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Mark Penn

Mark Penn
File:Talbot Clinton.jpeg
(L–R): former President Bill Clinton, White House adviser Mark Penn, David Talbot
Born (1954-01-15) January 15, 1954 (age 62)
New York City
Alma mater Harvard College
Occupation Executive Vice President, Advertising and Strategy at Microsoft
Spouse(s) Nancy Jacobson
Children 3 daughters, 1 son

Mark J. Penn (born January 15, 1954), a former pollster, political strategist, and author, is Executive Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer at Microsoft Corporation.[1]

Until July 2012, Penn was the CEO of the public relations firm Burson-Marsteller and president of the polling firm Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates.[2] Penn's clients included political and business leaders, including U.S. President Bill Clinton, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates. Penn also served as chief strategist and pollster to Hillary Clinton in her 2008 presidential campaign.[3] In September 2007, he released a book titled Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow's Big Changes, which examines small trends sweeping the world.[4] Penn is married to Nancy Jacobson, a professional fundraiser.[5] He is currently a visiting lecturer at Harvard College.[6]

Early life

Family background and first poll

Penn was born in New York and raised in Riverdale. His father was a Lithuanian immigrant who died when Penn was 10 years old. He was raised by his mother Blanche, who worked as a school teacher. Both of his brothers credit Penn with keeping the family together after their father's death.[7] Penn graduated from the Horace Mann School in New York City in 1972. He conducted his first poll, which determined that the Horace Mann faculty was more liberal than was the country at large on the issue of civil rights, when he was 13.[8]


Penn entered Harvard in 1972. Initially waitlisted, Penn took the train to Boston to lobby for admission.[7] At Harvard, Penn majored in political science and, as a city editor of the Harvard Crimson, wrote and reported 99 articles. His work for the paper included reporting and analysis on the Cambridge City Council elections of 1975,[9] the Harvard admission process,[10] and the controversy over the proposed construction in Cambridge of the John F. Kennedy Library.[11] Penn graduated from Harvard College in 1976. Penn and his future business partner, Doug Schoen, started Penn & Schoen – now the global market research firm Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates – in their dorm room.[12]

Early political campaigns

Ed Koch mayoral campaign of 1977 and 1985

In the fall of 1976, while Penn was a first-year law student at Columbia University, he and his business partner Douglas Schoen became the pollsters for congressman Ed Koch's second (and first successful) run for the mayoralty of the City of New York. In 1977, with the campaign against Mario Cuomo for the Democratic nomination in full swing, Penn sought a way to conduct polls more quickly than the mainframe and punched card system he and Schoen were making use of at Columbia University. He purchased a self-assembled "microcomputer" kit and created a program that could compile polls in a fraction of the time than had been done before.[7] By creating this "overnight poll" system, Penn allowed the campaign to conduct polls to determine messages and evaluate tactics on a daily basis, a tactical advantage that contributed to Koch's eventual victory over Cuomo.[13]

Penn also played a significant role in Koch's 1985 re-election, for which he and Schoen developed direct mailings,[14] set up phone banks, organized volunteers and canvassers, and coordinated fundraising. That year, Koch won both the Democratic primary and the general election, besting New York City Council President Carol Bellamy.[15]

Luis Herrera Campins presidential campaign of 1978 and Latin American politics

In 1978, Penn conducted polling for the presidential campaign of Luis Herrera Campins in Venezuela. Because Venezuela did not at that time have universal phone coverage, Penn partnered with Venezuelan polling firms to go door-to-door to collect interviews. He also helped the campaign develop the slogan "Ya Basta", or "Enough", critiquing the spending policies of the incumbent party. Herrera carried the election by about 3% points.[16]

The election marked the beginning of Penn's successful involvement in Latin American politics. Since 1979, Penn's firm has helped elect more than a half dozen heads of state in Latin America, including Venezuela's Carlos Andrés Pérez,[17] Belisario Betancur and Virgilio Barco of Colombia, and Leonel Fernández of the Dominican Republic.[13]

Menachem Begin campaign for prime minister of 1981

In 1981, Penn & Schoen conducted polling for Menachem Begin's campaign for re-election as prime minister of Israel.[18] When Begin called the June elections in January 1981, public polls said that it was likely that his party, Likud, would win 20 seats in the Knesset to Labor's 58. A New York Times article published in March of that year stated that Begin was "probably in his final months as Prime Minister".[19] Penn & Schoen applied the rapid polling techniques they’d developed on Ed Koch's first campaign for mayor to provide Begin with a daily understanding of attitudes of the Israeli electorate.[13] Ultimately, Begin defeated Labor, led by Shimon Peres, by 10,405 votes out of more than 1.5 million cast.[20]

