Google blogger Lauren Turner is causing a ruckus tonight with an odd post that offers to protect healthcare clients from Michael Moore's "Sicko." Turner, an account planner on Google's health advertising team, writes:
Moore attacks health insurers, health providers, and pharmaceutical companies by connecting them to isolated and emotional stories of the system at its worst. Moore’s film portrays the industry as money and marketing driven, and fails to show healthcare’s interest in patient well-being and care.....
Many of our clients face these issues; companies come to us hoping we can help them better manage their reputations through “Get the Facts” or issue management campaigns. Your brand or corporate site may already have these informational assets, but can users easily find them?
We can place text ads, video ads, and rich media ads in paid search results or in relevant websites within our ever-expanding content network. Whatever the problem, Google can act as a platform for educating the public and promoting your message. We help you connect your company’s assets while helping users find the information they seek.
There are several things that are surprising about this post. As several bloggers have pointed out, it can't help Google to take sides in a politically charged debate, whatever its obligations are to its advertisers. More surprisng is the way Turner speaks about managing reputations. It sounds exactly how PR agencies speak to their clients. Turner works for the advertising biz -- the financial engine -- at Google. I doubt that the company wants to enter the PR biz. Among other reasons: the margins aren't as good.
UPDATE: Turner writes again:
Well, I've learned a few things since I posted on Friday. For one thing, even though this is a new blog, we have readers! That's a good thing. Not so good is that some readers thought the opinion I expressed about the movie Sicko was actually Google's opinion. It's easy to understand why it might have seemed that way, because after all, this is a corporate blog. So that was my mistake -- I understand why it caused some confusion.
But the more important point, since I doubt that too many people care about my personal opinion, is that advertising is an effective medium for handling challenges that a company or industry might have. You could even argue that it's especially appropriate for a public policy issue like healthcare. Whether the healthcare industry wants to rebut charges in Mr. Moore's movie, or whether Mr. Moore wants to challenge the healthcare industry, advertising is a very democratic and effective way to participate in a public dialogue.
That is Google's opinion, and it's unrelated to whether we support, oppose or (more likely) don't have an official position on an issue. That's the real point I was trying to make, which was less clear because I offered my personal criticism of the movie.
Fair enough, Lauren, but your original post also offers to help healthcare companies in their PR battle with Mr. Moore. It's an offer that suggests you are speaking on behalf of Google (you use the word "we" -- "Whatever the problem, Google can act as a platform for educating the public and promoting your message. We help you connect your company’s assets while helping users find the information they seek.") And the offer goes beyond the kind of service that Google is known for, and that's why so many people are gawking.
But while we're on the topic of managing reputation, a good way to deal with this small matter is to add a comments feature to your blog (though I understand that comments are against Google blogging policy). You could then deal more directly, and effectively, with the criticism that's been levelled against you (some of which is fair, some of which is not). Instead, most of the debate is happening on TechMeme, without your participation.