Google Co-Founder Shows Why Honesty Isn’t Always the Best PR Policy

larrypage Google Co Founder Shows Why Honesty Isnt Always the Best PR Policy

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Google’s Larry Page.

Google co-founder Larry Page has a chronic voice condition that forces him to speak not much above a whisper. But what he says can still raise the roof.

Page, who is worth $32 billion, sat for an interview with Charlie Rose last week in Vancouver and confirmed a statement he has made before: He would rather another entrepreneur billionaire inherit his fortune than leave it to charity. As for a candidate, he mentioned Elon Musk, co-founder of PayPal and founder of Tesla, who aspires to send people to Mars with another company he runs, SpaceX. The interview was summarized in Wired and picked up on tech blogs.

Page’s point: That money in the hands of a forward-thinking entrepreneur at the helm of an enlightened company isn’t such a bad thing. In Musk’s case, Page said: “He wants to go to Mars. That’s a worthy goal.” Perhaps, but Page’s comments paint him more as a plutocrat, not a philanthropist.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Google co-founder Larry Page, who probably should have ducked what was a pretty loaded question.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Leave nuanced opinion to the Op-Ed page. While Larry Page might have a point, when conveyed in a soundbite the meaning is lost and the entire interview hijacked. Page spoke about many things to Rose, security and privacy among them. But what people will likely come away with is a less-than-favorable view of another Silicon Valley rich guy who wants to give his money to another rich guy. As another observer noted, does that make Page a donor, or an investor? Either way, this probably isn’t the sort of PR Page and his people wanted.

Tesla’s Damp Response to Fires

musk Teslas Damp Response to Fires

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distincktly OK) for Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk.

Tesla Motors’ founder and CEO Elon Musk has good reason to be peeved. Just months after a federal safety agency named his company’s Model S the safest car ever made, a spate of highly-publicized battery fires – if three equals a spate – has triggered an investigation by the same agency, sunk Tesla’s stock by more than one-third and prompted analysts to pull back from bullish sales forecasts.

Musk, a serial entrepreneur who previously started PayPal and the aerospace company Space X, took to Twitter, Tesla’s blog and the media to defend his company, whose all-electric vehicles are visionary in more ways than one. Calling the weeks since the fires “torture,” he sounded all the right notes – the fires occurred after accidents that no vehicle could withstand, no one was injured (in fact, no one has ever been injured in a Model S crash), and the vehicle’s design prevented far worse outcomes. Tesla even amended its warranty to cover fire loss in a crash, while noting that it didn’t really need to.

Certainly all those points are worth making. But Musk’s prideful, slightly prickly defense of his company and its flagship product omits a key element of the classic crisis PR response – a measure of self-effacing concern that might preserve its goodwill.

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for a zealously passionate Elon Musk, for wearing his car on his sleeve, but not his heart.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Being smart counts more than being right. In a crisis, don’t let your desire for vindication cloud your judgment. You can be 100 percent in the right and still lose the PR battle if you fail to show balance and an appropriate measure of humility. Stories like the Tesla battery fires are driven by emotion and can’t be countered with facts alone. Tesla’s reputation, and likely its stock price, would be faring better now if its founder had walked a less defensive, more conciliatory line in addressing the matter.