Communications, Marketing, Technology

Cunningham Collective and BlackBerry Win PRWeek’s 2018 “Best in Corporate Branding” Award Along With Honorable Mention for “Best Global Effort”

PRWeek Awards Blog Post

From Smart Phones to the Smart in the Phone

On March 15, 2018 Cunningham Collective and BlackBerry took home the PRWeek 2018 Award for “Best in Corporate Branding” along with an Honorable Mention in the “Best Global Effort” category. Emily Stine and Usher Lieberman attended the event to accept the awards on behalf of Cunningham Collective and BlackBerry respectively.

This year’s 2018 PRWeek Awards took place at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City. As the Oscars of the communication industry, the PRWeek Awards celebrate industry leaders in corporate, agency, nonprofit and education teams for the work they have produced. The awards were judged by senior PR professionals and nominees included an all-star list of campaigns for brands suchas Chevrolet, Dell, Disney, Hewlett-Packard, Gatorade and McDonalds.

Given the highly competitive field, we were thrilled to win the award for “Best in Corporate Branding” ahead of campaigns from Nielsen/Weber Shandwick/MRM McCann, Honeywell Aerospace/WE Communications and Gatorade/Fleishman Hillard among others. In addition, we were also proud to earn an Honorable Mention in the “Best Global Effort” category that included McDonald’s/The Narrative Group, Guinness/Ogilvy and Disney Consumer Products/Interactive Media.

Cunningham Collective and BlackBerry earned recognition for a brand transformation program that told the story of BlackBerry’s strategic pivot to enterprise security software. Andy Cunningham, founder and CEO of Cunningham Collective, commented on the achievement: “We are excited and honored to be recognized for partnering with BlackBerry to position the company for future success in the enterprise security software market. It has been extremely rewarding working with CEO John Chen as he executes a turnaround story for the ages, and we look forward to continuing to help organizations like BlackBerry Get to Aha!”

At Cunningham Collective, helping clients “Get to Aha” is at the core of what we do. This DNA-based positioning framework is Cunningham Collective’s “secret sauce” and served as the key to helping BlackBerry redefine its role and relevance in a new marketplace. It begins with two fundamental questions based on corporate DNA: Who are you as a company? And why do you matter?

Andy Cunningham’s recently released book “Get to Aha!: Discover Your Positioning DNA and Dominate Your Competition,” lays out this framework. The “6 C’s” of positioning (Community, Competition, Context, Core, Category and Criteria)” help a company understand who it is at its core, what that company does, what its primary value proposition is to its customers, how it is positioned against its competitors and finally how to tell the company story in a compellingway that resounds with its customers and market. As Andy writes in the book, “Know what you’re made of, so you can make something of it.”

In our work with BlackBerry, Cunningham Collective helped position the company by completely rebuilding its communication strategy with enterprise security software at the center. The Cunningham team, led by Andy Cunningham and Rosabel Tao, worked with BlackBerry for over a year to shift the public conversation from smartphones to its new strategy around the “Enterprise of Things.” As a result of the successful program, BlackBerry’s stock skyrocketed up 50% overall and reached a four­-year high in June 2017. One judge went so far as to say the campaign should be credited with “bringing a brand back to life.”

Curious about our success in helping BlackBerry transform from a smartphone manufacturer to a leading enterprise security software company? Email us today to learn how we can help your company do the same.

If you are interested in learning more about the winners of the PRWeek 2018 Awards, please visit



Robots Are Here to Help: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love AI

Merriam Webster’s Definition of Artificial Intelligence: “The theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages.”

AI Stock Photo for Blog

We live in a time of incredible technological advancement and momentous change. With the rapid proliferation of new technology in society and business today, the hype around artificial intelligence (AI) has reached a fever pitch. The 2017 AI Index found that the number of US startups developing AI systems has increased 14x since 2000, while VC investment in AI startups has increased 6x in the same timeframe. Companies understand that transformation is inevitable: Reports indicate that artificial intelligence will affect 38% of US jobs by the 2030s, while Gartner estimates that one in five workers engaged in mostly nonroutine tasks will rely on AI to help with their job by 2022.

Despite the buzz, the rise of modern AI is not without its detractors (just ask Elon Musk). As artificial intelligence has become a growing trend in society, concerns have risen around the role of AI and machine learning today. Leading technologist Kai-Fu Lee estimates that AI will “replace 50 percent of human jobs in the next 10 years.”

Like it or not, the robots are coming.

However, while AI is not without its potential drawbacks, we are far from creating Skynet or the dreaded “singularity.” Like Lee, many of those who fear AI simply fail to recognize the benefits that accompany this new technology. Already today, artificial intelligence provides businesses and employees with a better tool to accomplish repetitive, time-consuming tasks. In the years to come, AI will not only help free us from routine tasks, it will also help create new industries and roles that will shape our future.

