Arun Sudhaman

Working the angles around media, comms and marketing.

Mark Penn part 2: the pollster they love to hate

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My PRWeek Profile of Mark Penn is now live here. I published part 1 out of the out-takes last week, and here follows the rest.

It is interesting that Penn does not really polarise opinion. Instead, there seems to be a fairly uniform perception that he is a difficult customer with, as one rival put it, a ‘mixed record.’ I asked him why he thought people had it in for him. He used the experience of Karl Rove to say that maybe things aren’t so bad.

Look at Karl Rove and what he’s been through – even having won two successful Presidential campaigns. Look at the various staff members of Clinton and how many lawyers they had to hire. You have to regard if you get involved in presidential politics that there’s going to be some crisscross – but also people see it as that as well.

I’m not so sure. Rove still has a lot of support. For Penn, it appears that he has to try and rebuild his political reputation. The fact that Hillary is secretary of state will undoubtedly help, as will Penn’s own reputation as an insider. I asked him what it is that he finds so interesting in politics.

People underestimate the connection of politics to policy – they become so obsessed with politics being about personality – when all the glow fades, at the end of the day its about what is the right healthcare policy, the right policy to deal with the economic crisis, the right policy to deal with the energy crisis and that politics is about those things that can have the most profound impact.

Perhaps the most interesting part is for people when they are in office – helping them understand what the public thinks, how they will react to policies, and how they can best carry out their role. Remember presidents can be very isolated from the people.

Polling services provide a window into what people are thinking, at a time when many of the people around the president are controlling the information.

This may have been the most fluent Penn got during the interview and I think illustrates a good point. Serious research can certainly open a window for any type of leader. It is something that the comms industry should take more seriously. Unsurprisingly, Penn had a lot to say about what companies could learn from the political sphere.

Most companies look at a campaign and a product launch as something they very carefully plan out and execute and then they look at the results six months later. You are seeing campaigns becoming more competitive.

That means when you launch a campaign you may have to modify it, you may have to poll on how it’s doing – you’re competitor may launch an ad against it. I don’t think Microsoft would have expected that Apple would spend hundreds of millions of dollars on ads depositioning itself.

What you’re seeing is strategies where you can’t just launch a campaign – you have to be ready to respond to competitors counter-moves, and that has to be done both on the air and through PR.

To appear nimble at the time you have to prepare in advance. You have to do the research, have the counter-arguments, have the apparatus set up – you can’t just suddenly decide to be nimble. People have the illusion that in politics campaigns just pick things out of the air at the last minute – that’s not true at all. They have a vast research base of what everybody has said on everything, they have the ability to manufacture web videos and get them on the site. More companies have to put all those pieces into place.

Hard to argue with any of that. When Penn talks about corporate strategy he sounds persuasive. It may explain why Barclays has hired him to audit global perceptions.


Written by Arun Sudhaman

August 6, 2009 at 5:25 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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