RIM Under PR Blackout


Research in Motion Ltd. made it easier to communicate with the introduction of its BlackBerry wireless e-mail device, but the company has not been as communicative with the public about its own plans in its time of legal crisis. RIM faces an injunction that could leave its 3.65 million U.S. customers without service unless the company settles its patent-infringement case with NTP Inc. The company has met privately with some of its customers to reassure them that the service will not shut down and that a settlement is far likelier. But in public, RIM has said very little — in deference to the legal process, the company said.

“NTP obviously wants to fight through the media, but RIM has made every effort to demonstrate respect for the legal system and to comply with the court-ordered confidentiality restrictions in this case,” Mark Guibert, RIM’s vice president of corporate marketing, said in an e-mailed statement.

RIM’s last public statement was Nov. 30, when it said it was devising a “workaround” system and plans to keep fighting to overturn decisions in the court and with patent regulators. So far, it has declined to elaborate.

And that has some analysts and public relations experts questioning RIM’s approach.

“RIM is putting customers in a very precarious situation, asking them to trust them time and again,” even as it adopts a legally risky strategy, said Ken Dulaney, vice president of mobile computing for market research firm Gartner Inc., which has advised clients to postpone any purchases or investments in the BlackBerry service.

“We’re getting tons of calls on this,” Dulaney said. “Customers are disappointed that RIM is putting this legal case before them.”

Don Goldberg, managing director of crisis communications for Washington firm Qorvis Communications LLC, said RIM is violating the basics of handling public communications during a crisis.

“They’ve already lost brand equity with their consumers,” said Goldberg, who worked in public relations in the Clinton White House and handled campaign-finance investigations and the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal. “The consumer public will forgive you if you get out there and be honest and open and show a little humility, but they’ve done none of that.”

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