NEW YORK—Burson-Marsteller has again turned for leadership to an executive from outside the public relations industry, naming Mark Penn—founding partner and president of the opinion research and communications firm Penn Schoen & Berland—as its worldwide chief executive officer. Penn succeeds Thomas Nides, who joined Morgan Stanley as chief administrative officer in July after a little more than six months in the job.
As a result, PSB will become a stand-alone division of Burson-Marsteller, reporting to Penn, while partner, Mike Berland, takes on greater responsibility as CEO of PSB.
Howard Paster, WPP executive vice president for public relations and a member of the WPP board, and Ann Fudge, chairman and CEO of Y&R Brands, Burson-Marsteller’s parent companies, described Penn’s appointment as “a move that recognizes the close relationship between public relations counseling and the implementation and measurement of public opinion.
“Bringing Mark Penn into the public relations orbit has the promise of new thinking and new ways to serve client needs at the highest levels of management, and accords with Burson-Marsteller’s long-time leading edge role. Coming from a kindred business, he brings a fresh approach that has the potential of taking public relations to a new enhanced value level in the management hierarchy. This comes at a time when result measurement is a prime consideration in undertaking public relations initiatives.”
Founded 30 years ago, Penn’s firm has been one of the most successful in adapting and applying political polling and communications techniques to business issues. Since its acquisition four years ago by WPP, PSB has almost tripled in size. It has worked for such clients as Ford, McDonald’s, BP and Verizon on corporate reputation, corporate governance, corporate and brand positioning and litigation issues. And it has been closely associated with Burson-Marsteller on developing and implementing deregulation informational programs for the electric utilities industry and in the financial services sector.
Penn is also well-known for his role as a strategic advisor to former President Bill Clinton from 1995 until the end of his administration.
“Leading Burson-Marsteller provides an exciting opportunity and expanded platform to work with respected professionals around the world in serving clients’ strategic communication needs,” he says. “The opportunity exists to bring new knowledge-based insights to the public relations/communications function. This comes at a time when businesses, facing the most intense competition ever, are committed to sustainable development, social responsibility and earning public understanding.”
At the same time, Paster has been named named chairman of the Burson-Marsteller executive board, in addition to his existing WPP responsibilities. And Harold Burson will continue in a non-management capacity with the title of founding chairman Burson-Marsteller, a position which has evolved over the past 18 years since he was chief executive officer. They will provide Penn with PR industry expertise and insight as he transitions into his new role.
Paster says Penn’s main challenge will be taking Burson “to the next level” and that his “strong set of CEO relationships” will be a major asset in that task.