Repeating the Past

Here we go again.

Last year it was Fox News Channel; this year, it’s Google. The crime? PR people blacklisting journalists because they’re not happy with a media outlet’s coverage.

(Disclosure: I am a Google shareholder.)

Landing on Google’s blacklist is CNET’s, arguably the most important web-only tech news publication. Google, according to media reports, was upset by a CNET story that included personal information about Eric Schmidt, Google’s chief executive officer. The purpose of the story was to highlight privacy concerns, and show how easy it is to use Google to track down information on individuals. Irony, to say the least.

In retaliation for the story, Google has instituted a policy: Do not talk to CNET reporters for one year. It’s unclear whether the privacy story is the sole reason why Google has blacklisted CNET; regardless, the company has created an entirely new story.

News of Google’s blacklisting of CNET has been reported by The Associated Press, San Francisco Chronicle, New York Times and, among others. Newspapers in the UK, India and Australia have run the news, and the story has become fodder for tech and media bloggers. Even investment website The Motley Fool has weighed in on the situation.

“Although I believe Google is a long way off from meeting any substantial satanic standard [of evil corporate actions], recent events prove beyond a doubt that the firm is not run by a bunch of meek, hand-folding altar boys,” Seth Jayson of The Motley Fool wrote.

“For proof, look no further than CEO Eric Schmidt’s Putin-esque blacklist of CNET Networks last week,” Jayson continued, before pointing out other “evil” actions by the company.

The point of Jayson’s article was to say that Google is just like every other company – they play hardball. The problem for Google is that, until recently, they were pretty much viewed as being as clean as a newborn baby’s bottom.

The Google situation hits home with me in four ways: as a former journalist, as someone who conducts PR, as a consumer, and as a shareholder.

The journalist in me is mystified that companies continue to blacklist media outlets. An individual blacklisted journalist here or there is to be expected, but entire media outlets? This serves no purpose, and a phone call with editors and reporters at CNET probably could have cleared up the issue. Blindly stating “We’re not talking to you” does nothing but create animosity between journalists and PR people, and the PR people rarely win the battle.

As a budding PR practitioner, I look up to PR pros at companies like Google, so I’m left scratching my head. Didn’t they realize that this was going to create a negative story? What’s going through their heads? Is this a tactic I should follow? I almost feel like a kid who idolizes a baseball player only to find out that he’s used steroids.

From a consumer standpoint, I am now concerned that Google’s product contains a fatal flaw. Why else would the company be angered by a story that publishes information found using their main product? Is there something Google isn’t telling me?

Finally, as a shareholder, I’m piping mad. I have a stake in the company, thus Google’s employees are working my behalf. These employees have now created a negative image that is being fostered by not just the mainstream media, but the specialty media (tech outlets, investment newsletters, etc.). The blacklisting is a disservice to shareholders, who rely not just on the company but also on the media for important information about our investment in Google. If I choose to attend Google’s annual meeting next year, I will bring up this topic.

Another blast from the past occurred last week, as I appeared on CNBC for the first time in about eighteen months. As I always do, I try to learn from each major media experience in hopes of getting more major media experiences!

My CNBC appearance this time around was set up by a co-worker, and he did a great job of working with a producer at the network who had requested some information. We put together some proprietary data and sent it off with some editorial comments. A day later, I was booked for a taped interview.

As always, what mattered was that I gave viewers good information in a relevant context. This was the key to the success of the interview for not just us but also for CNBC. (Why else would they waste the time?) Thus, the most important thing for me this time was to be prepared. I was in somewhat unfamiliar territory topic-wise, so I spent a good four hours studying data and reading news story on the subject. I brought notes to the studio and referred to them often. (Since it was taped, I could read over my notes while I was being asked questions.) I also wrote what can best be described as a script. I didn’t use the script, but some of it stuck in my head, and the process of writing it kept me on topic and let the information sink in.

From this experience I learned the real power of television. The last time I was on CNBC, I was representing a newspaper, so it was difficult to gauge how, or if, the PR paid off. This time, however, I was working for a company with a new product, and from the number of trial sign-ups we got, I can tell you that every moment we worked to get our name on CNBC was certainly worth it.

It’s difficult to get airtime on television, much less a major outlet that targets your customer base. So when you are presented with the opportunity, you have to pounce on it and provide the outlet with a compelling reason to get you on the air. The groundwork done by my co-worker accomplished this, and I delivered a performance that represented my company well. (At least, that’s what I was told!)

This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (, a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (, the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: