Obama’s ‘Hey’ a Model for Microsoft’s (Clinton’s) Mark Penn

Photograph by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Mark Penn at Saint Anselm College in this Jan. 5, 2008 file photo in Manchester, New Hampshire.

“Hey,” read the subject line on the e-mails from Team Obama.

Casual lingo for a fundraising appeal?

No, test-crafted research for communications guaranteed to engage a follower.  “Most of the $690 million Obama raised online (for his 2012 re-election campaign) “came from fundraising e-mail, as Bloomberg Businessweek’s Josh Green has reported. “It quickly became clear that a casual tone was usually most effective. ”

“The subject lines that worked best were things you might see in your in-box from other people,” Toby Fallsgraff, the campaign’s e-email director, explained. “`Hey’ was probably the best one we had over the duration.”

Mark Penn, the seasoned political operative turned chief strategy officer for Microsoft Corp., knows something about market-testing. Ask Hillary Clinton.  The last debts that the erstwhile candidate for the Democratic Party’s 2012 presidential nomination paid off went to Penn, her former chief strategist whom she had owed as much as $5.4 million at the end.

Sure, they lost that nomination to Barack Obama. Yet they drew some blood in the battle — Penn was the genius behind the “3 a.m.” TV ad that questioned whom Americans wanted woken up at the White House in the middle of the night in the midst of an international crisis. Then again, Clinton went on to serve Obama as secretary of state during his first term, so that 3 a.m. shift was covered on a couple of fronts.

At Microsoft, as director of advertising, Penn developed the “Don’t Get Scroogled” ad campaign, a classic political attack targeting Google Inc.’s dominance in the search-engine market.  The former CEO of Burson-Marsteller also has developed softer fare, such as Microsoft’s first national Super Bowl ad this year.

“His focus on using data to quickly evaluate and evolve our campaigns has driven new insights and understanding,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in a memo this week announcing Penn’s promotion from chief of marketing to chief strategy officer, as Bloomberg’s Dina Bass and others report today.

This is a pollster, and author of “Microtrends,” who lays claiming to discovering “soccer moms.”

Penn, who started at Microsoft in 2012 as a senior adviser to former CEO Steve Ballmer, had some advice for people at a wildly successful company attempting to maintain its footing in a fiercely competitive field: “Don’t trust your gut.” — as the New York Times’ Nick Wingfield reports.

In a speech to senior leaders of the company last year at a resort east of Seattle, Wingfield reports, Penn illustrated his lesson about the importance of data in decision-making with a nod toward those e-mails from the Obama re-election campaign that opened with “Hey.”

So the guy whose most famous personal political client lost to the president of the United States is taking charge of strategy at the perhaps most famous software maker in America started by a man who is now the richest person in the world, Bill Gates — personally worth $77.8 billion, by the count of the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

The relationship among Gates, Ballmer and Penn goes back to Harvard in the mid-1970s, the Times notes, though one wonders if Gates and company consulted with Clinton about any of this. Penn’s time with Clinton was turbulent, Green reminds us.

It’s a good bet that Penn will end up with more than $5.3 million from his newest client.

Hey, the new guy appears to know what he’s doing.


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