When Too Much Control of the Press Interview is a Bad Thing

Last Updated Mar 6, 2008 6:09 PM EST

Last week, Google CEO Eric Schmidt announced Google Health, a new health information service at a press conference at the HIMSS health care information trade show. Afterward, he granted a one-on-one interview to CNET's Elinor Mills, who, you may remember, pissed off Google and Schmidt a couple of years ago when she Googled Schmidt and found a few interesting facts about him (and wrote about it).

So Mills flies across the country to sit down with Schmidt after his press conference, and before the interview starts, the

PR person tells her she can only ask questions about Google Health. Mills tries a couple of other questions anyway, and Schmidt declines to answer. The only wiggle room she finds is to ask some general questions about Google tied to Google Health. Here's the link to Mills' story about the Schmidt interview.

In my media training programs I teach the art of "controlling the interview." It's an important skill for a spokesperson to learn. But I think Schmidt and Google took this way too far in this situation -- and for no apparent reason.

There are two objectives for teaching spokespeople to control the interview: to increase the spokesperson's confidence in giving the interview and therefore delivering the key messages, and to give the spokesperson the tools to make sure those topics are addressed and to help them avoid topics they are unprepared to address.

Note that "payback for pissing us off" isn't one of the uses for this approach. Neither is "because I can."

Google is perhaps the most admired company in the world right now. Its service is fantastic and they have been richly rewarded for providing it. They've got a great story, right? Of course, they have business challenges, but so does everyone. So why not let Schmidt respond to whatever questions he is able to respond to? What in the world are they afraid of?

Furthermore, you can't "control" the interview in such a way that it is blatantly transparent. You learn the techniques, you practice them, and they become natural. If it is obvious to the reporter, you've messed up and dinged your corporate reputation.

PS -- Here's a link to CNET's News.com's Dan Farber's critique of Schmidt's behavior.

  • Jon Greer

    Jon Greer has been analyzing media and PR for more than 25 years. He's been a journalist and a PR executive, and has been a featured speaker for many years at the Bulldog Reporter Media Relations Summit, and served as Bulldog's Editorial Director for their PR University series of weekly how-to audio conferences.

    Jon provides PR services including media relations and freelance writing to clients including start-ups, law firms, corporations, investment banks and venture capital firms. In addition, Jon provides spokesperson training. Learn more about Jon's training programs at The Media Bridge.