Dear AdPulp Readers Who Work In PR,

Just how typical are guys like Mark Penn in your industry?
‘Cause the controversy du jour today is this story in the LA Times about Penn’s role in the Clinton campaign:

As the campaign faces a make-or-break moment, some high-level officials are trying to play down their role in the campaign. Penn said in an e-mail over the weekend that he had “no direct authority in the campaign,” describing himself as merely “an outside message advisor with no campaign staff reporting to me.”
“I have had no say or involvement in four key areas — the financial budget and resource allocation, political or organizational sides. Those were the responsibility of Patti Solis Doyle, Harold Ickes and Mike Henry, and they met separately on all matters relating to those areas.”
Howard Wolfson, the campaign’s communications chief, answered that it was Penn who had top responsibility for both its strategy and message. Another aide said Penn spoke to Clinton routinely about the campaign’s message and ran daily meetings on the topic.

He’s the CEO of Burson-Marsteller, a big-time global PR firm and WPP subsidiary, so I’m sure he’s got some skills, but watching this election season I’ve never seen anyone try so hard to convince the world that up is down, night is day, and 1+1 is 3 — and be so seemingly bad at it.
I mean, PR people are usually incredibly effective at what they do. What am I not getting here? What’s the deal?

About Dan Goldgeier

Blogging on AdPulp since 2005, Dan Goldgeier is a Seattle-based freelance copywriter with experience at advertising agencies across the U.S. He is a graduate of the Creative Circus ad school, and currently teaches at Seattle's School of Visual Concepts. In addition, he is a regular columnist for Dan published the best of his columns in a book entitled View From The Cheap Seats: A Broader Look at Advertising, Marketing, Branding, Global Politics, Office Politics, Sexual Politics, and Getting Drunk During a Job Interview. Look for it on Amazon in paperback and e-book editions.


  1. Here are some random thoughts:
    • The PR world is suffering like the advertising world, with a lot of disorganization and old-school, clueless individuals no longer in touch with contemporary society and communications. I mean, just look at Penn. And his don’t-blame-me emails are so 20th century.
    • Combining politicians with advertising/marketing/PR people is a bad idea. Add insurance agents and used car salesman and you’d have a complete collection of the least admired, least trusted types. It doesn’t help that the Clinton characters appear to be stereotypical within their categories.
    • On the other hand, Barack Obama has used basic advertising/marketing/PR techniques effectively. He created a simple, compelling platform—Change we can believe in—and has driven it home. Hillary hasn’t delivered a single memorable tagline. Not even a decent sound bite.
    • Hillary is like a brand on a downward spiral. There’s just no turning it around—like Miller Lite or Sears. It’s surprising she doesn’t give her campaign to Crispin and pray that they can reenergize it. Seeing all the inner turmoil and chaos only compounds the problems. If she can’t run her own campaign, how can she be expected to run the country?
    • Hillary is probably a micro-managing control freak.

  2. Man, might as well just say “I was involved before I wasn’t involved.”

  3. As someone who works in PR I always thought it was our job to throw ourselves under the bus for our clients and be proud to be involved with them. If you can’t be why take them on in the first place?

  4. It’s actually quite similar for PR. At a PR agency, when your stories get picked up (and are positive), the agency generally takes all the credit for the outcome, but when it doesn’t or it’s negative, you explain to your client that you can’t control the news.
    So in a nutshell, he’s doing the same thing an account coordinator would do when a blogger goes batty on their client.

  5. kristy wrote:
    “As someone who works in PR I always thought it was our job to throw ourselves under the bus for our clients and be proud to be involved with them. If you can’t be why take them on in the first place?”
    um, for the money…?