RIM exec's departure could mean marketing shake-up

Keith Pardy's exit offers could affect BlackBerry PlayBook rollout, analysts say

Research in Motion (RIM) has confirmed that its chief marketing Officer, Keith Pardy, is departing for personal reasons, a move that has provoked renewed concerns about RIM's marketing efforts.

RIM, a long-time provider of BlackBerry devices and software for enterprises, has struggled for years to sell into the consumer market, especially since the arrival of Apple's iPhone in 2007.

Google's Android OS has only made matters worse for RIM, with Android now sold on a variety of manufacturers'smartphones. Android recently topped both iPhone and BlackBerry smartphones in the U.S. for the first time in a Nielsen survey of more than 14,000 customers.

A RIM spokeswoman wouldn't comment on any changes in marketing direction with Pardy's departure, but did say that he will "continue working with RIM for the next six months to help with transition."

Some analysts worried that the move could hurt the roll-out of the BlackBerry PlayBook, a 7-in. tablet widely thought to be on track for a launch around April 10. RIM wouldn't confirm that date or comment on Pardy's role in the PlayBook's marketing.

However, in January, three RIM executives did answer questions about the PlayBook from analysts and reporters, including how RIM hopes to avoid having the device become "tweener" hardware that fails to excite either the business or consumer markets.

One executive, Ryan Bidan, RIM's senior product manager for the PlayBook, admitted at the time that bridging both markets won't be easy. "That's the marketing challenge, and that's as much as I can say," Bidan said.

Alec Taylor, RIM vice president of software, services and enterprise, said then that RIM will stress the commonalities between business and consumer users, noting: "Everybody wants superior performance.... It's going to be an exciting launch."

Since that event, however, RIM has fallen out of first place in smartphones in the U.S., making its ability to reach consumers while holding onto enterprise users even more precarious.

Will Stofega, an analyst at IDC, has praised the user interface of the PlayBook and its overall design, which he believes will generate consumer interest. He also highlighted several PlayBook features, including the ability to tether it to BlackBerry smartphones. That allows enterprise IT shops to still use the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) to provide needed security for the tablet as well as the smartphone.

Other analysts have offered more blunt comments on RIM's marketing efforts. Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney, normally a strong supporter of the security protections RIM offers through the BES server, said the company has not properly defined the needs of the market, resulting in "some miscalculations in key product areas."

Dulaney cited several such miscalculations including having an interface that competes with Apple and Google; having an early strategy for the application store; failing with the BlackBerry Storm to compete with Apple and Google; and not providing enough features for the PlayBook. Dulaney didn't elaborate on which features he meant."

"What might [be] the last straw [is] the announcement of the PlayBook, which was not done well," Dulaney said in an e-mail. He said the PlayBook, first unveiled last fall without a shipping date or price, "was far too early, giving the competition months to find holes in the product." Dulaney also said RIM failed by not having an actual PlayBook to show off when it was first announced.

Much of the focus now will be on how RIM can beef up its marketing efforts. "What RIM needs to do now is mostly product-oriented," Dulaney said. "It's hard to market when others have better products in some areas."

Dulaney called on RIM to "fix the user interface on QNX," a real-time operating system, which Dulaney said he believes will be the long-term direction for RIM OS. For that task, he said RIM can make use of interface designers it hired when it acquired TAT last December.

Dulaney also said RIM generally needs newer hardware to support the newer RIM OS and said RIM should hire managers in emerging markets to "expand their footprint there" while Nokia undergoes a reorganization.

Finally, he urged RIM to continue providing strong support to existing customers to "ensure they don't lose them."

Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, said that RIM has the chance to take a new direction with Pardy's departure. "They need to get their momentum back," he said in comments via e-mail. "Apple and Android have put intense pressure on them. And with new product coming soon (PlayBook and new devices/OS with ONX) they need to redefine to the world why you should buy a BlackBerry and get the world to listen to the message. That is the challenge as I see it for their marketing group."

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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