It's Constructive Criticism... We Still Heart You RIM And Want You To Be The Best You Can Be!

Yesterday RIM went on a bit of a media blitz - at least in Canada. CEO Thorsten Heins published an op-ed in the Globe and Mail (reposted here). He also did a radio interview with CBC, as did Andrew McLeod, RIM's Managing Director of Canada.

Rick Costanzo, RIM's executive VP of global sales, was also busy giving interviews to the media. You can catch Kevin's 15-minute interview with him if you haven't heard it already.

At least they tried ...

I give RIM credit for putting itself out there. I can't recall the last time a struggling company's CEO wrote an article about the firm's position in a national newspaper.

Unfortunately, that's about where I run out of really nice things to say. I think yesterday's media outreach was not well enough planned out, and the executives who gave interviews did not prepare well enough.

From good to bad

In Orlando this past May, for BlackBerry World, Thorsten Heins did a great job. He presented clearly at the keynote and then followed up with a hit presentation to the media the next day. His clarity and ease in answering questions (mostly pre-emptively) was beautiful.

Then came the Q1 conference call last week. We knew the numbers would be bad. But I wasn't expecting the communications disaster we witnessed. In my opinion, Thorsten's prepared remarks were poorly written. And then, during the Q&A session, the team came across less-than-prepared to answer some of what should have been highly anticipated questions.

In particular, the discussion around the delay of BlackBerry 10 lacked the kind of clear messaging that Thorsten had done so beautifully in Orlando.

It's time to stop trying and start doing

Earlier on I used the sub headline "at least they tried". Many years ago I learned that try implies failure. Executives should cut the word "try" from their vocabulary, and never use the word in interviews or prepared remarks. When we "try" we give ourselves an excuse to fail and then say, "Well, at least I tried".

RIM is trying to communicate. But they need to stop trying and get expert at delivering a strong message. To do this requires deep knowledge of the types of questions that will be thrown at them, and to rehearse the living hell out of the answers. In any 10 minute interview if you are asked two questions that you don't have a well-rehearsed answer for, you've not done a good enough preparation job.

RIM executives are certainly busy. But if they are too busy to adequately prepare for a media blitz, they should not be doing one. Period.

What did RIM really want to say anyway?

What RIM really wanted to get across yesterday is the significance of the business transformation they're going through. They want us to understand that they started almost two years ago to rebuild a completely new platform. It's more than just a new OS for a phone. It's an entirely new platform that RIM expects to take it through the next decade of mobile computing.

They can't afford to simply play catchup to the current market demand for iOS and Android devices. They need a platform that goes beyond it. Building this takes time, and they aren't going to skimp on quality to rush it out the door.

That was the most important part of what RIM wanted to say. But the message got too diluted by weaker (even defensive) comments.

RIM needs to communicate expertly right now

I'm not saying that the quality of communication with investors and the media is an indicator for the quality of upcoming products. It isn't. RIM could completely blow press interviews and still deliver a great new platform. But it's a lot easier to rally the troops if the media isn't bashing you. That's why companies in tough competitive positions (and losing money) need to be even stronger at communicating compared to perceived leaders.

I'd like to hear from the CrackBerry community. What parts of the RIM message did you like yesterday? Which parts came across as defensive or irrational?

I'll get the discussion going with a few specific thoughts:

  • I felt like RIM was biting the hand that feeds them by acknowledging the US-centric media industry, and reaching out to the media, yet talking down the relevance of the US market (being only 10% of the global market).
  • RIM attempts to suggest that everything is OK outside of the US market since its subscriber base is growing. But this obviously isn't a good enough result considering the company is losing money despite this international success
  • There was far too much discussion of how BlackBerry 7 still has legs to deliver more growth. Save this for an investor day or industry analyst session. Don't talk to North American media about BB7. Save it for Asia, LatAm, and other markets where you expect its life to be longest.
  • Don't throw in vague descriptions about what makes BB10 unique. It seems to me RIM tried to explain how BB10 is more complex because it has built-in hooks for automotive and OEM markets. But that's all they said. They left a technology-focused comment hang there in thin air without any adequate explanation to make it believable. I'm sure there is a lot of truth to what they said, but how is any journalist at CBC or the average consumer going to get excited about this?
I have high expectations for BlackBerry 10. And I have equally high expectations for the executive team at RIM to become expert communicators. The RIM of the last decade has never been particularly good at communicating. In fact, one reliable source actually told me that Jim Balsillie never even used to read through his prepared script for quarterly conference calls ahead of time. The first time he would read them would be live on the call.

The time is now for RIM's executive team to become masterful presenters. They need strong, congruent presentations to win them as many points as possible with the public and the media.

Next week RIM holds its Annual General Meeting (AGM) of shareholders in Waterloo. They'll be streaming the event live, and the media will be paying attention, as will shareholders.

Thorsten - it's time to start rehearsing. It's time to set an amazing example for the rest of your executive team. If RIM is going to have laser-like focus, show us through your communication. We'll still be here cheering for the home team.