Brodeur Partners ramped up its PR work in a "make or break" campaign for Blackberry from late 2012 to early 2013, but the 16-year client split with the firm in April and has not paid for $700K in PR services, according to a suit filed in federal court on Sept. 20.
The PR firm alleges Blackberry, which is going private in a desperate $4.7B deal announced Sept. 23, induced Brodeur to "work around the clock" without any intent to pay the firm for the extra services and with "knowing intent" to part with the firm after the mobile device pioneer reaped the benefit of the campaign.
The campaign referenced in the suit was supporting the launch of the Blackberry 10 platform and smartphones earlier this year, seen by tech analysts and media as the company's last chance to return to relevancy in a market now led by Apple, Google, Samsung and others.
Blackberry split with Brodeur in an April 25 letter from senior VP of corporate communications Heidi Davidson thanking the firm for its work, according to the suit. The pact between the parties officially ended June 30, 2013.
The suit claims Brodeur went above and beyond its scope of work for the final campaign, investing firm resources to meet the increased demands and logging thousands of hours of billable time beyond its regular mandate. The work corresponded with reductions in Blackberry's in-house communications team through terminations and resignations, according to the suit. In all, the firm claims, Brodeur spent more than 3,000 hours of billable time outside of the account's regular scope worth about $700K.
Blackberry told O'Dwyyer's it has not been served with any complaint. "If served, BlackBerry will vigorously defend itself against any such allegations made by Brodeur & Coville LLC, which are without merit," said PR staffer Kiyomi Rutledge. "BlackBerry pays legitimate invoices. BlackBerry cannot make any further comment on this matter."
Agency Review Amid 'Exhaustive' Campaign
Blackberry kicked off a PR agency review for its global account in November 2012 to consolidate its roster in a bid to save money. "Thus, in the middle its exhaustive work on the BlackBerry 10 launch, Brodeur was asked to simultaneously pitch for Blackberry's global business going forward," the suit claims.
In a call, Brodeur CEO Andrea Coville allegedly asked Blackberry's Davidson how the firm should allocate its time between the launch and the agency review and was told to focus on the launch. Davidson said Brodeur "did not have anything to worry about" with the review, that there "no scenario in which Brodeur would not be part of Blackberry's future," even claiming the pitch was an "opportunity to expand" Brodeur's work with the client, according to the suit.
Brodeur lost the review and was notified in April, when Blackberry said it was moving its global business to APCO Worldwide and Text 100.
The firm claims it relied on Davidson's assurances as it provided additional PR work beyond its scope without time to negotiate costs and fees for the added assignments. The firm says it would not have done the work if it expected to end its relationship with Blackberry this year.
Brodeur principals Andrea Coville and John Brodeur bought the Boston-based firm back from Omnicom in 2011. The firm first signed a contract with BlackBerry in 1997, when it went by Research in Motion. The suit was filed by "Brodeur & Coville" in federal court in Boston on Sept. 20 and claims Blackberry has refused to pay the $700K tab. It charges breach of contract, breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, fraud, negligent misrepresentation, unjust enrichment and quantum meruit, and violation of a Massachusetts law against unfair methods of competition and deceptive acts in trade and commerce.
Blackberry had not yet answered the complaint.