Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Mark Penn's 4 Work-Work Balance Lessons

Hillary Clinton's chief strategist Mark Penn pissed off some people -- mostly Clinton and the Columbian government -- when he met with the Columbians as CEO of international PR firm Burson-Marsteller to discuss B-M's work advocating for the U.S.-Columbia Free Trade agreement. Clinton is opposed to the agreement.

When the news broke, we all thought, "Duh!" because, well, duh! It's a clear conflict of interest, one Penn might have avoided if he worked one job instead of two, taking a leave of absence from his B-M leadership position to guide Clinton's campaign. But because he thought he could do both jobs -- and so did his bosses, apparently -- the agency has lost the Columbian government as a client. Like we care, right? Of course not. But there are some universal lessons in Penn's experience:
  1. Open it up. When there are multiple issues, responsibilities, or audiences at stake, don't keep your information in silos, assuming that one employer isn't going to learn about what's in the other employer's silo. There are no secrets, especially in politics.
  2. Acknowledge your inner ego. For some reason, Penn thought he could run one of the world's largest PR firms while serving as Clinton's Bestest Thinker Ever. Oh stop. Even when you have the best management in place supporting you, you just can't do two big jobs well. It's amazing what sleep deprivation does to your judgement.
  3. Establish priorities and stick with them. What were Penn's priorities? What was more important -- his agency's integrity and reputation or helping Clinton become the first female president? I have to admit, they're both pretty heady and I'd find it hard to choose one over the other.
  4. You can't do it all. No, you can't. You can do a few things kind of OK but if you want to do something really well, you can't simply can't take on too many big challenges at once.
Lucky for Penn he still has his day job. Leaders of B-M parent company WPP Group have given him their vote of confidence, as they probably should. Let's just hope that he was able to find other assignments for those staffers working on the Columbian account.

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