Internal Memo: MDC Partners CEO Mark Penn ‘Outraged’ by Violence Against Black People

By Minda Smiley 

On Monday, chairman and CEO of MDC Partners Mark Penn sent a memo to the network in which he addressed the May 25 murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

In the memo, he wrote that he’s “outraged by the continued killings and violence against Black people in America,” and encouraged employees to have uncomfortable conversations, give Black colleagues support and empathy, and learn from voices and leaders who have different perspectives and experiences.

Penn’s email to staffers can be read in full at the bottom of this article. Other holding company CEOs, including IPG’s Michael Roth, WPP’s Mark Read, Publicis’s Arthur Sadoun and Omnicom’s John Wren, have also written memos to staff over the past week.


Last year, Penn, a former strategist for Bill and Hillary Clinton, reportedly advised President Donald Trump on impeachment matters. Penn denied the claims to Adweek, stating: “I’m not advising President Trump.”

In May, Penn appeared on Fox Business. There, he weighed in on former President Barack Obama’s recent criticism of the Trump administration’s response to coronavirus. Trump responded by calling the former president “grossly incompetent.”

During the Fox Business segment, Penn said Obama violated the “code of ex-presidents” with his critiques.

“It’s very bad for an ex-president in a crisis to criticize a sitting president or administration, because the whole idea is that ex-presidents help promote national unity as they would have liked during their own presidency,” he said. “Of course, President Trump, who I think is rightly upset about the story unfolding about the unmasking, hit back with a double-barreled verbal shotgun, which is quite typical.”

Penn also recently wrote an op-ed for Fox Business in which he described why marketing will play a “critical role” in recovering the economy.

Here’s the memo sent to MDC Partners staffers.

(Editor’s note: Some information was redacted, including the email address of the person MDC Partners has allocated to collect resources that employees are finding “useful in furthering conversations or understanding around race,” as well as the end of the memo, which the source who sent the memo to AgencySpy said contains internal network news.)

Subject: On the pain of the last week

Dear colleagues,

The last couple of weeks have brought additional pain and turmoil to our communities already reeling from the throes of a pandemic.

I am outraged by the continued killings and violence against Black people in America. The recent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Sean Reed, Tony McDade, and countless others are unspeakable tragedies that further highlight the open wound of racism in the United States—a wound we must all work to address.

We stand together with our Black colleagues feeling and fighting against injustice, today and always. As individuals, we cannot all share the same experiences, but we ALL have a job to do to address the injustice and the pain our communities are feeling across America. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “darkness cannot drive out darkness” and so it is incumbent upon us all to be a part of the light that brings more light.

To that end, this week, I urge you to at a minimum:

  • Have uncomfortable conversations – We will not be perfect as we work toward getting better.
  • Give your Black colleagues your support and your empathy, and show up for them, every day – Listen, knowing that it is not their job to fix the state of race in America right now. It is all of ours.
  • Seek out and learn from leaders and voices that don’t share your experience or your perspective – Those that don’t naturally show up in your feed.
  • Educate yourselves – We’ve started our own list of resources here, in what will be an evolving post, and invite you to contribute literature that you have found useful in furthering conversations or understanding around race.

Like many of you, individually and as agencies, we are finding concrete ways to help in the coming days, and our agencies have already made contributions to stand against police brutality and to help rebuild affected neighborhoods. We recognize that the work we must do is deep and enduring, and will require real, sometimes uncomfortable, change.