Politico: Mark Penn’s private equity group to buy PR firm SKDK


SKDKnickerbocker, the Washington PR firm with deep ties to Democrats, is being bought by Mark Penn’s investment firm.

Penn, a former pollster and political strategist, worked on Bill Clinton’s 1996 campaign with Bill Knapp, a managing director at SKDK. Penn left Microsoft earlier this year to start a Stagwell Group, a private-equity firm focused on digital marketing with backing from Steve Ballmer, the former Microsoft CEO.

SKDK, which also has offices in New York, Albany and Los Angeles, has worked on political and corporate campaigns from Washington State’s ballot initiative on gun background checks to the U.S. Airways merger. Anita Dunn, another managing director, was White House communications director and senior adviser to President Obama’s presidential campaigns. Her husband, Robert Bauer, was Obama’s White House counsel.

“Stagwell is putting together a really exciting group of best-in-class companies and we think this is a huge opportunity to work together with sister firms in the future,” SKDK Managing Director Josh Isay said. “It’s a great opportunity for us to continue to operate our company the way it’s been operated and at the same time broaden our horizons.”

Read the full article at Politico

The New York Times: Mark Penn’s Stagwell Group Will Acquire SKDKnickerbocker


The private equity firm founded with a quarter-billion dollar check from the former Microsoft chief Steven A. Ballmer has made its first purchase.

The firm, the Stagwell Group, which is being run by the former advertising executive Mark Penn, will acquire SKDKnickerbocker, the public relations group best known for its advertising and campaign work for prominent Democratic clients.

It is the first step in what Mr. Penn said would be an attempt to create a cohesive group of advertising, research, public relations and marketing companies.

“The goal is to build a great group of companies that have a strong understanding of the digital world,” Mr. Penn said in an interview. “It’s a bit of a Noah’s ark, but we’ll have one of each kind.”

Mr. Penn said he also expected to acquire firms that specialize in digital design, Hollywood ventures, ad buying and financial communications.

Announced in June, Stagwell has $250 million in assets — most of it contributed by Mr. Ballmer, and some by Mr. Penn — and said it would use debt to strike deals worth as much as $750 million.

Read the full article at The New York Times

Advertising Age: Mark Penn Wants to Build a New Kind of Holding Company


Mark Penn in September will leave Microsoft, where he has served as exec VP and strategy officer, to start a company that will invest in advertising, research, data analytics, public relations and digital marketing companies.

Ex-Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer, is an investor in the company, called Stagwell Group, which will be based in offices at 1700 K Street, in Washington D.C. The company has already closed $250 million in investment capital, but it’s not currently accepting new investors, according to a statement. Currently he and Mr. Ballmer are the only investors and will build their team over the next few months, said Mr. Penn.

Prior to joining Microsoft, Mr. Penn served as CEO of WPP PR firm Burson-Marsteller and before that he was co-founder and CEO of Penn Schoen Berland, a market research and polling firm that eventually became part of WPP and Burson-Marsteller. He has been a senior adviser to political leaders including U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and President Bill Clinton.

He talked to Ad Age about what he wants his company to look like, why the small holding company trend makes sense today and how he expects to compete with the big holding companies for marketing dollars and agency acquisitions.

Ad Age: What types of companies will you invest in?

Mark Penn: We’ll put together a mix of companies. One of the problems in big holding companies is that there are 10 people competing against each other. One of the things we can do there is take a best in class in key disciplines so they can support each other. I think we’ll have to have a mix of creative companies, companies that have research and data analytics at their core and companies with experience in new digital placement, whether it’s new forms of programmatic buying or [firms] that are really able to sweep the most effectiveness out of your digital buy.

Ad Age: What will you do differently from existing agency networks?

Mark Penn: I hope to also bring together this experience to create a new kind of fund and one that also is managed by people with deep experience in their fields. Too often people who are doing these investments and managing and growing a firm have experience in accountancy and not deep into the fields themselves. I want to be more helpful in nurturing and growing great mid-sized companies into being really big companies.

Read the full article at Advertising Age

The Wall Street Journal: Microsoft’s Mark Penn Forms New Digital Marketing Investment Group

Mark Penn, a Microsoft senior executive who formerly worked at WPP, is leaving the technology firm to found a new company that will invest in digital marketing services.

