Ever since I began covering political media for Adweek in the early 1980s, I've been fascinated by the connection between big agencies (and ad industry personalities) and politics. And while some high-profile execs (think Phil Dusenberry's and Hal Riney's work for Ronald Reagan's reelection campaign) have taken center stage in the past, I can't recall the head of an agency holding company mixing it up on the front lines of American politics.
But Stagwell Chairman and CEO Mark Penn is not your average agency holding company chief. He has a long history of political media consulting and polling and doesn't shy away from his own political views.
That said, he has organized Stagwell's diverse political units, including The Harris Poll, left-of-center SKDK, right-of-center Targeted Victory, and apolitical Sloane & Co. into a new, "non-partisan" "Risk and Reputation" unit to help mainstream brands navigate a burgeoning new consumer mindset: "the political brain."
"Every business that wants to avoid becoming the next brand in the crosshairs needs to prevent their consumers from switching on their political brain and thinking they're casting a vote every time they go to the store," Penn explains in a statement unveiling the new practice this week. "Brands can lose big if they don't understand the issues and their stakeholders and stay consistent with their values. Our team goes further than typical crisis response by providing the full picture from bipartisan political insights to financial expertise and unique public opinion data."
As partisan as each of the individual units may -- or may not -- be, the idea behind the new unit is to assemble bipartisan teams among them to help inform marketers and develop strategies and contingency plans for dealing with potentially divisive political news cycles.