Teresa Horscroft's blog

Teresa Horscroft is a PR consultant who helps companies in the information technology and marketing sectors to raise awareness of their products and services and increase sales.

17 August 2011

How to win friends and alienate customers

Brands work hard to make friends with their customers. They start the process by building great products that meet a real customer need. My Blackberry is a good example. It provides me with essential on the move access to critical applications - email, Twitter and Facebook for example - that ensure I’m up to date with trending topics and in touch with clients, journalists and bloggers. But providing a great product or brand experience is only part of the road to righteousness followed by brands who are increasingly aware that everywhere we encounter them is an opportunity to influence our perceptions and behaviour. These brand experiences along the path to purchase are as often bad as they are good however.

Keeping with the Blackberry example I am reminded of an interview I watched a few months ago with Mike Lazaridis, CEO of Blackberry’s maker, Research In Motion and BBC technology reporter Rory Cellan-Jones for BBC Click. This single interview completely changed my perception of this Canadian smartphone maker, and also provided a useful example of how not to behave in a media interview.

What should have been a great opportunity to talk about the Blackberry Playbook was a PR disaster that I am sure caused a few raised eyebrows other than my own. Cellan-Jones asked, as any reporter would, what Blackberry was doing to address customer security concerns. Lazaridis was clearly astonished at having been asked about the issue of protecting users’ privacy. After telling the BBC reporter that it was an unfair question, he refused to answer it. He subsequently ended the interview by holding his hand to the camera and telling the reporter “this interview is over..turn off that camera”.

Of course I am left pondering whether Blackberry’s are secure, but the reality is far from the truth as I understand it. So how is it possible in this PR-savvy era that we live, apparently, that a CEO can make the mistake of thinking that they can dictate the questions that are asked in an interview. There are exceptions of course – such as cash for chat deals with celebrities – but generally speaking a journalist, can, will and should ask what they want. Every executive can control the interview of course, but they cannot control the questions. To assume otherwise is not only ignorant but potentially damaging for the company’s reputation.

Basic media training rules teach any executive how to prepare for press interviews and deal with difficult questions. Refusing to answer them is most certainly not one of the suggested approaches. Lazaridis succeeded in throwing fuel into the flames of a security issue that could have been managed far more positively. And since the interview positioned Lazaridis as defensive and arrogant, there’s the danger that this transfers to the brand too.

Unfortunately Blackberry isn’t alone in its mismanagement of a media interview. Companies continue to make errors of judgement that impact all of their stakeholders (media, customers, shareholders and analysts alike) and ultimately their long-term reputation.

It takes years to build a brand but only moments to destroy it. If you are investing in creating brand loyal companies don’t forget to invest in keeping them too.