Mr. Penn fills the void left by Thomas Nides, who resigned the role in July to become chief administrative officer at Morgan Stanley. Mr. Penn’s opinion research agency, WPP’s Penn Schoen & Berland, will become a part of Burson and will report into Mr. Penn.
Remaining politically active
Mr. Penn -- once dubbed by Time magazine as a “master of the message” -- said in an interview that taking the reigns of a multinational PR agency won’t cut into his political work for Ms. Clinton, now rumored as a leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008. Another high-profile client is British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
“It would be a shame to lose me in administrative tasks, so my goals are to focus on innovation and growth, to focus on clients, and continue to work with key [Penn Schoen & Berland] clients such as Microsoft [Corp.], Ford [Motor co.] and Sen. Clinton,” he said. “That will not change.”
Asked what he would do if Ms. Clinton threw her hat into the ring in 2008, Mr. Penn replied: “It’s a long way off to answer a question like that. In the past, I’ve managed a large number of things at once.” He added, “Right now, she’s focused on running for the Senate and I’m focused on running for the Senate with her.”
Growing role of advocacy in PR
The move comes as Washington advocacy plays a growing role in PR companies. As once-separate lobbying, PR and imagery disciplines continue to merge together, ad agencies, PR agencies and political strategists are increasingly vying for the same business.
“Most of my work in the past years had been applying what happens in public affairs to the corporate environment, whether it was working on issues or crises or on the marketing of products,” Mr. Penn said. “We’ve been applying the best of the political to the corporate and the best of the corporate to the political.”
Mr. Penn worked for President Bill Clinton from 1995 until the end of his administration. He also worked on Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman’s bid for the Democratic nomination in 2004 and also a number of corporate efforts including Microsoft’s.
WPP bought Penn Schoen & Berland in 2001 and this year rival Omnicom Group bought a major share of Republican Frank Luntz’s polling firm, Luntz Research Cos. Both holding companies now have a number of other Washington-area operations.
Penn Schoen & Berland will be run by a management team that includes Mike Berland as CEO.
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Ira Teinowitz contributed to this report.