Storytelling Techniques Behind Google Announcement on Larry Page Named CEO

Everyone pays attention to Google.

When Google announced that founder Larry Page will take the CEO reins, virtually every media property in the world automatically reported on the news.

The company’s PR machine doesn’t have to lift a toe (even less effort than a finger) to create demand.

With that said, if you reverse engineer the fireworks from last week, one finds Google’s PR team was hardly passive. Its command of storytelling techniques clearly shaped the media coverage.

Let’s examine the core components used to communicate the news in written form: Eric Schmidt’s post on Google’s main blog and the Q4 earnings news release.

The conversational tone in the blog post makes for an easy cut and paste. Even the Wall Street Journal pulled from the content.

But there’s more going on here.

For example, Schmidt reflected on the past 10 years:

This triumvirate approach has real benefits in terms of shared wisdom … 

This word “triumvirate,” which technically defines three people holding authority, ended up in numerous stories no doubt conjuring ”triumph” in the minds of many.

The blog post also included a terrific visual which generated massive pick up.

Instead of capturing the standard photo of three guys straining to say cheese, Google had some fun with the shot (more on visual storytelling: The New York Times Shows Three Pictures Are Worth 3000 Words) .

By providing media properties with a viable alternative to tapping the photo morgue, Google benefits from a visual that affirms the message “all three executives are on the same page with the change.”

Moving to the Q4 earnings release, the executive quotes stand out.

Typically, comments in a news release fall under the corporate drivel category.

But Google doesn’t waste this valuable real estate, instead crafting quotes such as the following from Page that sound like real people talking:

There is no other CEO in the world that could have kept such headstrong founders so deeply involved and still run the business so brilliantly.

By inserting the word “headstrong” which carries a negative connotation, the quote comes across as more genuine and explains why a large percent of stories in media ranging from USA Today to The Guardian to Al Jazeera picked up the quote.

It would be interesting to know if someone from the Google PR team had the chutzpah to make this suggestion to Page or if Page came up with the idea himself.

As a final human touch, Schmidt tweeted after the news was out: “Day-to-day adult supervision no longer needed!”

I could have done without the exclamation point, but using a medium like Twitter provided a nice book end to why Google’s Board pursued Schmidt in the first place in 2001. Again, many articles pulled in the tweet as anecdotal relief to break up the hard news.

Back to the big picture–

Media coverage did touch on less-than-flattering perspectives such as the company’s inability to crack the code in social media, Schmidt’s public image, and the possibility that strife had entered the relationship between Schmidt and the founders.

And sure, there’s no skill in securing media interest for this type of news. As F. Scott Fitzgerald would have wryly noted, ”The tech goliaths are different than you and me.”

Still, the Google PR effort had a huge impact on influencing the narrative that resulted from the announcement.

Perhaps the best symbol can be found in the ReadWriteWeb coverage.

As you would expect, the media property devoted a healthy piece of real estate to the news, 848 words to be exact. Roughly 70 percent of the RWW story came from the Google blog post and Q4 earnings release.

That’s not an indictment of RWW which has a reputation for quality content.

It’s a compliment to Google PR which delivered the components for storytelling that rings true.

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6 comments

6 Comments so far

  1. Paul Roberts January 24th, 2011 11:07 am

    This is a great point Lou. Too many people think that PR isn’t part of these big business-driven announcements simply because getting coverage for this news so easy.

    I think I’ll circulate your post to my non-PR friends and family as a way to explain what it is that I do for a living. Good inside PR stuff.

  2. Lou Hoffman January 24th, 2011 11:49 am

    Thanks Paul.

    I went into this exercise with an open mind.

    But after analyzing the work from the Google PR function (don’t know if they used an outside agency or not) and comparing this work to the coverage, it became clear that Google PR made a huge difference.

    Smart timing too.

    It’s rare for a company to announce a CEO change from a position of strength.

  3. Sam Whitmore January 26th, 2011 10:25 am

    Can’t wait to see the storytelling behind Ballmer’s retirement… betcha it’s coming this year, you watch.

  4. Lou Hoffman January 26th, 2011 10:45 am

    O.k. Sam.

    I’m now expecting Balmer’s retirement to happen in 2011.

    Needless to say, this would be blockbuster news.

    Considering the “foreshadowing” from the Microsoft PR machine on Ballmer leading up to him taking the CEO reins (spike in media coverage illustrated at http://www.ishmaelscorner.com/2011/01/06/the-role-of-communications-in-succession-planning/), would be interesting to know if one particular senior exec has had a higher profile over the past 12 months or so.

  5. Jordan English April 11th, 2012 8:03 am

    Great post. I’ve been reading Writing That Works – David Ogilvy demanded all of his direct reports read it. What other books would you recommend.

  6. Lou Hoffman April 11th, 2012 10:19 am

    Thanks.

    I’m a huge David Ogilvy fan. Will check out Writing That Works.

    As for other books…

    I do like the intersection of critical thinking and gift for narrative in the Gladwell books.

    Recently dusted off Seth Godin’s Purple Cow, a look at the broad topic of standing out.

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