Netflix & BlackBerry: Crisis Public Relations At Its Worst

Posted on the Ronn Torossian blog on October 13th by 5WPR’s Ronn Torossian

This week we are in the midst of a lesson in Crisis Public Relations at its worst from two major brands – BlackBerry and Netflix. While blackberry for three consecutive days has seen outages worldwide and users unable to connect, struggles with Netflix continue week after week.

Users worldwide are outraged at being unable to communicate instantly as they have grown accustomed to – and BlackBerry spokespersons are communicating with messages like “Message delays were caused by a core switch failure in RIM’s infrastructure”. That’s not consumer friendly English which resonates with people, and few of us know (or care) what a “core switch” is. We just want our damn blackberries to work. And to make it worse, they have communicated that the service works – only to see it fail minutes later again.

The very basics of crisis PR management involves communicating clearly, honestly and in language which resonates with consumers. The brand – particularly with the imminent launch of the Apple iPhone 4S – needs to very quickly communicate much clearer – in addition, naturally to fixing the problem immediately.

Netflix is a brand which also is failing miserably at crisis PR. Following weeks of bad marketing decisions – from the price increase which consumers hated, to their decision to split the business, Netflix hasn’t had a shining few months for brand appreciation. Today, Netflix dropped the ball yet again and lost points with an announcement via a blog post that they no longer intended to split business units. Yes, a blog post. Did no one have the guts to stand up and face the music?

In times of trouble, brands have to apply a personal, human touch. It’s necessary for brands to provide a face for crisis – with senior management directly involved, not a blog posting. The media will ask questions, customers will leave, and no interaction allows media to define the issues as they see them and create others without Netflix’s help. A press conference was the way to broadcast a concise and consistent message. Gathering the media together, presenting the same message to everyone, and answering a few questions was the right path. Amazingly, Netflix is a company that succeed as Blockbuster disappeared and didn’t address issues of importance to their core consumer – convenience, time, and cost.

The Chief Financial Officer of Netflix, Barry McCarthy has said in the past “We have benefited enormously from the rapid growth in word of mouth (publicity). It has taken us to levels that we thought we would not soon see.” In bad times, the company needs to apply these lessons as well, not just in good times.

As Warren Buffett has said “It takes twenty years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

Ronn Torossian is CEO of 5WPR, 1 of the 25 largest PR agencies in the US, and author of “For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations” an Amazon best selling Public Relations book available for purchase at:

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