TikTok has hired three U.S. advisors—hailing from the Walt Disney Company and the campaign team for former President Barack Obama—as the app faces increased scrutiny from U.S. legislators, the Wall Street Journal reported. The consultants include Zenia Mucha, David Plouffe and Jim Messina, who have all worked at the intersection of business and politics.
The advisors reportedly helped prepare TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew before he testified in front of Congress earlier this month, at which time legislators did not appear convinced of the company’s plan to address data security.
It isn’t unusual for companies to hire external advisors or consulting firms, but the move does suggest TikTok isn’t going down without a fight. While various pieces of legislation regulating overseas tech companies are moving through Congress, the Biden administration has threatened a national TikTok ban if ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, doesn’t sell its stakes in the app. However, that wouldn’t solve the broader problem of data access and transfer, a TikTok spokesperson formerly said. China responded that it “firmly opposes” any forced sale of the app.
This isn’t the first time TikTok has hired consultants to help mitigate the challenges it faces in the U.S. In 2021, it enlisted a team from Booz Allen Hamilton, a Virginia-based management consulting firm, according to BuzzFeed News. The team reportedly helped TikTok build Project Texas, a billion-dollar plan to store U.S. user data with an American company to appease legislators. Up until January, TikTok was also in the process of hiring consultants to help the company reach a security deal with the U.S., Reuters reported.
Other social media companies have leaned on consultants in recent years. Meta hired Targeted Victory, a Republican Party agency, to help convince Americans that TikTok is dangerous for children, according to the Washington Post. Twitter hired two Boston-based firms, Analysis Group and Charles River Associates, to consult in its case against Elon Musk last year.
Who are TikTok’s U.S. advisors?
One of TikTok’s advisors, Zenia Mucha, serves as president of ZM Strategies, where she provides consulting services in crisis communications. She worked at Disney for 21 years, the majority of which she spent as chief communications officer. Prior to that, she worked on the campaigns for Republican leaders Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and New York Senator Al D’Amato.
David Plouffe and Jim Messina both ran campaigns for Obama. Plouffe headed the former president’s 2008 general election campaign after working for Democratic leaders since 1990. Plouffe was “the unsung hero of this campaign, who built the best political campaign, I think, in the history of the United States of America,” Obama said in his presidential acceptance speech.
Plouffe worked for two years as a senior advisor to Obama in the White House. He then joined Uber as senior vice president of policy and strategy, where he, alongside Messina, promoted the company in difficult markets. A Chicago ethics board fined Plouffe $90,000 in 2017 for illegally lobbying the mayor on Uber’s behalf. Mark Zuckerberg, Meta’s chief executive, later hired him to his family foundation, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, where Plouffe worked for three years.
Messina ran Obama’s 2016 re-election campaign and helped the former president pick his cabinet. He then founded his own consulting firm, the Messina Group, where he still works as CEO. He has also advised various European and U.K. prime ministers.