Stephen Bates, European MD of the mobile phone company BlackBerry, gave an extraordinary series of interviews last week on the occasion of the launch of new phones and BB10 operating software. This of course is a pivotal moment for the Canadian organisation, formerly known as RIM, which has lost much of its market share over the past few years to Apple and Samsung. The new hardware and software offerings are truly ‘make or break’. The interviews to mark the launch were all teeth-grindingly awful – an object lesson in what not to do. He was obviously media trained, but I would love to know by whom – because he did all the things that any respectable media coach would tell him not to. This BBC Breakfast interview gives you the flavour. Mr Bates is not too terrible at the start, although obviously on ‘planet PR’, but once the ‘real’ questions start coming, about why the new software was so delayed, he just ignores the questions, as though floating in a parallel universe. The audience, listening to the questions, wonders why his answers do not follow on at all. On Radio 5Live he was in some respects even worse. Mr Bates was repeatedly asked what his company had learned from Apple – again refusing to answer or engage with the issue at all. Did he create a good impression? No. Did he give a strong indication to the audience why BlackBerry is in such trouble? Yes – we can only conclude his company is in complete denial.
It just goes to show that poor media training can be worse than no media training at all – as we said last month, if you are going to do it, do it right. Do not on any account listen to those who tell you ‘it doesn’t matter what the question is, just keep repeating your key messages.’ You have to be able to deal with predictable negative questions like these with good humour – answering or acknowledging them before gracefully moving on. Of course, BlackBerry has ‘got previous’ in this respect. Previous boss Mike Lazaridis walked out of a BBC interview in 2011 when he didn’t like the direction it was taking. He was later forced out of the company.