In November 2006, Research in Motion (RIM) launched the BlackBerry Pearl, a highly-anticipated and market-leading mobile email smartphone device. A distinctly business-savvy device with a consumer twist, the Pearl blurs the line between work and play by combining mainstream consumer technology features and serious business applications, such as mobile email. The ‘Pearl’ moniker was attributed to the device due to its unique, new navigation trackball.
The BlackBerry Pearl was set to be RIM’s flagship product for the following six months. As this timing covered the crucial Christmas / New Year sales period, all the major telco operators had their sights set on promoting and selling the BlackBerry Pearl as a key product performer for the season.
The aim of Vodafone’s PR activity was to ‘own’ the BlackBerry Pearl in the Australian market amongst the eyes of the media, businesses and personal consumer users. To achieve this, the agency developed a targeted PR campaign which successfully ensured Vodafone was fixed in the minds of journalists and readers as the go-to telco provider for the BlackBerry Pearl and kept it at the top of Vodafone’s top seller list throughout the Christmas and New Year retail period.
Please note, the campaign outlined was developed by the PR agency which looks after Vodafone’s National and NSW PR activity only. Although the strategy described was also rolled out by Vodafone’s PR agencies in Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia, the campaign results only reflect National and NSW PR activity.
RIM has established itself as a market leader in push email with its range of highly successful BlackBerry devices. Traditionally, the BlackBerry has been the exclusive domain of business users. The BlackBerry Pearl was the first ‘cross-over’ device, moving from a business positioning to span business media and the lifestyle space.
The launch of a new mobile device is usually only news for technology media. Only if the story is strong will it be of interest to those journalists beyond technology-only publications. The final opportunity for coverage is usually a review by a technology journalist trialing a loaned handset. PR success lies in the detail – selecting the most appropriate messages to reinforce the desired product positioning.
RIM would launch the device first at a carrier-agnostic event. The network providers were forbidden to contact journalists until RIM had provided them with all the information and images they needed for the story, free of any telco branding.
RIM succeeded in attracting a very high number of journalists to their Sydney launch event (approximately 50+), promising them a chance to win a Pearl. RIM was also able to ‘own’ certain consumer-technology journalists - by giving them a standard, unbranded Pearl device to all key reviewers.
The agency drew on its advantage over its tech-focused opposition — an understanding of and solid relationships with both consumer media and technology media. The agency had identified the positioning of the product as key to its success and then went about developing messaging to support its activity and the proposition.
The agency’s strategy was based on three insights:
- the agency could make the most of the Pearl if it could sell it to the largely untapped mainstream consumer and lifestyle publications – but it would have to speak their language, so as to underscore the lifestyle element of the BlackBerry Pearl and bring to life believable examples of how the BlackBerry Pearl would be relevant for their readers
- technology media were very keen to review the device, not only because it was a new ‘gadget’, but also as it was the first mobile email device to appeal not just to technology enthusiasts but to the modern consumer, such as fashionistas, savvy socialites and switched on uni students as it oozed style and sophistication
- the rules of engagement left the agency a narrow window to sell its story into the long-lead consumer lifestyle publications for features in their Christmas gift guides and New Year hot product prediction pages
The agency audited consumer magazines to uncover topical and newsworthy angles. For instance, it combed celebrity and fashion magazines for glimpses of the BlackBerry in the company of stars—to use as evidence the BlackBerry Pearl was set to become a must-have for stylish people, not just business executives.
Additionally, the agency ensured that its Christmas Gift Guide research was accurate and included all the appropriate editorial deadlines, requirements and contact details.
The agency’s target media was wide-ranging, from key consumer-tech and business journalists to consumer men’s and women’s lifestyle targets.
The target audience was similarly diverse, focused on highly sociable young adults and young business people who use technology for work and leisure, appreciate and aspire towards attainable status symbols and want to stand out from the crowd. One of the core PR strategies was to target early adopters who are prepared to spend money on cool, high-tech, but easy-to-use items.
The consumer technology media had long-standing relationships with Vodafone and the PR agency, established through a long-term media outreach program involving regular mobile device launches and services and strategy updates. However, the consumer and lifestyle media were less familiar with the Vodafone brand and the PR agency’s relationships, through its consumer specialisation, would be key to delivering upon the campaign’s objectives.
The agency recommended a five-stage strategy, leveraging existing media relationships and concentrating on journalists all-important timing imperatives in the lead-up to Christmas 2006:
Phase One: Be the first to reach gift guide compilers on long-lead deadlines, with Vodafone-branded material under embargo.
Phase Two: Conduct a Vodafone-specific photo-shoot of the product, to emphasise the Australian features of the Pearl, including the local Australian mapping and navigation capabilities.
Phase Three: Seed Vodafone PR kits including high-quality, localised Vodafone-branded images and copy to all media attending the manufacturer’s launch just as the morning event was wrapping up.
Phase Four: Immediately after RIM’s product launch, the agency ensured that all relevant lifestyle journalists were supplied with Vodafone media collateral. This included the localised imagery along with a media release which outlined the Pearl’s features, data plans and associated service packages. The agency then implemented a personalised media blitz on the phones to follow up with the media targets, to brief them on the unique Pearl positioning and supporting this with media collateral including images and copy.
Phase Five: Undertake a targeted media loan program utilising 15 Vodafone-branded loan units.
The agency negotiated an embargoed Christmas gift guide release with RIM, and ensured this was distributed to media to meet their editorial deadlines.
On launch day, as journalists filed out of the RIM event, an email hit the top of their inboxes — with an attention-grabbing, easy-to-use image of a Vodafone-branded BlackBerry Pearl accompanied with where-to-buy information and Vodafone PR agency contact information.
That afternoon, the agency moved on to the high-end glossy magazines with a new pitch. The agency talked about a need-it-now gadget that Paris Hilton was flashing and Naomi Campbell was throwing. The agency then followed up with a fact sheet introducing the media to the data and email features of the BlackBerry that were little understood outside business circles.
The next day, the agency set out to capitalise on the early lead achieved with media trials.
The agency has tracked at least 25 Vodafone-branded pieces of coverage in print media across a broad spectrum of technology, business, fashion and lifestyle press. While RIM has managed to secure several pieces of editorial, none have been identified as coming from Vodafone’s competitors.
By positioning the device well and truly in the lifestyle space, the agency took the BlackBerry Pearl to a whole new market. Until now, only mobiles designed specifically with the consumer audience in mind and as fashion accessories or multimedia mobiles have made the pages of glossy magazines.
RIM has been delighted with Vodafone’s PR support for their flagship product and the agency’s ability to sell a device with a business pedigree into an untapped section of the media and their respective consumer audiences
The agency’s media monitoring revealed the BlackBerry Pearl campaign has secured 25 pieces of media coverage. This coverage created 4,079,079 opportunities to see the BlackBerry Pearl from Vodafone across print, radio and television media, plus an unmeasured number of online opportunities.
An analysis of the coverage achieved revealed the agency’s BlackBerry Pearl PR campaign achieved its objective of owning media coverage of the BlackBerry Pearl in the Australian market above all other telco providers in the market:
- 63% of coverage achieved contained the theme that the ‘BlackBerry Pearl was introduced first in Australia by Vodafone’
- 94% of Vodafone generated coverage achieved contained a Vodafone branded image of the BlackBerry Pearl
- Average media size: 161,133 – metro papers and magazines contributed the most coverage
The agency’s BlackBerry Pearl PR campaign succeeded in assisting to deliver to Vodafone’s business goal:
- The BlackBerry Pearl was the top selling smartphone for Vodafone stores nationally over the Christmas and New Year retail period.