It’s a very short step from Elliot Spitzer to Mark Penn, the Burson-Marsteller honcho who was playing both sides of the Columbian trade deal street.
Penn represents the worst of our business. “We can do ya,” my mentor Dennis McGrath used to call this mindless, moral-less, yes-sir kind of PR. Anything the client asks. Say trade with Columbia is good? Full speed ahead. Oh, now another client says trade with Columbia is bad? Funny, that’s what we think now, and let’s trash that trade. Bark bark, wag wag, we can do ya.
Not a surprise it was Penn who crafted Hillary Clinton’s campaign approach by reading polls. Not a surprise he got in yelling matches with staffers who said Hillary should put her own credentials forward when Penn wanted Clinton to trash Obama. This is the manipulative side of PR — manipulate, create an impression based not on what’s real but on whatever will work. It’s mendacious bullshit.
Howard Burson, founder of BM, said about preparing Q&As for interviews with reporters, “There are no Qs, only As,” a former Burson staffer told me recently. Don’t answer the question — Whatever the reporter asks, answer with what you want to say. I hear that way too much in our business. It’s the manipulative side of PR — and I don’t think it works in the long run. I say answer the question, then connect to the point you want to make. Or else people will think you’re a Spitzer. Or a Penn.
I hope it’s not a coincidence that the Penn strategy has, in the long run, brought Clinton only to second place. Manipulation only works so long, I’d like to think. PR bullshit, rather than clear and honest communication, gets you some short-term success, but the reputation of a snake. Spitzer, Penn? Arrogant, the rules don’t apply to me kinda guys. The worst of politics, the worst of PR. Whoring either way.
— Bruce Benidt