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Facebook is looking outside the company for a new face of Facebook

The social networking giant is on a hunt all over the globe for a new head of policy and communications.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifying to Congress
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg
Chip Somodevilla / Getty

When Facebook has an important job opening, CEO Mark Zuckerberg usually just looks around the office for a replacement.

When Instagram’s co-founders abruptly left the company late last month, for example, Zuckerberg tapped a long-tenured Facebook executive to take over the app. The same thing happened when WhatsApp’s founders left, when Facebook needed to fill a high-profile head of partnerships role last month and when the company started a new blockchain division.

But that tendency to hire from within is not what’s happening in its search to fill one of its most important open roles: Leading global policy and communications for the social media giant. Elliot Schrage, who’s held that position for the past decade, announced in June that he was stepping down.

Many internally believed Rachel Whetstone, who announced earlier this summer that she was leaving Facebook for Netflix, was a frontrunner for Schrage’s job. But that proved not to be the case after the company said it was looking at external candidates. Whetstone, who had held Google’s top comms and policy job previously, joined Facebook from Uber in mid-2017 to run communications for WhatsApp. She very quickly ascended the ranks and was most recently running all corporate communications at the company.

It’s obviously a critical hire for Facebook, which has been in a series of public relations disasters over the last year. Leadership for this unit is critical right now as it faces a number of ongoing crises.

Those include: Explaining how Facebook is preparing for the 2018 midterm elections and potential election interference; dealing with accusations from politicians like President Donald Trump that its algorithms are suppressing conservative viewpoints; and, perhaps most importantly, answering questions about its mishandling of personal user data and privacy. Last month, hackers took advantage of a Facebook software vulnerability that gave them access to the private profiles of some 50 million users. It could lead to a fine in Europe of more than $1.6 billion, and U.S. politicians are sure to point to that breach as yet another reason Facebook should be regulated.

“I can’t think of another company that’s facing the [challenges] they have, or even anticipated facing those [challenges],” said Brandee Barker, co-founder of The Pramana Collective, a marketing and communication firm. Barker was director of global communications at Facebook from 2006 to 2010, when the biggest issue facing the company was explaining its technology. When Facebook launched News Feed, angry users protested outside the company’s office.

“It’s clear that from when I was there the role has evolved so significantly,” Barker said. Noting that the job has two elements, she thinks it’s predominantly a policy role right now. “They have challenges now at the governmental level internationally, in the U.S., in the EU, and it will only continue to increase.”

Schrage played an important role in how the company has handled and responded to almost all of those critical issues, but with varying degrees of success. When news of Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal broke, most thought Zuckerberg was much too slow to respond. Facebook soon countered with a massive press blitz a week later to show users and the media that its founder was taking the issue seriously, but some blamed Schrage for that delay.

That said, Schrage also pushed internally for Facebook to be more transparent about its election integrity efforts and was part of the team that prepped Zuckerberg for multiple congressional hearings in Washington earlier this year. While Zuckerberg didn’t say much of consequence, he also walked away unscathed from two long days of questioning.

Schrage’s replacement faces ever more challenges as focus on Facebook’s impact becomes more intense, which is why the company is considering a number of big-name candidates, including some with ties to the Republican party as well as candidates from Britain, according to multiple sources.

Either affiliation could be a strategic move. Having someone with conservative ties could help the company establish better relationships with Republican lawmakers, or at the very least alleviate some perception problems for a company that is viewed as predominantly liberal.

Hiring someone from the U.K. makes sense, too, since European regulators have been tougher on tech giants like Facebook than their U.S. counterparts. The looming Brexit transition and the EU’s new data privacy laws, GDPR, have increased the need for Facebook and others in tech to have solid relationships overseas.

So who might take this important — and thankless — Facebook job? Here are some of the names that have been mentioned as potential hires.

  • Jake SiewertSiewert was White House press secretary under President Bill Clinton and currently leads all corporate communications for Goldman Sachs. He also spent a few years advising Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. That means Siewert checks all the boxes: He’s dealt with the media in times of crisis and has high-level experience and connections in Washington. Goldman Sachs also just went through a CEO change, which might make Siewert more open to taking a new job.
  • Josh Bolten — Bolten is the former chief of staff to President George W. Bush and worked in a number of other government agencies, including the State Department. That means Bolten has a lot of ties to Washington, especially among Republicans. Bolten is currently on the board of directors of Bono’s nonprofit, ONE. Also on that board: Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.
  • George Osborne — Osborne is a former British politician who was also chancellor of the exchequer — essentially head of the treasury in the United Kingdom — under British Prime Minister David Cameron. He’s also editor of the London Evening Standard, a British daily newspaper.
  • David MilibandMiliband is another former member of Britain’s Parliament; he served as secretary of state for foreign affairs in the U.K. for four years. Miliband now runs the International Rescue Committee in New York, an organization that helps people around the world who are going through “humanitarian crises.”
  • Denis McDonough — The former chief of staff to President Barack Obama, McDonough also has some serious national security experience. He was deputy national security adviser for more than two years during the Obama administration.
  • Lisa MonacoMonaco also has security experience. She was Obama’s homeland security and counterterrorism adviser later in his presidency and serves as a national security analyst on CNN.
  • Christine LagardeLagarde is managing director of the International Monetary Fund and served as France’s finance minister for four years until 2011. She has the kind of high profile that Facebook might like — Forbes listed Lagarde as the world’s eighth-most powerful woman in 2017, for example — and clearly she has a lot of experience in international diplomacy.

Whoever takes the role will have their hands full. Sources said Facebook is not concerned with filling Schrage’s position before the 2018 midterms, which are in a month. The plan, according to a source, is to find the right candidate and let them dictate their start date.

A Facebook spokesperson declined to comment.

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