Can Hillary’s 08 Campaign Manager Screw Up Microsoft?

Microsoftnew president A source close to Microsoft reports that  “Mark Penn is NOT departing Microsoft.”

Who is Mark Penn? He was the ultimate political operative during the Clinton years before he managed to bungle Hillary’s campaign for President.  David Korn reports at Mother Jones that Hillary’s supporters  say they won’t work for her if she hires Penn for 2016:

“I would do anything for Hillary. Except work with Mark Penn.”

In July 2012, Penn was named Corporate Vice President for Strategic and Special Projects at Microsoft Corporation. Shortly after he came on board, he began a public relations campaign against Google on behalf of Bing. Just in time for the holiday shopping season, he created a commercial in which Microsoft criticized Google for polluting its shopping search results with advertisements. “Don’t get Scroogled,” the commercial warned. Another of Penn’s projects at Microsoft included the “Bing vs. Google Challenge”, a blind side-by-side comparison test where users could compare search results from Google against Microsoft’s Bing to see which search engine produced more relevant results.[41] Now he is the Executive VP in charge of strategy at Microsoft.

Now he has been relieved of that task and serves as the Executive VP of strategy.  Penn, however, has never run a large business.  It is hard to see him telling Presidential Candidates Debate In New Hampshire Ahead Of Primarya product manager how to  run her line of business and make it the dominant player in its industry.  The other kind of strategy is to figure out Microsoft’s product line, that is the services and products it sells.  This  requires technology industry vision, the ability to assess the capabilities of the likes of Apple, Google and Facebook,as well as to recognize an market new ideas.  The Surface was and is a new idea.  If the marketing of that was Penn’s responsibility, he is hardly a good choice for figuring out how to take advantage of Microsoft’s awesome technicians and engineers.  Besides isn’t that going to be the job for  Bill Gates would during the third of his time that he spends advising Nadella?

In 2008, he served as chief strategist to Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president.  Penn argued that the vast majority of voters cared more about substance than style.  The public, however, saw stele as the issue.   New York Times columnist Frank Rich said that Penn and his wife, Nancy Jacobson “helped brand the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign as a depository for special-interest contributions.”  Penn’s own appearances on TV and disclosures of he fees were disastrous for the campaign , he came across as arrogant, acting as if Mrs. Clinton owned the nomination.

In January 2008 she lost the Iowa caucus to then-Senator Barack Obama.   Clinton’s campaign was hobbled by infighting among the staff including much hostility towards Penn, and disagreement in strategy such as between Penn’s strategy of going negative against Obama and other staff who wanted to maintain a positive campaign.  Penn is most infamous for the  “3am ad” he conceived and aired five days before the  crucial democratic primaries in Texas and Ohio, the ad fostered doubts voters about Obama’s preparedness for the office, bordering on sirty politics by forcing voters ot think about Mr. and Mrs Obama in bed in the Whitehouse when the phone rang.  That ad is eerily close to Penn’s  Scroogled advertising campaign aimed at Google –designed to make consumers nervous about Google’s privacy.  Clinton won a pyrrhic victory.  It is hard to see how badmouthing Google made money for Microsoft.

Finally, it became apparent that Penn’s strategy was costing Clinton the election.  In May 2008, Time’s Karen Tumulty wrote that Penn thought the Democratic primaries were “winner-take-all”, rather than allotted proportionally, citing anonymous sources who attended a Clinton strategy session with Penn in 2007. Senior Clinton staffer Harold Ickes is reported to have asked in frustration, “”How can it possibly be that the much vaunted chief strategist doesn’t understand proportional allocation?”  taken place.

Now Penn has been stripped of his control over Microsoft’s advertising budget. Penn’s new title is EVP of strategy — with Chris Capossela becoming EVP of marketing. Control of Microsoft’s advertising budget shifts from Penn — whose domain will be limited to ”new product areas and strategic investments” — to Capossela.

To be sure, strategy is essential to Microsoft. But what does strategy mean? It seems to me that Penn’s job now is to find himself another one because there is not a good fit between his skill set and what the EVP of strategy job requires. Forbes suggests that Penn’s  new position could be a logical departure point for his return to Washington to wage a battle for the 2016 presidential campaign. I hope Hillary has better taste.


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