Media Moves

WSJ columnist uses writing to drum up business for his PR firm

August 26, 2009

Hamilton Nolan of Gawker reports Wednesday that Wall Street Journal columnist Mark Penn, who writes the paper’s “Microtrend” column and is also the CEO of PR firm Burson-Marsteller, is trying to recruit clients mentioned in the column.

Nolan obtained an internal memo from the PR firm as evidence. He writes, “Here we have a Wall Street Journal columnist whose firm is taking his newspaper columns fresh off the press and running to any company connected to the column’s subject of the week, trying to get them to sign up with said firm — led by the columnist himself! — for PR work. At best, Penn has a conflict of interest here that can only be resolved by resigning one job or the other. The least generous interpretation would be that Burson-Marsteller is purposefully using the editorial space of the Wall Street Journal as a business recruitment tool—fooling one of the nation’s most prestigious papers into giving it ad space it can use to promote its own clients, for free.

“Either way, whatever sort of credibility Penn had as an expert who spots trends based on data rather than on his own firm’s business considerations is clearly shot. WSJ parent company Dow Jones’ own Code of Conduct states that ‘The Company will suffer, for example, if our customers cannot assume’ these principles are followed:

• Our analyses represent our best independent judgments rather than our preferences, or those of our sources, advertisers or information providers;
• Our opinions represent only our own editorial philosophies; or
• There are no hidden agendas in any of our journalistic undertakings.”

Read more here.

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