In this week's cover story, Keith O'Brien discussed Google's approach to internal communications, specifically on the evolution of its weekly TGIF meeting. Over the course of multiple interviews, David Krane, director of corporate communications at Google, provided PRWeek with insight on a number of other issues. Here they are discussed below.
20% free time
Since Google is known for giving employees 20% of their paid time to pursue individual products just about as much as Ford is known for manufacturing cars, reporters are always curious to ask a Googler what he does with his paid free time.
This “free time” has famously given the company such products as Google News and Google Suggest.
The 20% free time is also available, naturally, to the PR department. I was even more curious to ask David Krane, director of corporate communications, how he spends his time.
His response: “I’ve spent time interviewing chefs to join the culinary team and massage therapists, as well because health and wellness is important to me.”
He adds: “I’ve also spent time with the group that brings in public figures to speak, such as Colin Powell and Jimmy Carter.”
I was very happy to hear that it wasn’t spent trying to make a better press release.
Google received a bit of flack for its heavy-handed interaction with reporters over the use of Google as a verb, such as “to Google” oneself. Even Krane himself – and the former PR professional who requested anonymity – used the verb form. So I asked Krane what the PR department’s thoughts were on the matter.
“We certainly don’t impose that guidance within the communications function,” Krane said, adding that it was a legal department function. “The legal team is fairly public about what it does.”
He pointed out that the legal department was even a little humorous in its letters to media, requesting reporters to refrain from using the word. The Washington Post republished one in 2001, arguing verb use would lead to the “genericide” of the brand. The Post's text can be found below.
Google, however, goes the extra mile and provides a helpful list of appropriate and inappropriate uses of its name. To show how hip and down with the kids Google is, the company gets a little wacky with its examples. Here's one:
"Appropriate: He ego-surfs on the Google search engine to see if he's listed in the results.
Inappropriate: He googles himself."
But this one's our favorite:
"Appropriate: I ran a Google search to check out that guy from the party.
Inappropriate: I googled that hottie."
But how did Google get on the cusp of genericide? The former PR professional says the PR directive was to make the name Google a generic word, a contention Krane doesn’t disagree with.
“When the word Google automatically became a verb, which was not by any deliberate effort or investment we made, it started to open consumer doors and consumer interest in us,” Krane says. “There certainly was no deliberate campaign – there was no campaign [designed by a] clever ad agency from Venice, [CA] – to make Google a verb. We certainly had an objective that if information retrieval is the goal and the Internet was in arms reach, Google should be within the first thought if not the first thought that comes to mind.”
It's important to remember, when browsing the magazine rack at your nearest Barnes & Noble, that it is not a repository for Google corporate literature. It’s not that magazines are not probing and critical about the company; they certainly are. It’s just that you can hardly go a month without seeing a huge Google cover story. What? What is irony?
I asked David to detail the thought process that goes into picking who they work with and if, with the media’s interest in the company, they can get away with just working with those who pitch positive stories. Since the company gets a number of cover requests a week, it does have to maintain some standards of selection.
He gave a bullet point list of things the company considers when choosing media. Given the fact that the company Krane works for indexes billions of Web pages, the list, unsurprisingly, was long.
Firstly: What’s the story?
Is it a story we’re enthusiastic about?
Is it a story that we can add a lot of value to?
Can we measure the time and resource investment we’ll make in a piece like this?
Is it a story that will move any of the metrics that matter to us?
Is there something unique about the proposal or is it just a slight variance on something we’ve seen?
Will readers learn something new about Google that could potentially have a positive impact on our business?
What are the writer’s and editors’ objectives are?
Who is on their wishlist of voices?
What are the photo and artwork considerations that should be factored in?
Krane points out the obvious – that those features take a lot of executive bandwidth. But even the things that seem like the easiest part of the process are actually quite time-consuming.
“For years, we’ve received requests from journalists who would like to publish a gallery or series of vignettes of the custom Google logos that we’ve featured on our Web page,” Krane says [PRWeek also considered asking]. “Those are designed for the Web at 72 DPI. They’re not designed to run hi-res [to] show well on magazines.”
“So, when a publication comes to us and says, ‘Can you send us 15 of your favorite Google logos so we can put them in our story?’ Often times we need to go back to the single artists who created the logos."
He says it could take the artist who created those logos a week of straight design time to bring them to that quality level for hi-res images.
But what, I asked, about negative stories?
“We’re not intimidated about negative stories,” Krane says. “We’ve had the objective for many years to be as transparent as possible about our business. Negative stories provided a terrific opportunity for us to expose our point of view and put our actions into a more detailed context to ensure that audiences truly understand the considerations that we make and the priorities that drive our business.”
“We’re unable to satiate the [media’s] appetite that’s presented to us on a daily basis,” Krane adds. “It’s far greater than what we have the staff or executive bandwidth to serve. That said, if you were to run the numbers, the investment our executives make in communications – in sitting on the front line and handling both negative stories and issues-orientated requests – it’s significant considering their other responsibilities.”