6 questions for Mark Penn as he departs Microsoft

The former Burson-Marsteller CEO said Wednesday that he's founding investment advisory firm the Stagwell Group, based in Washington, DC.

Penn with former President Bill Clinton (Photo via MarkPenn.com).
Penn with former President Bill Clinton (Photo via MarkPenn.com).

Microsoft chief insight officer Mark Penn, who is leaving the company in September to head up his newly registered investment advisory firm the Stagwell Group, chatted with PRWeek on Wednesday about his ambitions.

PRWeek: What was your biggest accomplishment at Microsoft?
Mark Penn: I was glad to help create the Super Bowl ad in 2014, which showed how Microsoft technology helps people with disabilities, and found the data analytics work I did for the company rewarding. In the last year, the chance to work with [CEO Satya Nadella] as he develops this new course for Microsoft and to help align a new strategy for the company has been an incredible experience.

PRWeek: Tell me a bit about the Stagwell Group.
Penn: The firm is based in Washington, DC. We are going to look for investments that are digital first, meet high standards of creativity, and believe in being evidenced-based and data oriented. Targets will include PR firms that have significant digital components and have really shown growth within the industry.

We have hired SKDKnickerbocker, which employs former White House communications director Anita Dunn and former recording industry lobbyist Hilary Rosen, to handle Stagwell’s PR.

PRWeek: Will you be hiring PR executives?
Penn: We are going to have a balance between PR, research, advertising, and digital media pros on board.

I expect to have people onboard who are really not just deep into investments, but also who are deep into the fields we cover. So my employees will really understand the companies we work with and really what it takes to grow and manage a successful business in these spaces.

PRWeek: Before joining Microsoft, you held positions as global CEO of Burson-Marsteller, CEO of research firm Penn Schoen Berland for 37 years, and were also a top adviser to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign. How will your career history play into your new venture?
Penn: I am trying to build on the experience I have had. So I hope to be able to draw on that diversity of experience, find the right investments, and help to grow those investments in companies.

PRWeek: Given your political background, do you see the Stagwell Group eventually being associated with any presidential or other national campaigns?
Penn: No. We are investors, not actors.

PRWeek: What do you see Stagwell becoming? A venture capital firm for PR agencies? Or a holding company?
Penn: What Stagwell will turn into, we have yet to see.

We are right now classified as a private equity firm looking for mid-size firms who have established themselves and are looking to get to the next level of growth.

One of the things we are doing is trying to find companies that are in different disciplines. This way, we won’t end up with a group of investments all competing against each other, but that are more complimentary in nature.

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