Corporate work

In the late 1980s, Penn was the force behind his firm's drive to win corporate consulting clients. Texaco, which was experiencing image problems due to bankruptcy, was the firm's first major corporate client.[13]

In 1993, Penn, Schoen & Berland was engaged by AT&T's new advertising agency Foote, Cone & Belding to guide a response to MCI's "Friends and Family" plan, an upstart competitor for AT&T's long-distance services. To help AT&T understand how best to counter MCI's strongest messages, Penn created the "mall testing" methodology for competitive advertising research. In the mall tests, Penn showed randomly selected mall shoppers MCI ads head-to-head with proposed new AT&T ads. Using this methodology, Penn's firm determined messages resulting in AT&T's "True" plan and its $200 million advertising campaign.[8] As a result of this campaign, by the end of 1994, AT&T had signed up 14 million new long-distance customers.[13]

Penn has served as a key strategic advisor to Bill Gates and Microsoft since the mid-1990s. Penn began working with Microsoft when the company faced antitrust litigation initiated by the U.S. Department of Justice.[8] Penn also created the famous "blue sweater" advertisement that featured Bill Gates and was instrumental in reclaiming the company's reputation. In 2006, a survey of global opinion leaders found that Microsoft was the world's most-trusted company, a development which The Wall Street Journal partially attributed to Penn's advice.[21]

His other corporate clients have included Ford Motor Company, Merck & Co., Verizon, BP, and McDonald's.[3]

President Bill Clinton - 1994–2000

In 1994, Penn and Schoen were asked to help President Bill Clinton recover from the Democratic Party's dramatic losses during that year's midterm elections. The pollsters urged Clinton to move to the center, emphasizing stepped-up law enforcement, balancing the budget and other issues.[22]

Penn served as pollster to President Clinton for 6 years. During that time, he became one of the president's most prominent and influential advisers. In 2000, the Washington Post concluded in a news analysis that no pollster had ever become "so thoroughly integrated into the policymaking operation" of a presidential administration as had Penn.[23]

U.S. federal government shutdown of 1995

Beginning in August 1995, at Clinton's request Penn conducted numerous polls to understand what the political ramifications would be if the federal government were to shut down over disagreement between the legislative and executive branches over the budget.[13] Penn tested many different scenarios for Clinton, and in each case the research showed that the American public would back the President and blame Republicans if the government shut down. On November 14, 1995, with no budget signed, major portions of the federal government became inoperative. They were restored by the passage of a temporary spending bill a few days later, but on December 16, 1995, the federal government again shut down, this time for a period of 21 days. Ultimately, Newt Gingrich and the Republican-controlled Congress bore much of the political fallout for the shutdown, vindicating Penn's polling.[13]

1996 presidential campaign

During President Clinton's 1996 re-election campaign, Penn used the mall tests he had developed for AT&T to test presidential campaign ads. He also created the "NeuroPersonality Poll", a survey that blended standard political and demographic questions with lifestyle, attitudinal, and psychographic questions, some adapted from Myers-Briggs. Penn's 1996 Neuro Poll helped him identify a new swing voter: the "soccer mom". Previously pollsters had thought that defining voter variables were things such age and income; Penn argued that a key defining variable was also marital status. He found that if voters had children at home, the gap was even wider: parents were 10–15 points more likely to lean Republican. Based on this analysis, Penn urged Clinton to focus on policies that appealed to suburban parents and to speak about these policies in terms of values rather than economics.[22] He subsequently became famous for focusing on the soccer mom, cited as the key swing vote that helped President Bill Clinton get re-elected in 1996.[24]

Second term

After the election, and for most of the second term, Penn and Schoen were hired to conduct 2–4 White House polls per month and met weekly with the President and the White House staff in the residence to review polls and policy ideas. These polls influenced President Clinton's thinking and helped to refine his "new Democrat" language and policies that are one of his distinctive political contributions.[23]


When allegations of President Clinton's extra-marital affair with Monica Lewinsky first surfaced in January 1998, Penn conducted polls to help the administration craft its response.[25] Penn subsequently led the research effort monitoring Clinton's level of public support throughout the impeachment, until Clinton was acquitted on February 13, 1999.

Hillary Clinton

Senatorial campaigns - 2000, 2006

In 2000, then-First Lady Hillary Clinton asked Penn to advise her on her run for the U.S. Senate from New York. During the campaign, tension brewed between Penn, who urged Clinton to focus on the issues, and other advisers, who urged Clinton to focus more on personality.[26] Clinton followed Penn's advice and won the election. Penn served again as Clinton's pollster in her successful 2006 Senate re-election campaign.

