The Portland Interview

Google’s Peter Barron answers Portland’s questions

After two years looking after corporate communications at Google in Northern Europe, Peter Barron is moving to a new role as Director, External Relations, Europe, Middle East and Africa. We asked him what he’s learned…

We live in a digital age with social networking, blogging, Twitter, 24 hour rolling TV news and news websites. How has this growth of information sources changed the world of corporate communication?

I haven’t lived in the world of corporate communications before all that, but I suspect the long lunch is a thing of the past. It obviously means you need to be aware of what’s being said about you at all times of the day or night. You can get anxious, or get Google alerts. But it’s also the case that a story on the 10 O’clock News or one of the national newspapers still greatly outweighs something on a almost any blog.

With the diversification of media sources, does targeting broadsheets and the Today Programme still matter, and why?

Yes – of course, because they have huge influence.

What about magazines? Are they still relevant?

It depends on the magazine – but yes, I’d rather have a favourable comment in the Economist than on Facebook.

You were formerly the editor of Newsnight. What surprised you most about dealing with your former colleagues?

What an extraordinarily smooth and professional process it was – they even got me a cup of tea. Things have obviously tightened up since my day.

Google operates around the world. How do you make sure you communicate about issues like privacy whilst being sensitive to conflicting cultures?

We have core privacy principles of transparency, choice and control which apply everywhere. We’re also committed to abiding by the local laws and being sensitive to the culture in all the countries we operate in, but if that meant breaking our principles we wouldn’t be there.

Is it easier or harder to have so many new outlets and vehicles on which to communicate?

A bit of both I think. There are now brilliantly easy ways of communicating – sometimes Twitter is the best way to get a message out quickly to the right people – but you have to keep things in perspective. I think it’s really odd listening to, say, a water company talking about its social media strategy when that effort might be better spent doing an interview with the Today programme or the FT.

How do you ensure Google stories have the impact required to get cut-through in the digital age?

The best and most enjoyable way is to talk about jaw-dropping technological innovations like Google Translate or driverless cars

2010 was the year of Twitter, what will 2015 be?

I don’t know, but as mobile will be the main way of accessing the web by 2015 I think it’s very likely to be on your phone.