Microsoft ‘Comms Guy’ Challenges Google Rep to a Twitter Duel

Frank X. Shaw is Microsoft’s “top comms guy”. He doesn’t think too much of rival Google’s attempts to go highbrow in the PR sphere—and he let thousands of people know about it on Twitter this weekend.

Let’s unravel the roots of this little playground mud fight between two of the biggest PR pros in the business: Microsoft, still desperate to sponsor the Bing vs. Google fight that no one in the world asked for, just hired much-hated political operative Mark Penn as its top messaging man. You may remember Penn as the guy behind Hillary Clinton’s infamous 2008 “3 AM” ad implying that then-Senator Barack Obama was too inexperienced to run the country.

The New York Times ran a story on the hire, casting Mr. Penn as a negative messenger who would help Microsoft attack Google with “scorched earth” spots like this one that criticizes the company for ruining users’ search experiences by clogging results with sponsored ads. The article notes that Microsoft has “long attacked Google from the shadows” but now looks to take the fight to prime-time. A former colleague of Mr. Penn’s warned that Google should prepare to have “everything…thrown at them”—including the kitchen sink.

Sounds like a run-of-the-mill corporate PR battle, right? Well, the Times also contacted top Google spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker for comment. She said that, while Google employs lobbyists and PR firms just like its rivals, “…our focus is on Google and the positive impact our industry has on society, not the competition.”

Of course Frank Shaw did not like this one bit.

He began by mocking the story on his public Twitter account and proceeded to direct accusatory statements at the private account of Ms. Hazelbaker.

Far be it for us to judge, but Mr. Shaw’s tone is not nearly as polite as those of most “top comms guy[s]” we know. His messages certainly haven’t convinced us to see Microsoft as some sort of oppressed underdog fighting against “bullies” like Google to improve the experiences of web users everywhere. And we think Hazelbaker made the right decision by refusing to take part in his one-sided tirade. That said, Mr. Shaw has a very valid point: Google is a for-profit business that does indeed play in the same mud as its rivals–no matter what sort of high-minded statements its communications team might make to the contrary.

What do we think, PR pros: Is Shaw’s behavior appropriate? Can Microsoft really gain on Google by portraying the company as an “evil empire” that succeeded by bullying rivals into submission?

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.