May 19

Marc Hedlund

Marc Hedlund

Google Factory Tour

I'm attending the Google Factory Tour today, and I've figured out what bugs me about Google's public presentations. We've already heard about how many pounds of chicken Google engineers consume each month; we've seen over-produced video segments cut as though for MTV, putting "about our company" banalities against shots of the executives making funny faces; and now we've heard about three different employees' sock collections (they buy lots of socks here, see, so that socks are not a laundry bottleneck -- get it? get it?). It doesn't sound like they'll repeat the mistake they made on their analyst day -- having their chef but not their CFO talk to analysts -- but the tone just feels all wrong. It's akin to watching comedy from a foreign culture; you can see that the director and the editor think this next part should be funny, but it's not.

What I realized about this is that it feels exactly like misdirection, and that makes it seem like they have something to hide. I'm not saying they do have something to hide; in fact I think just the opposite, that their numbers show an amazingly strong and growing business. But they're acting just like they would act if they did have something to hide. Don't look over there; nothing up our sleeves.

Bad communication is a symptom of their ongoing success. They haven't had to be good at public communication yet. They've grown amazingly large and powerful fueled almost entirely by word of mouth (though they sell enormous amounts of advertising, they haven't needed to buy any, except for recruiting, until just recently). Their IPO was astonishingly successful despite a number of well-publicized communications gaffes. I couldn't show you a chart that shows the effect of their bad communication on their business.

Who knows, maybe they'll never need to get good at it. Maybe the Dow will hit 36,000. But I think it's an interesting case study in how not to talk to the press. Directness and honesty can get you burned, but there are a lot of people, journalists included, who react really well to straight talk.

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