SEATTLE Mark Penn made a name for himself in Washington by bulldozing enemies of the Clintons. Now he spends his days trying to do the same to Google, on behalf of archrival Microsoft.
Since Penn was put in charge of strategic and special projects at Microsoft in August, much of his job has involved efforts to trip up Google, which Microsoft has failed to dislodge from its perch atop the lucrative Internet search market.
Drawing on his background in campaigning, Penn created a holiday commercial in which Microsoft criticizes Google for polluting the quality of its shopping search results with advertisements.
Dont get scroogled, it warns.
His other projects include a blind taste test, Coke-versus-Pepsi style, of search results from Google and Microsofts Bing.
The campaigns by Penn, 58, a longtime political operative known for his brusque personality and scorched-earth tactics, are part of a broader effort at Microsoft to give its marketing the nimbleness of a political campaign, where a candidate can turn an opponents gaffe into a damaging commercial within hours. They are also a sign of the companys mounting frustration with Google after losing billions of dollars a year on its search efforts, while losing ground to Google in the browser and smartphone markets and other areas.
Microsoft has long attacked Google from the shadows, whispering to regulators, journalists and anyone else who would listen that Google was a privacy-violating, anti-competitive bully. The fruits of its recent work in this area could come next week, when the Federal Trade Commission is expected to announce the results of its antitrust investigation of Google.
But Microsoft has realized that it cannot rely only on regulators to scrutinize Google which is where Penn comes in. He is increasing the urgency of Microsofts efforts and focusing on their more public side.
In an interview, Penn said companies underestimated the importance of policy issues like privacy to consumers, as opposed to politicians and regulators.
Its not about whether they can get them through Washington, he said. Its whether they can get them through Main Street.
Jill Hazelbaker, a Google spokeswoman, declined to comment on Microsofts actions specifically but said that while Google also employed lobbyists and marketers, our focus is on Google and the positive impact our industry has on society, not the competition.
Penn developed a relationship with the Clintons as a pollster during President Bill Clintons 1996 re-election campaign, when he helped identify the value of soccer moms and other niche voter groups.
As chief strategist for Hillary Clintons unsuccessful 2008 campaign for president, he conceived the 3 a.m. commercial that raised doubts about whether Barack Obama, then a senator, was ready for the Oval Office.
But his approach has ended up souring many of his professional relationships. He left Clintons campaign after an uproar about his consulting work for the government of Colombia, which was seeking the passage of a U.S. trade treaty that Clinton, then a senator, opposed.
Google should be prepared for everything but the kitchen sink thrown at them, said a former colleague who worked closely with Penn in politics and spoke on condition of anonymity. Actually, they should be prepared for the kitchen sink to be thrown at them, too.
Hiring Penn demonstrates how seriously Microsoft is taking this fight, said Michael A. Cusumano, a business professor at MIT who cowrote a book about Microsofts browser war.