Life after Scroogled: what's next for Mark Penn, and for Microsoft

Kip Kniskern

Life after Scroogled: what's next for Mark Penn, and for Microsoft

Earlier today Microsoft announced changes to its structure and senior leadership team, combining Devices into Windows, and Dynamics into Cloud, and ushering the departures of Stephen Elop, Kirill Tatarinov, and Eric Rudder.  Microsoft also announced today, saying that it was unrelated to the re-org, the departure of Mark Penn, the controversial father of “Scroogled”, who came to the company under former CEO Steve Ballmer as a strategist, whose strategy of negative campaigning just didn’t fit into the new and more inclusive world envisioned by Satya Nadella.

Mark Penn

Penn is landing on his feet for sure, and is founding a new investment company focused on digital marketing services, the Stagwell Group.  According to the Wall Street Journal, the company has already raised $250 million in funding, including from “core investor” Steve Ballmer.  The Stagwell Group is poised to use its leverage to make up to $750 million in acquisitions, and plans to bring better data analytics to the marketing and advertising industries, something Penn was keen on during his time at Microsoft.  Penn told the Wall St. Journal:

“There’s a lot of room for new blood in the advertising and marketing industry,” said Mr. Penn, who will leave his current role as executive vice president at Microsoft by September. “Every client is looking for how to combine good advertising creative with good data analytics. I don’t think they’re getting those answers from the companies they’ve got, even if they’ve got some of the biggest companies in the world.”

At Microsoft, Penn was probably most famous for the “Scroogled” campaign, which took aim at Google for the way it deals with consumer privacy issues, and felt more like a mudslinging political campaign than something coming out of the tech industry.  While the campaign certainly generated lots of buzz, it became an embarrassment to the company, and the campaign was dropped and Mark Penn was shifted into a new role. To his credit, Penn was also instrumental in the much more positive Super Bowl ad, something Nadella thought to mention in his email to the troops on the leadership changes, and Nadella’s world view does seem to be a lot less antagonistic than Ballmer’s, which is beginning to permeate throughout the company.

Penn was also a big proponent of data analysis, and his new company’s focus attests to that. As to whether he was pushed out or left willingly, there’s no doubt that Penn was more of a Ballmer guy than a Nadella guy, but it’s probably surprising that the political analyst lasted as long as he did working in the strange environs of tech.  There’s speculation leaving Microsoft may be timed just right for a move back into politics, but that remains to be seen.

In any event, Mark Penn’s presence was felt at Microsoft, and it will be interesting to see what he accomplishes next.