Mark Penn, Hillary Clinton’s 2008 Chief Campaign Strategist, on Hillary Clinton’s political career and presidential nomination.
From the viewpoint of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Mark Penn joined The Atlantic’s Washington Editor at Large, Steve Clemons for an in depth conversation on the state of the race and the many issues facing the country.
The digital revolution has left major brands unsatisfied, unsure if they’re getting the most out of their marketing dollars. It has opened the door for smaller entities that are unencumbered by legacy business structures and are empowered by disruptive technologies, firms that can create groundbreaking work and compete with established holding companies for lucrative business from blue-chip brands.
That’s Mark Penn’s view of the marketing landscape and the impetus behind The Stagwell Group, an evolving holding company he founded last summer. He sees Stagwell, officially an investment advisory firm, as the challenger brand to the WPPs and Omnicom Groups of the world. He believes he can build a more collaborative, nimbler group of agencies.
“Stagwell is the new kid on the block,” he stresses during our interview in his K Street office in DC. “We are putting together a group of companies in the marketing services area with leading-edge creativity, great analytics, and strong depth in digital.”
There are self-implied dictates: No rosters of PR or marketing agencies doing virtually the same thing while competing against one another. Stagwell’s firms must be digitally driven. And agency CEOs must not look forward to retirement; rather, they must prove collaborative and work with sister shops in an era when household name brands seek their own version of cross-agency groups such as WPP’s Team Detroit.
Stagwell Group, founded by former Microsoft executive Mark Penn, has acquired a majority stake in creative digital agency Code and Theory.
The deal follows closely behind Stagwell’s acquisition of National Research Group from Nielsen at the end of November and PR and political consulting firm SKDKnickerbocker in October.
Code and Theory, co-founded in 2001 by Dan Gardner and Brandon Ralph, will continue operating independently within Stagwell. Its current management team will remain in place, and Mr. Gardner and Mr. Ralph still hold a minority ownership stake.
Mr. Penn said Code and Theory’s combination of “engineering and creative talent that goes to creating great digital experiences with great growth brands” is in line with Stagwell’s strategy.
Former Hillary Clinton Campaign Senior Strategist Mark Penn on Hillary Clinton’s scandals, her tax plan and the Republican field in the presidential race.
Mark Penn’s Stagwell Group has agreed to acquire National Research Group from Nielsen for an undisclosed price.
The firm, which has over 100 employees and offices in Los Angeles and London, provides Hollywood studios with tracking data in the weeks leading up to the release of their movies.
“We are excited to welcome NRG into the Stagwell family of companies and as a market research practitioner for the last 40 years I’m particularly pleased to add these key capabilities,” said Penn. “NRG has been a global leader in Hollywood market research and we see product innovation as a key ingredient for success in a rapidly changing entertainment marketing landscape.”
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.”
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.
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.