Mark Penn, Burson-Marsteller’s CEO and Hillary Clinton’s adviser, has taken many shots in the press for the apparent conflict of interest inherent in heading one of the biggest PR firms with clients deeply interested in influencing Washington policymakers and a top Democratic Presidential candidate.
The hit today by Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter, who knows Penn for more than 33 years, ranks among the most personal blasts.
Alter tells readers that Penn’s Harvard nickname was “Pig-Penn,” and that he has the “IQ of Bill Gates and the EQ (emotional intelligence) of an eggplant.” That's a hard hit in the aftermath of Clinton's teary performance that helped her win the New Hampshire primary.
The columnist believes Penn’s “awkwardness makes him an especially strange choice” to be CEO of B-M. He then takes a cheap shot at B-M, which “obviously values him [Penn] for his grasp of the ‘science’ of selling tarnished products.”
Alter’s blast follows the Jan. 13 shot fired by Frank Rich in the New York Times, which belittled Penn’s “niching of America” philosophy of slicing and dicing voters into small groups. That strategy makes no sense in an era in which the public demands broad change and a new beginning for America.
Hillary Clinton declares “I found my own voice” on the front cover of the Jan. 21 Newsweek. If that is indeed the case, Penn can no longer serve as her ventriloquist.
The PR business would be well-served if Penn ultimately cut ties with Camp Clinton. This blogger has heard loud rumblings that the image of the PR business is suffering because the head of one of its biggest firms is a part-time CEO.
That may or may not be the case. Penn did not return an email asking about how he divides his time between B-M and Clinton.
This blogger was told by the head of a large firm that he recently lost a competitive pitch to B-M. It just finally came down to clout in Washington. “How could we compete with someone who has the ear of the next president?” he said.
That comment was made with more than a tinge of envy.