Mr. Penn’s new fund, Stagwell Group LLC, has raised $250 million in funding, including from former Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer, who is a core investor in the new company.

Stagwell Group also has the capacity to use leverage to make up to $750 million in acquisitions, the company announced Wednesday. Stagwell Group will focus on investing in companies that are “digital-first” and can use technology and data to inform creative work, Mr. Penn said. In addition to digital marketing services, the fund said it may invest in advertising, research, data analytics and public relations.

“There’s a lot of room for new blood in the advertising and marketing industry,” said Mr. Penn, who will leave his current role as executive vice president at Microsoft by September. “Every client is looking for how to combine good advertising creative with good data analytics. I don’t think they’re getting those answers from the companies they’ve got, even if they’ve got some of the biggest companies in the world.”

Read the full article at The Wall Street Journal

The Atlantic: Americans Are No Longer Optimists

Published July 1, 2014

A survey reveals deep uncertainty the country’s future—but also growing consensus on issues like same-sex marriage and marijuana.

Historically, Americans have been optimistic about the future and confident about our leadership in the world, while at the same time being deeply divided on so-called social issues like same-sex marriage and marijuana use. That trend appears to be reversing, giving way to what might be called an age of impossibility, where Americans are deeply uncertain about our country’s future, according to a special survey commissioned for The Atlantic and the Aspen Institute for the tenth Aspen Ideas Festival. The survey, an online poll of more than 2,000 Americans, was conducted by Penn Schoen Berland, working with Burson-Marsteller, from May 28 to 31, 2014.

The poll is a jarring wake-up call to anyone who still believes America is a country of optimists. Nearly two-thirds of Americans—65 percent—question whether America will be on the right track in 10 years. They are also split on whether the country will be a “land of opportunity” (33 percent say yes, 42 percent say no, and 24 percent say they don’t know). In their view, the American Dream itself seems to be fading. Seven in 10 Americans have real doubts about whether working hard and playing by the rules will bring success in the future. They are also concerned about their children’s futures. Despite falling unemployment in many states, 64 percent of parents believe it will be difficult for their children to find good jobs in 10 years.

Read Full Article at The Atlantic

PC Magazine: Microsoft Names Former Clinton Aide Mark Penn Chief Strategy Officer

Satya Nadella is still decorating his new office as Microsoft CEO, but he’s wasted no time making sweeping executive changes. In the same internal memo that announced the departure of senior leaders Tony Bates and Tami Reller, the company revealed that Mark Penn is Redmond’s new chief strategy officer.

Penn joined Microsoft as a full-time employee in 2012 after two decades of advising Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. He worked for decades as a political advisor and pollster, coming to prominence with partner Doug Schoen with their work on Ed Koch’s 1977 mayoral campaign. Along with Michael Berland, they had founded polling and market research firm Penn Schoen Berland (PSB) a couple of years earlier.

Penn served as an advisor to President Bill Clinton from 1994 to 2000, and later assisted Sen. Hilary Clinton in her successful Senate runs and unsuccessful presidential bid in 2008.

Prior to joining Microsoft, he was CEO of Burson-Marsteller, leaving the PR firm in 2012 to become a corporate vice president and strategy specialist in Redmond.

“Mark brings a blend of data analysis and creativity that has led to new ways of working and strong market outcomes such as the ‘Honestly’ campaign and the Super Bowl ad, both of which were widely cited as examples of high impact advertising across the industry,” Nadella said in a memo.

Penn’s work also includes the famed anti-Google “Scroogled” campaign, as well as the Google-versus-Bing “blind taste test” advertisements, the New York Times pointed out.

Reporting to Nadella, Penn has earned a spot on the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) and will continue aiding Microsoft’s competitive research and analysis departments. He will, however, turn over the company’s advertising budget to executive Chris Caposella.

“I am looking forward to applying Mark’s unique skill set across a broader set of challenges facing the company, from new product ideas to helping shape the overall areas of strategic investment,” Nadella said.

