of tech journalists. But when you officially hit 0% market share in 2017, there’s no harm investing in some humility.

Frankly, humility is ALWAYS a great PR investment even when you’re at the top of the world. You never know when your fortunes may change, and the tables turn. Besides… humility is completely FREE! 😀


2. Do Your Homework!

Asking us to fill in our own profile means you have no idea who you invited to your event. Can you imagine inviting complete strangers to your daughter’s 16th birthday party?

And how can you ask publications to share their stats in such a public manner? Because they are private and confidential information, you will end up with conflated or completely fake numbers.

Many tech publications have media kits, with a bit of history and some recent stats. Even if you don’t have time to do your own research, try asking for their media kits.


3. You Need Us More Than We Need You

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This is an honest statement of fact. BlackBerry lost its cachet a long time ago, flailing from failure to failure. Now, more than ever, you need the media to give you a chance to rise from the ashes.

Burning bridges with the media, at this point, is the very epitome of PR harakiri. Utterly senseless.


4. Don’t. Ever. Threaten. Us.


Threats are never a good way to encourage the media to HELP YOU reach out to your potential customers.

Who on Earth is going to spend time, money and effort to help you if you are threatening to punish them?

Not helping you means less work, not less money. Think about that.


5. We Are Not Your Useful Idiots

Some tech brands and PR companies treat the media as their “unpaid marketing departments” or as the Russians would put it – “useful idiots“. Well, we are neither.

If you can’t treat us with respect, don’t expect any from us. Remember – your KPIs are not our KPIs. We don’t owe you anything, because guess what – we don’t work for you!


Who’s The Person / PR Company?

It does NOT matter. We censored the details because it’s not about the person or PR team or PR company. We are not in the business of targeting any person or company.

We brought up this issue because the Malaysian tech media community felt that this was the perfect example of the (occasional) bad practices they have had to deal with. It was meant to start a conversation on how things can be better executed, to avoid misunderstandings and cultivate a culture of mutual respect.

This conversation has been a long time coming. Now that it’s out in the open, it’s good to see PR companies and the tech media community actively discussing it. May it lead to a healthier relationship for everyone! 😀

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