PR Fail: Somebody Released Google’s Earnings Statement ‘Prematurely’

You may have heard with some surprise that Google’s stock (NASDAQ: GOOG) price dropped a whopping 9% today—and that this drop came in response to what looked like a 20% decrease in quarterly income. Anybody heard news of Google struggling to make money when “paid clicks surged by 1/3 from a year ago, and 6% from the previous quarter”? What happened?

Here’s a hint: the company’s quarterly earnings report began with the phrase “PENDING LARRY QUOTE”. That’s Google CEO Larry Page; he was supposed to give a quote before the report went out–after the day’s final trading bell. Unfortunately, the unofficial statement appeared on the SEC website just after noon, inspiring what The Wall Street Journal’s Steve Russolillo describes as “mayhem”. We’ll call it a “premature release.”

Google quickly issued a follow-up statement blaming RR Donnelley, the company that prints its reports, for filing the earnings without authorization because, as mentioned above, the company wasn’t supposed to release the data until after the day’s trading ended. Whoops!

Turns out that Google’s third quarter earnings really were a good bit lower than expected—and the fact that the company’s stock surged to all-time highs during the third quarter on the strength of what now look like very optimistic projections only amplified the sense of disappointment among investors.

The big problem: While the number of paid clicks went up, the cost of advertising decreased–along with the average cost-per-click. Operating costs continued to rise as well, so of course the company’s earnings failed to deliver as hoped. The stock would have dropped no matter what, but this error just made everything worse.

The blame game continues at the moment, but it’s clear that RR Donnelley screwed up big time—and we have to assume that quite a few big-name properties will reconsider their relationship with the printer of choice in the days ahead.

We find this story amusing and all, but the fact that such a relatively minor mistake could cause so many people to freak out is more than a little frightening. (This is one of the many reasons we chose not to major in finance. Sorry, Dad!)

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.