Taaffe strikes compelling deal to tell Groupon's story

It's been a very busy week at Chicago-based daily deals sensation Groupon.

It's been a very busy week at Chicago-based daily deals sensation Groupon.

The one-time darling of the tech startup community has shown signs of losing its luster recently and posted a net loss of $42.7 million in Wednesday's announcement of its Q4 2011 trading figures, the company's first results since going public on the NASDAQ Stock Market last November.

More encouragingly, Groupon achieved an operating profit of $15 million in the quarter, a significant improvement on the $336.1 million operating loss posted in the equivalent period 12 months previously.

That's something on which incoming global head of communications and former Hill & Knowlton chairman and CEO Paul Taaffe can build, a story PRWeek broke Thursday afternoon.

Separately, and purely coincidentally, Groupon's previous – and short-lived – VP of global communications, Brad Williams, resurfaced on his home West Coast territory at Weber Shandwick this week, taking on the task of leading the Interpublic Group agency's global technology practice.

Tech sector veteran Williams didn't settle in Chicago and apparently clashed with Groupon's youthful CEO Andrew Mason. Taaffe will not be moving to Chicago, rather he will remain based in New York City and commute to the Windy City and the daily deals site's Palo Alto tech operations as necessary.

After 20 years at the iconic WPP PR shop this will be a distinct change of pace for Taaffe, but his senior level experience, international gravitas, and knowledge of the financial world will stand him in good stead in his dealings with Groupon's 31-year-old CEO and the outside world, though somewhat surprisingly Taaffe will report to SVP of global marketing Rich Williams, not Mason.

Groupon's business model is perfectly suited to the web, in that it scrapes off a percentage of every deal it brokers in a low-risk fashion, but it exists in a brutally competitive environment where significant barriers to entry have not yet been completely established.

Taaffe will need to continue to professionalize the newly public company's dealings with the financial and investment worlds. He will also try to establish a simple and easy-to-understand narrative with which to communicate the brand's story to the general public and consumers.

Williams (Brad) had almost completed an agency recruitment process and was on the verge of announcing the successful shop when he abruptly left Groupon last summer. It will be interesting to see what Taaffe decides to do in this regard, though one doubts whether Hill+Knowlton Strategies will be on his list of potential agencies to work with moving forward…

It's an interesting challenge for the gregarious and plain-speaking Aussie, and he has negotiated a nice package with some interesting equity options to sweeten the pot should he make a success of it.

Groupon has been crying out for clarity around its communications and there are a lot of upsides for Taaffe if he can be the man to help point the ship in a forwards direction.

It's good to see him back in the industry.

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