Why hasn't Google learned Starbucks lesson?

All in all, Google, the media technology business that for so long could do no wrong, has got itself into a right mess, reputationally.

Google is in a reputational mess, writes Danny Rogers
Google is in a reputational mess, writes Danny Rogers
No doubt, back in January, European boss Matt Brittin and his communications chief Peter Barron thought they had 'cracked the tax issue'. They had worked to come to a mutually acceptable deal with Chancellor George Osborne: all they had to do was coordinate the announcement of their unprecedented £130m donation to the nation's coffers – which apparently took care of their tax liability in Britain over many previous years.

A week later, Barron - once a highly respected editor of BBC Newsnight - found himself defending a 'sweetheart tax deal' on The Andrew Marr show. Clearly Google had judged that this highly astute Ulsterman was a better bet under media scrutiny that his senior executive bosses.

Now it rarely looks good if 'the PR man' takes the spotlight in this way, but seems more understandable in the hindsight of Brittin's disastrous appearance before a Parliamentary select committee last week.

The unfortunate Brittin was mauled by MPs in front of TV cameras and became a national laughing stock when he claimed, on four occasions, that he could 'not recall' his own annual salary level.

Google clearly had failed to recognise that the tax debate had moved on since Starbucks was hauled across the coals several years ago for its low level of tax contributions. 

Having since been advised by PR companies such as Edelman and Finsbury, Starbucks responded then by immediately coughing up some cash and then setting about adopting more transparent and emotionally intelligent stance on this issue.

The temperature over corporate tax avoidance has ramped up a few degrees since even then.

Google, a much bigger and more difficult to avoid service in all our lives - and indeed George Osborne - should surely have learned from Starbucks' progress in recent years. 

A £130m payment from Google, when it is a technology business making billions of pounds each year, and employing thousands of people in the UK alone, was never going to come across well.

"This is staining your reputation," Richard Bacon, a Conservative MP, warned Brittin last week during the select committee hearing.

Let's hope Google is now listening rather more intently.

Danny Rogers, editor-in-chief

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