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Media Relations: When Google Got Googled

Before meeting my soon-to-be-wife for the first time, I "Googled" her. Google, with its amazing alacrity, turned up several documents in less than a second.

It turned up a paper she had written for a medical journal. It displayed her dissertation. Iteven showed me an article she had written for her college newspaper.

A lot of our personal information is on the web. It's a legitimate concern.

So it was understandable when a CEO became irate when a snarky website published all of his personal information it could find - including home address and financial worth - just by going to Google. Sure, it was publicly available information, the CEO acknowledged, but that story was just beyond the pale.

The CEO was so furious, in fact, he ordered his staff not to grant interviews to the news organization, CNet, for an entire year. His choice to "blackball" a website with more than 23 million visitors per month for a full year was a serious one, but one he believed was the right thing to do.

Only one problem. The CEO in question is Eric Schmidt. Mr. Schmidt is the CEO of Google.

In the days following Google's decision, dozens of news organizations - including National Public Radio, the International Herald Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, and the Associated Press - covered it. Many of those stories lambasted Google's decision. One story was simply called, "Google Goes Berserk."

Besides being a stunningly tone-deaf decision on Google's part (the kind people should lose their jobs over), there is at least one big lesson to be learned here.

Sometimes, it's better to just be quiet.

Had Google chosen to say nothing after the original CNet story came out, it wouldn't have become an internationally covered story. It wouldn't have made it to the coffee shops of California, the bistros of Buenos Aires, or the patisseries of Paris.

Google took a relatively small story and, through awful crisis management, turned it into a much larger one. Even worse, it gave endless ammunition to Google's critics who have long feared the implications of so much readily accessible information on the web.

Finally, they did at least two other things wrong. We left a message for Google asking for their side of the story. To its credit, one of its representatives, David Crane, did call back within a few hours but said that they have not or will not respond to such queries "on-the-record." That means its enemies continue to get all the ink as Google does nothing. Companies in crisis mode need to say something, even if that means a terse two sentence statement sent via e-mail.

The other thing Mr. Crane did wrong was offer to make comments to me in an "off-the-record" capacity. I'm not a reporter, and was careful about identifying myself honestly. I had no obligation to honor his terms, and could have been the first "reporter" to finally get Google on-the-record.

Brad Phillips is the founder and president of Phillips Media Relations. He was formerly a journalist for ABC News and CNN, and headed the media relations department for the second largest environmental group in the world.

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