By Linda Forrest

A short while back, Canada’s own Research in Motion began selling its long awaited Playbook tablet. You might have heard that this was coming, as the media was very hungry for news on tablets set to compete with iPad. You might also have heard that RIM has had a series of PR, well, disasters leading up to this release: from on-camera CEO breakdowns, to a cavalcade of bad reviews that suggest the product is not yet ready for market. What should have been an exciting and positive time has instead become a challenging time poised to test the mettle of the company and affect its long-term reputation in a highly competitive marketplace.

The recent PR missteps have been documented extensively elsewhere so rather than repeat them here in-depth, let’s look at the Playbook story as a whole and see what lessons can be learned for other companies bringing technology to market.

Be prepared for the tough questions

When the co-CEO of RIM shut down a BBC interview because of a line of tough questioning about problems that had already been widely reported, he let himself and his company down. Had he been prepared to answer these questions, which by all rights he should have expected, there would have been no PR fallout whatsoever. Instead, he made a tempest in a teacup that’s been rebroadcast around the world.

Extensive media training is not required for all scenarios but being conscious of what the tough questions might be and how you’ll respond so that those responses mesh with your company’s key messages, is PR 101. Your PR resources should be able to assist you with this.

Build the buzz

Though some could argue that this tactic backfired for RIM, it’s a regular practice to release a product to select tastemaker media in advance of a release date to get (hopefully) positive reviews into the market prior to it being generally available. In the Playbook’s case, ostensibly because the product isn’t quite ready for market yet is being released anyhow, the market is now flooded with negative reviews, which may or may not affect the market’s appetite for the product out of the gate.

Is your product ready?

One of the biggest criticisms of the Playbook is that it’s going to market lacking some pretty basic essentials like native email, calendar and contact applications. Though promised down the road, it begs the question that if Playbook isn’t ready for market, why is it being released now? There are a lot of factors that impact a product release date and in most cases, product releases slip to the right from when they were originally scheduled. It’s integral that product development, in lockstep with marketing, plan for a realistic launch date so that neither team fails the other, either readying a market for a product that won’t be deliverable as scheduled, or, in the case of the Playbook, building hype for a product release that’s not going to meet expectations and thus sully the company’s reputation.

As Francis Moran, of Francis Moran & Associates, wrote in this blog post:

…almost every new technology has but a narrow window of market opportunity that it must exploit before something newer or better comes along.

I suspect it’s this urgency that spurred RIM into releasing the Playbook at this early stage, despite the fact that it’s poised not to meet market expectations out of the gate. The company should question whether the damage to its reputation was worth it. When influential technology journalist David Pogue of the New York Times reviewed the Playbook, he packed a wallop with statements like:

“In its current half-baked form, it seems almost silly to try to assess (the PlayBook), let alone buy it.”


Ride the wave

A big news story such as this inevitably creates a wave of coverage about not just the primary story but related topics, other players, and so on that can be exploited by savvy companies that are monitoring the media for opportunities to tell their story. In the case of the Playbook, there have been several companies that have done a particularly good job of riding the wave.


It’s ironic that the biggest lesson to learn from Playbook is that one should have a, well, playbook when bringing a new technology to market, one that covers both product development and marketing. It will be very interesting to see if RIM, with its largely successful history, can not only survive but flourish with its tablet. The reviews are not all bad and RIM appears to be working on solutions for the clear shortcomings of the product. Only time will tell as to whether releasing the Playbook now was a good move or a bad one.

Image from: Tech Zeta

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  • wes

    It saddens me that the Playbook is, somehow, considered a poorly delivered product because it is not an IPad. I picked one up and see it to be a very useful device. I like it alot and recommend it to others. I personally think that not having to sync email and calendar data is a tremendous advantage to this product. Let’s face the facts, we’re still going to be carrying our smaller form factor devices with us.
    Sure, it will be nice to see additional features and applications arrive, but I think the Playbook actually delivers an appropriate level of usefulness as delivered, right out of the box.
    If there was any level of PR failure, I would say that they allowed themselves to be dragged into a discussion on how, in time, it will be made the same as it’s competative product instead of declaring how strong it is being different.

  • JBG

    In the last couple of weeks, the TV ad campaign for the playbook has done an excellent job of getting out the word. The ad is lively, it emphasizes the ‘benefits’ of the playbook over ‘some other tablets’ (yeah, real subtle, that one!) and makes the playbook look really good. If they keep it up, I think they will really have a hard time keeping these things in the stores. Good job, Rim!

  • PJH

    I bought both the iPad and Plybook in order to see which fir our business needs. While the iPad is smooth, it really is not business freindly. Try connecting it to your exchange or try to view a flash file. The Playbook was easy to connect to the exchange and I was up and running quickly. I wish it turned on ans quickly as the iPad, but what can you do.

    iPad great for fun, plybook, better for business. If RIM were smart they would market this and evelop this product to make it a business essential, a tablet to take to meetings and to share documents.

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