Read the full article at PC Magazine

Huffington Post: We Need a Shot in the Arm, if Not a Moonshot

Huffington Post: We Need a Shot in the Arm, if Not a Moonshot
By Mark Penn and Don Baer, November 11, 2013

The recent dysfunction in Washington, with its massive collateral damage to the economy and national morale, couldn’t have come at a worse time. It was no mere blip in America’s otherwise good spirits. In fact, Americans haven’t thought the country was on the right track since 2004.

And now, according to a global poll commissioned by Thomson Reuters on “The New Professional,” it seems that not only are professionals in developed markets like the U.S. low on the drive, hunger, and entrepreneurial spirit that used to fuel our economy — but professionals in emerging-market countries like China, India, and Brazil are more than picking up the slack.

According to the poll, conducted by Penn Schoen Berland in partnership with Thomson Reuters in February and March of this year, only 29 percent of professionals in developed markets such as the US and the UK describe themselves as “always” or “almost always” optimistic, compared to a sizeable 48 percent of professionals in emerging-market countries such as China, India, and Brazil. When asked to rate the statement “I believe hard work will always be rewarded,” a paltry 17 percent of developed-market professionals strongly agreed, compared to 42 percent of emerging-market professionals. And regarding the statement, “I want to be able to be entrepreneurial in my job,” only 30 percent of developed-market professionals strongly agreed, compared to fully 58 percent of professionals in emerging markets.

Read the full article at The Huffington Post

Mark Penn discusses public opinion polling at the Graduate School of Political Management

Mark Penn, former senior adviser to President Bill Clinton, discusses public opinion polling and its role in presidential decision making with senior officials from the Clinton and George W. Bush White Houses.

The New York Times: A Political Brawler, Now Battling for Microsoft

SEATTLE — Mark Penn made a name for himself in Washington by bulldozing enemies of the Clintons. Now he spends his days trying to do the same to Google, on behalf of its archrival Microsoft.

Since Mr. Penn was put in charge of “strategic and special projects” at Microsoft in August, much of his job has involved efforts to trip up Google, which Microsoft has failed to dislodge from its perch atop the lucrative Internet search market.

Drawing on his background in polling, data crunching and campaigning, Mr. Penn created a holiday commercial that has been running during Monday Night Football and other shows, in which Microsoft criticizes Google for polluting the quality of its shopping search results with advertisements. “Don’t get scroogled,” it warns. His other projects include a blind taste test, Coke-versus-Pepsi style, of search results from Google and Microsoft’s Bing.

The campaigns by Mr. Penn, 58, a longtime political operative known for his brusque personality and scorched-earth tactics, are part of a broader effort at Microsoft to give its marketing the nimbleness of a political campaign, where a candidate can turn an opponent’s gaffe into a damaging commercial within hours. They are also a sign of the company’s mounting frustration with Google after losing billions of dollars a year on its search efforts, while losing ground to Google in the browser and smartphones markets and other areas.

Read the full article at The New York Times

Huffington Post: A Public Ready to Act Against Genocide, in Syria and Beyond

Huffington Post: A Public Ready to Act Against Genocide, in Syria and Beyond
By Mark Penn and Michael Abramowitz, July 24, 2012

Conventional wisdom has it that our country is turning inward. But with dramatic global events that often unfold on the Internet, the public seems to have a heightened awareness of the risk of genocide and other kinds of mass atrocities — and want our leaders to act.

A new poll we worked on together suggests that Americans in fact care very much about preventing genocide in other countries, want our government to be actively engaged in stopping it and are willing to employ military force under certain conditions.

The findings emerge from a random telephone poll of 1,000 Americans conducted by Penn, Schoen, and Berland for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. We wanted to gauge how Americans think about the prevention of genocide and other mass atrocities, an oft-neglected element of our foreign policy agenda.

At its core, our new poll shows that Americans are both idealistic and realistic when it comes to preventing genocide.

Americans believe genocide is a clear threat today and that we can do something about it: More than 90 percent of the people we polled say they believe that genocide is not just a phenomenon of the past and could occur today, and two thirds believe it is preventable. They do not see such atrocities just as part of ancient feuding between peoples that we cannot do anything about — that kind of thinking has precluded effective action in the past. They see genocide as a tool used by political leaders to accomplish political goals.

Read the full article at The Huffington Post