Lazaridis won’t “up the cool factor” at BlackBerry

Posted on: 2013-10-11 in Opinion

Jess Matthias (@Maticah5 and @wordville), a PR account director at London-based communications agency Wordville, argues that BlackBerry needs a cool CEO to get back on track.

JmatthiasThis week it emerged that BlackBerry co-founders, Mike Lazaridis and Doug Freglin, are attempting to buy back the once radical company they started in the mid-eighties. The company has drastically fallen behind its competitors in recent years; having peaked at $149.90 in June 2008, its share price this September was just $8.80.

Although some might argue that the duo may be able to salvage the company, one can’t help but think that going back to Lazarides and Freglin ownership would come across as a step backwards. Announcing the re-appointment of the now older, former CEO won’t make a great press announcement. It’s not just about what a CEO can deliver, it’s about how that person’s appointment will be perceived among potential customers. These consumers are seeing the likes of ex-Apple and Google leaders moving on to create “cool” and innovative new products. Take Tony Fadell, for example; the “father of the iPod” was this week in the press for his exemplary work turning “dumb” and “boring” household gadgets like the smoke alarm into personable, talking bodyguards. And then there is Paypal’s co-founder, the billionaire Peter Theil. He led a round of investment this week in Lookout Mobile, which offers consumers a free app that protects their smartphones from scams. Useful to the average Joe – and memorable too.

Meanwhile, various international media have reported this week on how the iPad 3, Google Earth and night goggles are being used to control elephant-saving drones in Kenya. The story was told through a case study, the Mara Elephant Project, which is using the remote controlled drones to monitor elephants and protect them from poachers. This story cleverly showcases innovation, as well as challenges the negative image of drones – showing the world that they can serve a friendly purpose. This is the type of innovation that Apple – no matter what the critics say – and Google are being associated with on a daily basis.

Meanwhile, BlackBerry has suffered three years of reputational damage, with “sluggish”, “glitchy” and “tired” becoming unfortunately familiar words in the company’s press cuttings collection since the launch of the Storm in 2010. "The rate of innovation is so high in our industry that if you don’t innovate at that speed you can be replaced pretty quickly,” said  BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins in March this year. Unfortunately, the company has been unable to do just that, and Heins’ words will no doubt be hauntingly ringing in the ears of remaining BlackBerry employees the world over.

There is a real need for today’s tech leaders to appear “cool” – in touch with innovation, and in touch with tech-savvy consumers. The fear is that Mike Lazaridis and Doug Fregin are not perceived per se. While their contemporaries have turned their attention to uber cool elephant-saving, smoke-busting, identity-saving gadgets, Lazaridis and Fregin formed Quantum Valley Investments, which “provides financial and intellectual capital for the development and commercialization of quantum physics and quantum computing breakthroughs.” Fascinating – in a behind-the-scenes kind of way. But to the average consumer, drone controlling iPad apps are just far more interesting.

Randall Stephenson, chief executive of AT&T, this week boldly hinted at his intentions to make a significant European acquisition after stating that the slow rate of 4G growth in Europe presented “a huge opportunity”. The competition is fiercer than ever, and is not afraid to let their contemporaries know of their intentions before they happen. If BlackBerry wants to keep up with this, it needs to seriously revamp its image – starting with upping the “cool factor” of those at the helm.

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About this blog

The B2B PR Blog is a resource for both PR professionals and people working in B2B industries on how to devise and implement successful B2B PR campaigns. The blog was founded by B2B PR specialist Heather Baker, who runs video production and corporate animation agency TopLine Film and digital PR and SEO agency  TopLine Comms. The B2B PR Blog takes contributions from sensible industry folk with something interesting to say.


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