Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect that Frank Boulben, BlackBerry’s chief marketing officer, said that the company is strengthening through its restructuring process.
Hoping to tamp down the concerns of customers and investors over the uncertainty of its future, Canadian smartphone firm BlackBerry is mounting a major media campaign to tell the world that it’s not going anywhere.
In an unusual public move, BlackBerry is taking its plea to customers in an open letter to be published in major media outlets—including The Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal—to “set the record straight” about the firm’s viability for the future, said Frank Boulben, BlackBerry’s chief marketing officer. It is scheduled to appear Tuesday in 30 morning newspapers across nine countries, and will also show up on the company’s social media channels. BlackBerry’s critical business customers, Boulben said, will receive a copy of the letter.“You’ve no doubt seen the headlines about BlackBerry,” the letter reads. “You’re probably wondering what they mean for you as one of the tens of millions of users who count on BlackBerry every single day.”
It’s a risky move for a company to openly acknowledge that its customers are nervous, said Will Stofega, program director for the IDC research firm. Yet publishing a letter gives BlackBerry a way to better control the talk around the firm, he said.
“It’s between a rock and a hard place,” Stofega said. “They could have stayed silent, but at this point, they didn’t have much to lose.”
The company’s message, Boulben said, is two-fold. First, BlackBerry wants to tell investors and consumers that, regardless of how ongoing acquisition discussions pan out, the firm will continue to support its individual, business and government customers. It also wants to stress how its products, particularly software for business and government consumers, stand out from the rest of the pack.
Boulben said that discussions over the future of BlackBerry—which has accepted a $4.7 billion acquisition offer from Fairfax Financial Holdings but is looking at other offers—has triggered worry among some consumers about long-term support for the company’s products.
He said that BlackBerry guarantees that it will not leave customers in a lurch.
“We have very competitive and differentiated products and services,” Boulben said. “They have a lot of value for all stakeholders.” And the company, he said, is strengthening financially through its restructuring process.
He noted that the firm has no debt and has $2.6 billion on its balance sheet, despite reporting nearly $1 billion in losses last quarter. It is also undergoing a major reorganization that will cut its worldwide staff by 40 percent.
Carl Howe, an analyst for the Yankee Group, said that BlackBerry is financially sound, and that he doesn’t expect the company to go out of business any time soon—though it may go private.
“Rumors of its death are greatly exaggerated,” Howe said. “It’s not dying, although Wall Street is telling it to die.”
The letter focuses heavily on BlackBerry’s software and device management businesses, rather than touting the next generation of handsets that BlackBerry has released to compete with firms such as Apple and Samsung. Boulben emphasized that the firm will continue to research and support handsets running its BlackBerry 10 platform, but he said the company’s overall focus is to show how its hardware and software products stand out from the rest of the smartphone field.
“It’s important that they hear that message of focus,” he said. “We’re not trying to be everything for everyone.”
BlackBerry’s security products, he said, are a particularly important for the firm’s customer base in Washington, where BlackBerry still sees broad—but shrinking—support from government agencies. He pointed not only to the company products that provide security on BlackBerry devices but also to its security products for iPhones and smartphones running Google’s Android mobile operating system.
The firm’s once-dominant market share in smartphones has eroded to just 3 percent worldwide. And while BlackBerry is facing challenges in its bread-and-butter enterprise market, Howe, the Yankee Group analyst, said that the firm’s history in the government and enterprise space continues to give it an advantage. It will be years, he said, before companies such as Samsung can compete in that space.
“It’s not exciting, but BlackBerry is in a very defensible position,” he said.
Follow The Post’s new tech blog, The Switch, where technology and policy connect.