|April 9, 2008|
|Mark Penn Uproar Shows Why Burson-Marsteller Needs a PR Pro at the Helm|
|By Kevin McCauley|
|Mark Penn says he was wrong to meet the U.S. Ambassador from Colombia, a country that was paying his firm, Burson-Marsteller, $300K for its services. Colombia expressed righteous indignation and pulled the account. |
Penn has it twisted. He was right to meet the Ambassador and wrong to say he made an “error in judgment” in doing so. His initial judgment was perfect, but so was the judgment of labor leaders who made great hay over the perception of conflict surrounding Hillary Clinton’s top strategist huddling with the “enemy.” The Penn story was a gift from God for the media.
Penn may be a polling genius — though that is in doubt following the near collapse of the Clinton campaign — but he is tone-deaf to PR. Colombia, this country’s strongest ally in South America, was a prestigious account for B-M. It had every right to expect meetings with the CEO of its PR firm.
Penn’s attempt to distance himself from Colombia is bad for B-M and the rest of the PR business. What other accounts has Penn put on his "no contact" list? How would you feel if you were a "second-rate client" that is barred from meeting B-M’s CEO?
Penn has now resigned his chief strategist post at the Clinton campaign. He remains Clinton’s pollster. That means Penn remains a juicy media target. The media have taken great glee in taking whacks at Penn, whom the New York Times describes as Clinton’s “gruff, rumpled strategist.”
B-M is bound to suffer damage from more attacks on its two-hatted CEO. That begs the question: Why did the WPP Group unit agree to let its chief "moonlight" for Clinton? Or, was Penn "moonlighting" at B-M? Political savvy Charlie Black did the right thing when he resigned his position (sub req'd) as B-M’s BKSH lobbying unit last month to work for John McCain’s presidential bid.
B-M’s problem is tied to the lack of PR skills at the helm. That has been the case for some time. Does anyone remember Tom Nides? He’s the guy who replaced Chris Komisarjevsky as BM CEO at the end of `04. Nides was plucked from the chief global administrative officer post at Credit Suisse First Boston to helm B-M.
Chris K., a veteran of Gavin Anderson & Co., Carl Byoir & Assocs, and Hill & Knowlton, headed B-M for six years. His predecessor Larry Snoddon was a 25-year B-M vet. Nides lasted eight months. He left to rejoin his mentor, John Mack, at Morgan Stanley. Nides was succeeded by Penn. The rest is history.
Penn is a numbers – not a people – guy. That has been plain for all to see. After reading “Microtrends,” this blogger gets the sense that Penn Schoen and Berland is the place for Penn to be, not the head of a worldwide PR organization.
B-M would do a lot better with a PR person at the helm. Somebody with the background of Chris K. or Snoddon would fit that bill nicely.
(Photo: N.Y. Times)
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