Psychology Today: A Personal Interview with Mark Penn about Getting Through Tough Times in Life and Politics

Why don’t you start by telling me some of the toughest moments you’ve been through when advising people in tough situations.

The truth is that in today’s world, there’s no success without failure. If you can’t tolerate a failure, it’s virtually impossible to have a successful life. The road to success is paved with roadblocks. Difficult moments, things that have gone wrong, attacks you didn’t expect. To be successful you have to be able to overcome and learn from failure. The moment you lose that perspective, you don’t climb back from that.

Maybe it’s easier said than done. How do you remind yourself at the toughest moment that it’s an inevitable part of success and that you just need to get through it? How do you keep a long-term view?

You’re right to say that it’s not easy—to really understand what you’re about, where you’re going. If you look at movies, almost all movies and popular culture are based on the idea of someone who’s different standing up. But in reality, being different and standing up and having a counter view is one of the hardest things to do in our society.

I try to remember that it’s not necessarily about what everybody else thinks at that moment. It’s really about, “Are you going to have the kind of strength and fortitude to carry through with what you believe in, even against the odds?” That’s what’s made me a tough competitor and a fighter that people relied upon through their difficult situations. When you find yourself in difficult situations, are you the shoemaker without shoes? You have to be able to find some of that personal fortitude.

Are you thinking of any movies in particular?

I grew up on movies like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Inherit the Wind that were always about standing up for what you believe regardless of the pressure. Today you can go to even kids’ movies and they are always about the bee, the penguin, or the cub who grows up by standing up.

My most successful strategies—like “soccer moms” in ‘96 for President Clinton or the Upstate Strategy for Hillary in 2000—were always opposed by just about everyone, and I can tell you that fighting for things outside the zone of conventional wisdom will always take a lot of flak, and a lot of energy to sustain.

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Politico: The Strategy Corner: Pelosi’s Action Plan


Published May 20, 2009

To Hon. Speaker Nancy Pelosi:

The accusations that the CIA did not properly disclose its waterboarding activities to you in 2002 are making you a lightning rod for criticism from the right and causing a split within Democratic ranks at a time when party unity is essential for the big fights ahead on health care and energy reform.

President Barack Obama has planted his feet firmly in the center on the war against terror and upped the troop levels in Afghanistan, allowed modified military trials and quashed the torture abuse photos that would have captured headlines and sympathy. Given that, he is making you appear out of step with his strategy and goals.

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MSNBC: Mark Penn says President Obama is moving toward the center on foreign policy on Morning Joe

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Democratic Strategist Mark Penn discusses how President Obama has tacked to the center on recent foreign policy decisions, including those on Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay, and that these decisions have been the key to his high approval ratings with the American people.

Watch the video now at MSNBC

Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column: Don’t Call Me Middle Class: I’m a Professional!

Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
From The Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
Published May 14, 2009

Not long ago, everyone in America wanted to be a member of the “middle class.” In fact, as many as 53% of Americans described themselves that way to pollsters.

But with the information age and the rise of two-career incomes, being just middle class is a little old hat. The new aspiration for most Americans is to be a member of the new professional class. Rising numbers — as high as 64% — report that they consider themselves “professionals.” The census shows a significant rise over the years, from 4% being professionals and skilled workers in 1910, to 36% today. The numbers have doubled since just 1980.

These new professionals, whose incomes were rising steadily until the financial crisis, have been at the heart of reshaping the country’s economic and political life. Barack Obama more than any other president represents this shift and has uniquely appealed to these Americans. Everyone today wants to be a professional and most people believe they are.

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CNN: Mark Penn discusses the keys to success in healthcare reform on CNN’s The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer

Democratic Strategist Mark Penn discusses the administration’s keys to success in passing healthcare reform, including gaining consensus and focusing on cost first. Mark and Alex Castellanos, Republican Strategist, also offer advice for the Republican leadership on shoring up support for the GOP.

Watch the video now on YouTube

Forbes: The Latest On Microtrends, an interview with Mark Penn, CEO of Burson-Marsteller

The Latest On Microtrends: An interview with Mark Penn, CEO of Burson-Marsteller

Size matters. But perhaps not always the way we think it does. When politicians and marketers around the globe spend their resources trying to uncover the next big thing, they may be overlooking something even more valuable–the next “microtrend.” That term was coined by Mark J. Penn, chief executive officer of the public relations firm Burson-Marsteller and president of the polling firm Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, and author of the best-selling book Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow’s Big Changes…

Forbes spoke with Penn to find out about what some of the next microtrends might be.

Forbes: What exactly is a microtrend?

Penn: A microtrend is a small–but growing and passionate–group of people that is changing the face of society. A microtrend may never grow larger than 3 million people, or roughly 1% of the U.S. population, but those people have unmet needs that they are passionate about. And 3 million passionate people are by far enough to make or break a business, tip an election or trigger social change. So if businesses, politicians and others who would move society want to be on the leading edge, they need to pay attention to these small, growing, counterintuitive groups.

Why should we care about something that represents just 1% of the population?

When you hit that 1%, you can drive a tremendous amount of change. The top-selling car in America makes only about 400,000 sales. If you sell a couple of hundred thousand books, you have a best-seller. Consider that only about 3 million people gave money to President Obama’s campaign. That demonstrates the enormous impact that a small group acting on its passions can have. And that’s just in the U.S. Think about what happens if you sell to 1% of the Chinese population. Or to 1% of India. In these mass societies, and in our globalizing economy generally, 1% of the marketplace is an enormous opportunity.

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DMA Point Magazine: The New American Shopper by Mark Penn: How Business Can Make the Most of the Current Economic Climate

DMA Point Magazine: The New American Shopper by Mark Penn

Read The New American Shopper by Mark Penn and Kinney Zalesne, featured in the Direct Marketing Association’s Point Magazine (Spring 2009)

Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column: Where Are the Republican Hybrid Buyers?

Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
From The Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
Published May 1, 2009

A closer look into the accelerating trend of buying hybrid vehicles

Unless you are willing to buy a windmill, the biggest green purchase out there is buying a hybrid car. Recently, the 1 millionth hybrid in the U.S. was sold, out of 135 million cars on the roads today.

That makes hybrid-buying a microtrend, and it is an accelerating one. While constituting less than 1% of all cars, hybrids represented approximately 2.5% of all new cars sold in March 2009 (21,000 of 858,000 cars sold). And it is up from 15,000 a month in March 2006 when overall car sales were a lot higher.

Hybrid buyers are far from typical car consumers. They also are far removed from the image of the budget-conscious motorist buying a hybrid to save some hard-earned scratch. I know one Prius owner who has two cars — a hybrid and a stretch limo — and carefully chooses which car to use, for an evening out or a trip to the mall.

Early hybrid buyers have been buying the cars less for their fuel efficiency than to make a statement about who they are. Just as owning a Mercedes used to scream luxury and refinement, so hybrids have been about forgoing luxury and making sacrifices to help save the planet. Sometimes that statement has been a sincere effort by environmentally concerned citizens who are spending more than they have to help us cut down on carbon emissions. Other times people buy hybrids just for the panache of it.

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