Some Historical Context

This technological paradigm shift is not a new phenomenon. From the rise of agriculture to the Industrial Revolution, new technology has historically contributed to fear of replacement. In each case humanity has adapted, and for every job replaced by technology, another vertical has been created. As Marc Andreessen points out, there is an important caveat to the idea of AI taking our jobs: it presupposes that we humans are not creative or intelligent enough to create new industries. If our history is any indication, humanity’s incredible capacity to adapt will continue to create new roles that complement our innovation.

Fundamentally, this technological evolution is no different from past transformations. Advances in technology have already created new jobs and will continue to grow the demand for new services and skills. We have evidence: Over the previous five decades, automation hasn’t reduced the number of jobs available in 18 advanced economies, including the U.S.–in fact, it helped increase total employment, according to a new paper recently released by the Brookings Institution. Although it may be hard to imagine jobs that don’t yet exist, the technology we create tomorrow will continue to stimulate the production of new industries and roles beyond what we can imagine today.

Analysts agree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are half a million computing jobs unfilled in the United States today with that number set to double by 2024. The same report found that the app economy added over 110,000 software application developer jobs to the U.S. workforce between 2014-2016. In its “Predicts 2018: AI and the Future of Work” report, Gartner found that AI will generate 2.3 million jobs by 2020, exceeding the 1.8 million that it will replace. By 2025, net new jobs created in relation to AI will reach two million, including highly-skilled, management positions as well as entry-level and low-skilled jobs. The predicted net gain of two million AI-related jobs over the next eight years paints a far rosier picture than the fully automated future predicted by Kai-Fu Lee and other prominent technologists. Jobs are not disappearing; the future of work is simply changing.

The Future of Blue-Collar Work

It is popular (and easy) to believe that AI will be especially effective in automating and replacing blue collar jobs like manufacturing, truck driving and of course coal mining. But as we continue to develop groundbreaking innovations like AI, new skills and roles will become necessary to create, maintain, improve and use this new technology. Skills like coding, defined by Techopedia as “the primary method for allowing intercommunication between humans and machines,” will increase in demand and importance along with the rise of artificial intelligence. In recognition of this trend, a recent Wired article predicted that coding will become the blue-collar work of the future.

The article references Bit Source, an organization that is successfully helping change the future of work by trading coal for code. The software development company is a literal blue-collar retraining program that teaches coal miners to work as programmers across industries. Based in the Appalachian Mountains of Eastern Kentucky, Bit Source teaches former blue-collar coal miners and industry support workers how to code in order to adapt to the shifting demands of the modern workplace. It received 950 applications for its first 11 positions, and its programmers are hard at work on 68 current projects. “We’re not shipping coal out of here anymore; we’re shipping code,” says Bit Source manager John Shoehand. “The broadband’s our highway, our shipping lanes, our trains.”

From coding to the IoT to data collection, the downstream employment effects of artificial intelligence are manifold. These jobs are not just replacements- they are better, more accessible alternatives to modern-day blue-collar work. According to a study on coding, “half of all programming openings are in industries outside of technology…(and) the national average salary for IT jobs is double the national average for all jobs: $81,000 annually.”

In order to succeed in this new landscape driven by AI, we need to harness artificial intelligence and learn to embrace the future. We must avoid a futile battle against progress and instead use this new technology to augment our existing processes and ultimately create new industries and better jobs.

After all, we have done it before.

Communications, Marketing, Technology

Hardware to Software: Changing Public Perception and Expectations on Behalf of a Legacy Brand

In media accounts and the public’s perception, BlackBerry’s image has plummeted from one of the most reliable phones for business to being seen as simply outdated. But the September 2016 decision to permanently leave hardware production behind indicates a conscious pivot by new CEO John Chen toward software and brand licensing. As a company, BlackBerry has moved away from the mass consumer smartphone market and toward niche markets with its product offerings. The transition in the marketing and public messaging has accomplished its goals, as media outlets have mostly abandoned the narrative of the “outdated BlackBerry” and begun to look toward the company’s existing assets and future software potential.

The overarching message is clear: BlackBerry is successfully reinventing itself as a high-value enterprise services provider while moving away from the saturated general consumers’ market. The key factors emphasized during this transition are the strong leadership of CEO John Chen, BlackBerry’s emphasis on safety and security, and the brand’s experience and existing software platforms’ value in providing enterprise services.

According to a recent CNET article penned by Roger Cheng, reviving the BlackBerry brand “is the mobile equivalent of chasing unicorns…a Sisyphean task that’s gotten only more mythical with time.” The prestigious business phone brand, which was synonymous with professionalism and security in the mid-2000s, has struggled in recent years to deal with once-emerging and now-established competitors in the smartphone market – competitors like Apple and Samsung. BlackBerry was once the second-largest provider of smartphones – eight years ago roughly one out of every five phones was a BlackBerry. Today two-fifths of that same market is jointly controlled by Apple and Samsung.

