Stagwell Group CEO Mark Penn on why it was time to buy a GOP firm

As well as its first right-leaning investment, Targeted Victory is the first member of Stagwell Group's marketing incubator, an investment program for startups.

Stagwell Group acquired a minority stake in Republican-leaning marketing firm Targeted Victory last Thursday, marking the first time Mark Penn, a former top Democratic strategist, has invested in a shop on the other side of the aisle.

The firm, founded in 2009, has worked on digital marketing and fundraising programs for House Speaker Paul Ryan and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. It has also supported the presidential campaigns of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).

PRWeek talked to Stagwell Group president and managing partner Mark Penn about the new addition to the group’s portfolio.

Were you looking to add a Republican-leaning firm in light of the political climate?
Even before the current political climate, we always figured we would have some balance of both. We always thought we would work with a company that was on the Republican side as well as the Democratic. Some firms try to be bipartisan, and actually I prefer the two separate firms that really pursue their own clients and goals and occasionally will come together when it's appropriate, but really be deep within their space.

What stood out about Targeted Victory?
They have a sweet spot in terms of an understanding of digital communications, particularly in the political world. I believe that political communications really set the standard for what a lot of people would want to do in the commercial world.

How does this firm add to your digital strategy?
We look at our portfolio as primarily digital as opposed to traditional. [Targeted Victory] does fit right in with the strategy. Most of our assets are actually digital, like Code and Theory, the largest firm, is 100% digital and PMX agency is 80% digital. To an extent, our research companies [Harris Insights and Analytics and National Research Group] do not appear digital, but it's all online research. We’ve really focused on combining the online research with analytics.

This is the first firm in your marketing incubator. How does that program work?
We realize that there are people out there who have considerable experience in their field who want to form a startup but aren't ready to take the leap or aren't capitalized well enough to survive the first winters that always come with it. So we devised a program where we’re making investments in these firms and have options later on to acquire a majority stake in the firm.

That way, we give people the capital they really need, as well as the network, which now can be a client generator for anybody who joins that, to really get off the ground in an accelerated way. I know when I started my firm, I don't think we broke the first $1 million for about five years. We’re going to look to have four or five companies in this program that we think are top talents, have experience in the field, and are looking to have a startup of their own.

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