The digital agency founded by Mike Bloomberg recently shook up its leadership team and laid off some staff as it prepares for the general election, Recode has learned. Bloomberg’s team says this was a long time coming, but the restructuring will nevertheless be closely watched as it comes amid a lobbying effort by Bloomberg to lead the digital operation of the presumptive Democratic nominee, Joe Biden.
Hawkfish, the operation founded last year by the billionaire before his run for president, confirmed to Recode that it had chosen a new CEO, Josh Mendelsohn, as its new head. It also confirmed that the 100-person company last Friday informed more than two dozen employees, primarily on its production and creative team, that their contracts would not be renewed at the end of the month.
“The staff needs of a focused political firm are different from a campaign team,” Hawkfish’s chairman, Gary Briggs, told Recode in a statement. “Hawkfish has revised our organizational structure and reduced a piece of our contingent workforce to get back to our original, specific goal: building great data and ad technology to help Democrats win up and down the ballot.”
The moves will be scrutinized closely, given that Hawkfish is seen as one of the key potential solutions to the Biden campaign’s struggling digital operation, which is ever more important with the shift to remote campaigning in the coronavirus pandemic. The Biden campaign has been debating whether to bring on Hawkfish to help its digital operation, a decision that has been highly controversial in Democratic politics given that it would hand so much control to an outsider and one of the party’s largest donors.
A senior adviser to Hawkfish said the moves were unrelated to a Biden deal but part of a broader shift for a digital operation, which managed everything from Bloomberg’s IT to creative ad production during the campaign. The agency will adopt a narrower focus as an ad technology company.
The changes position Mendelsohn as the new face of the organization as it bids for the Biden contract. The organization’s top leaders in the past, at least externally, were a pair of old Silicon Valley hands: former Foursquare CEO Jeff Glueck and Briggs, formerly Facebook chief marketing officer. Briggs remains Hawkfish chairman and Glueck its digital director.
The recent restructuring at Hawkfish also reflects this refocused operation. None of the layoffs affected full-time employees, a senior adviser said, but only those on month-to-month contracts. Bloomberg himself has been harshly criticized and even sued by some former campaign employees who feel he did not meet their promises in job security and benefits during a pandemic.