Microsoft has hired Mark Penn–a well-known political strategist, pollster and CEO of the Burson-Marsteller public-relations firm–to a new corporate strategy role reporting directly to Steve Ballmer. The initial focus: igniting more consumer use of Bing, the Microsoft Web search engine.
In an interview, Mr. Penn said he is assembling a “SWAT team” to work on thorny strategy questions around Microsoft consumer projects. His initial priority, Mr. Penn said in the interview, would be Bing, which lags far behind Google in market share and revenue despite billions of dollars of investment from Microsoft. Mr. Penn, whose appointment was announced Thursday, will have a new post as corporate vice president of strategic and special projects.
Mr. Penn said coming to Microsoft reflects his interest in technology, stemming from his youth when he built his own computer from a kit. “You could say fairly that politics and technology have been my two passions since I was about 12,” Mr. Penn said. He has consulted for Microsoft previously, including during the U.S. government’s antitrust lawsuit against the company a decade ago.
Mr. Penn said his new post germinated from a review he conducted about six months ago — at Mr. Ballmer’s request — of how Microsoft products are presented to the public. During that period, Mr. Penn said he became intrigued with Bing’s quality as a search engine. For Mr. Ballmer’s part, Mr. Penn said the Microsoft boss was intrigued with Mr. Penn’s comparison of the marketing challenge of Bing to pitching a political candidate. With search engines, Mr. Penn said, “People these days are making a choice, just like they’re making a political choice.”