Presidential campaign - 2008

In 2008, he served as chief strategist to Hillary Clinton's campaign for president.[27] Again, Penn and his colleagues held differences of opinion over how much to "humanize" Clinton, with Penn arguing that the vast majority of voters cared more about substance than style.[24] According to New York Times columnist Frank Rich, Penn and his wife, Nancy Jacobson "helped brand the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign as a depository for special-interest contributions".[28]

Penn laid out his "strategy for winning" in a March 19, 2007 memo to the campaign. According to the memo, Penn believed Clinton's victory would be built upon a coalition of voters he called "Invisible Americans", a sort of reprise of Bill Clinton's "forgotten middle class", which would be composed of women and lower and middle class voters. Eventually it was this coalition that she ended up winning a year later.[29]

On December 13, 2007, Penn gained attention from media watchdog group Media Matters for America when he used the word "cocaine" on MSNBC's Hardball in response to questions about Barack Obama's admission of drug use. According to Media Matters, MSNBC's David Schuster and Norah O'Donnell falsely asserted that Penn "brought up" the drug use on Hardball, though it had been discussed earlier by Chris Matthews in his segment.[30]

Clinton was the front-runner in the early months of the Democratic primary, but in January 2008 she lost the Iowa caucus to then-Senator Barack Obama.

In February 2008, the Clinton campaign regained momentum, in part due to the "3am ad" conceived by Penn.[31] Airing five days before crucial and very close democratic primaries in Texas and Ohio, the ad amplified doubts voters had about then-Senator Obama's preparedness for the office, and refocused the debate to one on national security. Shortly after, Clinton won both primaries in Ohio and Texas.[32]

On April 6, 2008, Penn agreed to step down as chief strategist when it was disclosed that he met with representatives of Colombia's government to help promote a free trade agreement that Clinton had opposed.[33] He remained doing essentially a similar role until the end of the campaign.[34]

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?"[35] Howard Wolfson, Clinton's communication director, and Penn both denied that the scene had taken place.[36]

Clinton's campaign was hobbled by infighting among the staff including much hostility towards Penn,[37] 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.[29]

Tony Blair campaign for prime minister – 2005

Penn advised British Prime Minister Tony Blair and conducted polling during his successful campaign for an unprecedented third term in 2005. President Bill Clinton had recommended Penn's services to British Prime Minister Tony Blair when they met at Ronald Reagan's funeral in 2004. Penn formulated the concept behind Blair's campaign slogan, "Forward Not Back", and refined it by conducting phone interviews with British swing voters through Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates.[12] Blair's Labour Party bested Michael Howard's Conservative Party by 3% in the general parliamentary elections.


His book, Microtrends, published by Hachette with Kinney Zalesne, examines how small groups of people can trigger big changes. Specifically, Penn shows how a mere one percent of the American public, or 3 million people, can create a "microtrend" capable of launching a major business or even a new cultural movement, changing commercial, political and social landscapes.[38] From December 2008 to December 2009, Penn authored a regular online column for the Wall Street Journal called "Microtrends", focusing on demographic trends in society and business. Microtrends appeared regularly in the Media & Marketing section of the Wall Street Journal.[39]

2010 midterm elections

Following the Democrats' 2010 midterm election losses, Penn, appearing on Hardball with Chris Matthews, said that Obama would need to reconnect with the American people as Bill Clinton did following the 1994 GOP takeover of Congress.[40]

Microsoft Corporation

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 biasing its shopping search results with paid advertisements. “Don’t get Scroogled”, the commercial warned. In August 2013, Penn was named Executive Vice President for Advertising and Strategy. In that role, he pioneered Microsoft's "Honestly" campaign [41] and the award-winning Super Bowl 2014 ad "Empowering Us All".[42] In March 2014, he was named Executive Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer by CEO Satya Nadella.

