Was Google’s AP announcement a PR disaster?

On the Friday before the long Labor Day weekend, Google announced that it would start hosting material produced by The Associated Press (AP), The Canadian Press (CP), The Press Association (PA) in the UK, and Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Google News.

Josh Cohen, the business product manager for Google News, made the announcement by posting an item at 10:48 a.m. on the Google News Blog entitled, “Original stories, from the source.” At 3:45 p.m., Cohen told AP, “This may result in certain publishers losing traffic for their news wire stories, but it will allow more room for their original content.”

Is it conceivable that the folks at Google didn’t realize that their deal with AP was going to generate a lot of controversy?

Someone, somewhere in the Googleplex should have known that AP is owned by 1,500 daily newspaper members in the US and its news is currently used by 1,700 daily, weekly, non-English and college newspapers as well as 5,000 radio and television outlets. Removing all their “duplicate articles” from Google News results wasn’t likely to be welcomed as “good news” by thousands of AP’s customers.

And you’d think that at least one Googler would have Googled “AP” and found the Wikipedia listing for Associated Press, which includes the following sentence, “The explosion of media and news outlets with the arrival of the Internet has posed a threat to AP’s financial structure.”

Well, at least Cohen didn’t say, “We had to destroy the daily newspaper order to save it.”

Now, I’ve been in public relations for more than 25 years. And up until five years ago, if I had to announce something controversial, I couldn’t have picked a better day to do it than the Friday before a long Labor Day weekend.

Most of the content for the big Sunday newspapers would have already been put to bed on Thursday. And at least some of the senior journalists who might have normally grilled me had taken Friday off, so they could beat the rush to the beach, lake or mountains.

Even if some of the reporters left behind covered the news, their stories would have been missing more than a couple of caustic comments from a few industry analysts, who were off helping their kids move into college dorms. Plus, these controversial stories would have appeared in print on a Saturday morning at the beginning of a three-day holiday when fewer readers than normal were around to see them.

But that was then. And this is now.

Everything in the PR playbook changed five years ago this month when Google launched Google News. And over this year’s long Labor Day weekend, I was able to use Google News to find more than 275 articles about Google’s AP announcement. This included:

• “Google News Becomes A Publisher” by Thomas Claburn of InformationWeek, who wrote on Friday, August 31, 2007, “If most people end up reading the source material on Google News, publishers who buy widely syndicated content may find that Associated Press articles, for example, are bringing in less traffic.”

• “Google (GOOG): All the news that fits” by Douglas A. McIntyre of Blogging Stocks, wrote on Saturday, September 1, 2007, “News providers to Google now have to worry about whether Google will end up highlighting a small number of news providers who will license to Google all of their content.”

• “Google becomes a newspaper” by Nick Farrell of the Inquirer in the UK, who wrote earlier today, “Search engine outfit Google has decided that it is better to become a newspaper than it is to be sued for nicking all of its content.”

Something else has radically changed the PR playbook over the past few years: The blog. According to Technorati, there were 100,000 blogs in March 2003. By the end of July 2007, there were some 93.8 million blogs worldwide.

And unlike most journalists, most bloggers tend to do more writing over the weekend than they can squeeze into weekdays, when they have to spend at least eight hours doing their day job.

For example, over this long Labor Day weekend, I used Google Blog Search – which was launched two years ago this month – to find more than 12,996 posts about Google’s AP announcement – from just the past few days. This included:

• “Google Now Officially Competing with Newspapers; So is AP” by Dan Gillmor, who wrote on Saturday, September 1, 2007, in the Center for Citizen Media Blog, “The deal is another proof that Google’s insistence of non-competition with news organizations is utter garbage, and has been for some time.”

• “Google deal uncovers truth that AP is now a competitor to newspapers, and papers are suckers for being members of it” by Steve Boriss, who wrote on Sunday, September 2, 2007, in The Future of News, “The question AP member papers should now be asking is not how Google could be so mean, but how they, themselves could be so blind about their relationship with the AP.”

• “Google is the Clown Suit Rental Store” by the head lemur, who wrote earlier today in Raving Lunacy, “Reporting and reporters on the local levels have been eviscerated by the quick fix of the wire service, which is an editorial and corporate decision to reduce those pesky human resource costs, like reporters….”

So, who was around this weekend to respond to all these criticisms?

Earlier this afternoon, I emailed a couple of my PR contacts at Google, but I hadn’t received a reply by the time I posted this item. I guess they were off for the holiday.

So, what are the lessons that PR professionals can learn from Google’s AP announcement? There are two.

First, pitch your next big story directly to one of the 3,000 AP journalists in one of the more than more than 240 AP bureaus worldwide. If they write a story, it has a better chance of appearing in Google News than any of the “duplicate articles” that might appear in one of the thousands of daily newspaper, radio, television and online customers that AP serves.

You may have sympathy for those pesky newspaper reporters, but you job is to get publicity for your corporate clients and their commercial products. And Google News has just announced — as the Onion once did — that this “scrappy band of lovable misfits is no match for rich kids.”

Second, don’t plan to spend time with family and friends over the three-day weekend if you announce something controversial on the Friday before Labor Day. Google News and Google Blog Search have rewritten the PR playbook. A surprising number of different sources are cranking out original stories – with different perspectives – even you deserve to take some time off.

My advice is to announce controversial news early on the Tuesday morning after Labor Day, when you at least have a shot at managing the response from 9 to 5. Hey, the last thing you want to do is come to work tomorrow morning to discover that hundreds of news articles and thousands of blog posts have grilled your organization while you were attending a cookout.

Related reading

Why we need to think of entities and the future of SEO
Microsoft Noel Reilly Director of Strategic Accounts
digital marketing for B2B manufacturing
Luxury marketing search strategy, Part 3: Content creation