According to an article in Business Insider, 2016 fourth-quarter results indicate that BlackBerry has a share that represents less than 1% of the global phone market. After revenue began to dwindle after fiscal year 2011, former CEO Thorsten Heins attempted to right the ship by continuing to improve BlackBerry’s operating system and devices, including the BlackBerry 10 OS, the Z10, and the 2010 Playbook tablet. Ultimately, the revamp proved largely unsuccessful and new leadership took over after Heins left the company in 2013.

BlackBerry’s transition to software in search of new revenue is a shift in marketing that seeks to change public perception. Current CEO John Chen, architect behind the Sybase turnaround, took over from Heins in November of 2013 and has showcased a greater willingness to adapt to the changing market by emphasizing BlackBerry’s existing assets: brand reputation, security, and licensing. Drawing on his previous experiences in the fields of hardware and software, Chen recognized the importance of specialization. After a few early hardware attempts were highlighted by similar failures like the Z3 and Priv phone with an Android operating system, Chen made the difficult decision to finally abandon hardware production in 2016 and officially pivot to software. Since that pivot, device revenue accounts for less than half of BlackBerry’s revenue, and sales of Chen’s software acquisitions are helping to close the gap: Company software sales rose from $494 million in the previous fiscal year to $640 million in December 2016. As the CEO says: “BlackBerry is no longer just about the smartphone, but the smart in the phone.”

In Rob Enderle’s article, he points out that Chen’s ability to make difficult decisions, his dedication to company transparency, and his sense of loyalty make him an attractive public figure in representing BlackBerry. Upon his arrival, Chen proved his commitment to transparency and promised to desert BlackBerry’s smartphone production if it continued down its unprofitable path. When the time came to make the unpopular decision, Chen did not hesitate to follow through.

In 2016, the company stopped producing its own hardware, choosing instead to license its brand to companies like Foxconn, Optiemus Infracom, and TCL to produce the new wave of BlackBerry phones. Now in the fourth year of his tenure, the current CEO is seeking to “stabilize the company, return to our core strength in enterprise and security, and maximize efficiencies.” Chen has made himself visible and accountable and, as a result, the new CEO has become the capable face of BlackBerry’s transition to software.

The concept of turning security into safety is a message that BlackBerry has successfully conveyed over the past six months. BlackBerry’s software has been known for its security since its heyday as the quintessential business phone. In light of international developments highlighted by the Sony email hack, security has never been more relevant or important. As Chen points out, the BlackBerry is the only phone trusted by the U.S. Department of Defense, as well as all seven of the world’s G7 participant governments. In fact, BlackBerry was one of the few networks that remained usable directly after the 9/11 attacks.

Building on its existing reputation as an industry leader in security, BlackBerry is attempting to market its new software as the standard in encryption and security. The software development kit scheduled for release this month will include tools for “building chat apps, video and voice calling, secure file sharing and sending out push notifications to mobile phones,” and it will be sold on a subscription basis.

Although Twilio, Bandwidth, and Nexmo offer many of these same services, BlackBerry’s distinguishes itself with its safety and brand superiority. In addition to opening up additional secure messaging and file-sharing technology for developers to use in constructing apps, BlackBerry offers its popular BBM messaging system as a safe and efficient alternative to instant office communication. In essence, BlackBerry’s pitch is simple: You feel safe when you use their secure products.

The final piece of the strategy is centered around BlackBerry’s existing software resources and past experience in smartphone technology. As the company’s focus has shifted to developing software for enterprises and licensing hardware to divest from the general consumer market, the functional potential of the company’s existing enterprise technologies like QNX, AtHoc, and Radar have continued to grow in niche markets. As Enderle points out in his piece, QNX is an important automotive platform dominating its market. AtHoc is an extremely useful tool in communicating and alerting during disasters, and Radar has the potential to be used to prevent future crime.

BlackBerry is also demonstrating its superiority with its mobile health social media network, which makes collaboration among medical professionals exponentially easier. The public safety software and health care reference architecture have both been extremely helpful in saving lives by facilitating ease of communication and collaboration in terms of public safety. According to COO Marty Beard, “We are constantly innovating and looking for ways to leverage our legacy and expertise in secure mobility to solve real business problems.”

In the end, successfully pivoting from hardware to software will require time to convince the public. But the new avenues the firm has opened in its strategy and software development are off to a promising start. With its strong leadership, its focus on security at a time when security is a growing concern, and its reliance on existing software programs and expertise, BlackBerry is beginning the difficult but necessary transformation from consumer hardware to enterprise software provider.