See also


  1. ^ "Satya Nadella announces changes to senior leadership team". March 3, 2014. Retrieved June 24, 2014. 
  2. ^ Birnbaum, Jeffrey H. (February 20, 2007). "A Few Degrees of Separation From Hillary Clinton's Top Adviser". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 12, 2010. 
  3. ^ a b "Politico: Mark Penn Bio". 
  4. ^ "Penn's Microtrends". August 20, 2007. 
  5. ^ "Mark Penn's Wife Feeding At The Democratic Trough". Huffington Post. July 10, 2008. 
  6. ^ "Visiting Lecturer". Harvard University. 
  7. ^ a b c "Rumpled Mark Penn, Clinton Pollster, Goes Back to Battle". The New York Observer. 
  8. ^ a b c Bennet, James (June 18, 2000). "The Guru of Small Things". The New York Times. Retrieved May 12, 2010. 
  9. ^ "High Cambridge Voter Turnout May Indicate Liberal Victory". The Harvard Crimson. 
  10. ^ "The Admissions Process". The Harvard Crimson. 
  11. ^ "Environmental Study Says JFK Library Will Have Minimal Impact on Square". The Harvard Crimson. 
  12. ^ a b Charter, David (2006-02-25). "'The Most Important Man in Washington (You’ve Never Heard Of)". The Times Magazine (London). 
  13. ^ a b c d e f g Schoen, Doug E (2007). The Power of the Vote. Harper Collins. ISBN 0-06-123188-6. 
  14. ^ Lynn, Frank (August 17, 1985). "Koch Makes Big Push Through Mail". The New York Times. Retrieved May 12, 2010. 
  15. ^ Lynn, Frank (November 6, 1985). "Koch Wins a Third Term, 3 to 1". The New York Times. Retrieved May 12, 2010. 
  16. ^ Tarver, H. Michael; Frederick, Julia C. (2005). The History of Venezuela. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 120. ISBN 0-313-33525-7. 
  17. ^ Hagstrom, Jerry (1989-02-11). "Political Consultants Are Looking South". National Journal. 
  18. ^ Kornblut, Anne E. (April 30, 2007). "Clinton's PowerPointer". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 12, 2010. 
  19. ^ Shipler, David K. (March 8, 1981). "Autonomy Plan For Palestinians Is Fading Away". The New York Times. Retrieved May 12, 2010. 
  20. ^ "Official Israeli Election Tally Gives Victory to Likud Bloc". The New York Times. July 10, 1981. Retrieved May 12, 2010. 
  21. ^ Murray, Alan (2006-03-01). "How Microsoft Rebooted its Reputation". The Wall Street Journal. 
  22. ^ a b "Masters Of The Message". Time. November 18, 1996. Retrieved May 12, 2010. 
  23. ^ a b Harris, John F. (December 31, 2000). "Policy and Politics by the Numbers". Washington Post. 
  24. ^ a b McFadden, Cynthia; Murphy, Eileen (September 5, 2007). "Meet Clinton's 'Numbers Junkie'". ABC News. 
  25. ^ Harris, John F. (1998-01-26). "White House Assessing Damage; Advisers Urge Clinton to Publicly Repeat Denials of Affair". The Washington Post. 
  26. ^ Bennet, James (June 18, 2000). "The Guru of Small Things". The New York Times. Retrieved May 12, 2010. 
  27. ^ Kornblut, Anne E. (April 30, 2007). "Clinton's PowerPointer". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 12, 2010. 
  28. ^ Rich, Frank (2010-12-18) "The Bipartisanship Racket", New York Times
  29. ^ a b Joshua Green (September 2008). "The Front-Runner's Fall". The Atlantic. 
  30. ^ "MSNBC's Shuster falsely suggested Mark Penn first brought up Obama drug use issue on Hardball". Media Matters. February 7, 2008. 
  31. ^ "On That 3:00 A.M. Ad...". The Atlantic. March 5, 2008. 
  32. ^ "Clinton's Blueprint for Victory". Washington Post. March 6, 2008. Retrieved May 12, 2010. 
  33. ^ "Clinton Campaign Strategist Mark Penn Steps Down". National Public Radio. April 6, 2008. 
  34. ^ Defrank, Thomas M.; McAuliff, Michael (April 8, 2008). "Mark Penn still in Clinton loop:source". New York Daily News. 
  35. ^ Tumulty, Karen (May 8, 2008). "Time: The Five Mistakes Clinton Made". TIME. Retrieved 2008-12-26. 
  36. ^ Smith, Ben (May 8, 2008). "Penn denies Time report". Politico. Retrieved 2008-12-26. 
  37. ^ Baker, Peter; Kornblut, Anne E. (March 6, 2008). "Even in Victory, Clinton Team Is Battling Itself". Washington Post. Retrieved May 12, 2010. 
  38. ^ Microtrends. Penguin Press. 
  39. ^ "Mark Penn to Author "Microtrends" Column for" (PDF). Wall Street Journal. December 11, 2008. 
  40. ^ Can Obama draw upon lessons learned by Clinton? Hardball with Chris Matthews
  41. ^ Mark J. Miller (March 4, 2014). "Microsoft's Nadella Gets Down to Business with Marketing Shake-Up". brandchannel. 
  42. ^ Nick Wingfield (March 2, 2014). "Ex-Clinton Aide is Named Microsoft's Chief Strategy Officer". The New York Times. 


External links

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