Groupon Inc. hired public-relations executive Paul Taaffe to run communications for the daily-deal site, which has had several publicity mishaps in the last year.
Taaffe, 50, was previously chairman and chief executive officer of Hill & Knowlton, a unit of WPP Plc, before he resigned from the post in January 2011.
Groupon has endured marketing gaffes in the last 12 months, from controversial Super Bowl commercials to violations of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s so-called quiet period rules for public offerings. The company, which held an IPO in November, is still learning how to communicate with the public, Taaffe said in a telephone interview today.
“It’s a disruptive company and it’s one of the fastest-growing companies on the planet,” said Taaffe. “I saw the opportunity to help manage that growth and tell Groupon’s story better.”
Taaffe succeeds Brad Williams, the veteran of EBay Inc. and Yahoo Inc. who last year became Groupon’s spokesman and stayed just a few months before leaving.
After 20 years at a public-relations agency, Taaffe has begun working with Andrew Mason, the 31-year-old Groupon chief executive officer and co-founder known for his office pranks and an edgy sense of humor that has become part of the company’s brand.
Groupon was faulted a year ago after airing Super Bowl advertisements that critics said made light of repression in Tibet. Mason later apologized for the ads and had them pulled.
Prior to the company’s public debut, Co-founder and Chairman Eric Lefkofsky told Bloomberg News he expected the company to become “wildly profitable.’’ That caught the attention of the SEC, which limits what companies can say about future prospects to potential investors between the time they file for an IPO and when shares start trading. Groupon later updated its filing to tell investors to disregard the comments.
Taaffe will work with Mason as the young CEO gains experience running a publicly traded company, Taaffe said.
“I think he is incredibly talented and despite his still-young age I think he has matured quickly,” Taaffe said.
Groupon agreed to let Taaffe remain in New York while planning frequent visits to the company’s headquarters in Chicago and technology operations in Palo Alto, California, he said.
Groupon fell 14 percent to $21.17 at the close in New York, after it reported a fourth-quarter loss yesterday, excluding certain costs, of 2 cents a share. Analysts surveyed by Bloomberg had projected profit of 3 cents. The company had priced its shares at $20 apiece in its November IPO.