Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Exclusive: Brandee "No Comment" Barker Finally Comments–Longtime PR Honcho Is Leaving Facebook

BoomTown usually does not get all weepy over the departure of public relations folks at Internet companies, in that cynical I’ve-seen-’em-come-and-I’ve-seen-’em-go kind of way.

But the leaving of Brandee Barker (pictured here) from Facebook most certainly elicited a small single tear of sadness this morning, when she called into All Things Digital Global HQ to say she would no longer be tossing me her patented–and very endearing–hand-in-the-face “no comment” for the powerful social networking site.

After four long and tumultuous years, she leaves the company on Dec. 10.

(In a changing-of-the-guard theme, Barker follows longtime advertising sales exec Mike Murphy, who also recently resigned, out the door.)

In a statement, Facebook said:

“We can confirm Brandee is leaving Facebook to start a communications consulting business focused on early stage tech companies. We are grateful for her dedication and the company has benefited greatly from her contributions. We suspect Brandee’s future clients will also value her talents and experience and we wish her much success with her new venture.”

Indeed, although the geeks always get the credit, Facebook owes an awful lot to Barker, for helping its products and services stand out in a sea of competitors.

For certain, it was not as influential as it is today when Barker got there as its head of PR, just as the start-up was beginning to make itself known.

There were only seven million Facebook members when Barker joined, compared to 500 million today.

Still, the veteran communications exec was quickly aware of its power when 750,000 of those members protested against Facebook’s introduction of the initially controversial news feed.

“I had no idea when I took the job that it would be like that,” said Barker, who was employee No. 120 at Facebook, in an Interview with me this morning.

In fact, it has been like that ever since then, as she has navigated a series of triumphs and just as many mishaps for the company as it grew and grew.

One of her favorite moments, she told me, was the introduction of the Facebook platform at its inaugural F8 developers event several years ago.

“Mark [Zuckerberg] had a real vision and the craziness that followed it was an incredible experience,” said Barker, who was the one largely responsible for introducing the decidedly quirky co-founder and CEO of Facebook to the world.

For the most part, Barker shepherded him well, even as the fire hose of attention increased in media, consumer and regulatory pressure over issues ranging from the controversial founding of Facebook–Barker has a masters from Harvard University in Winklevii crisis management–to privacy snafus and more.

A lot of her ministrations were funny, though, as she remembered: “Another great moment was when I insisted Mark take a suitcase instead of a backpack to his first Davos in 2007, so I went out and bought him one.”

And let us not even get into the flip-flop controversies or when I snarkily called Zuckerberg “toddler CEO” to Lesley Stahl on “60 Minutes.”

Barker handled it all with grace and humor.

But as Facebook has grown to more than 1,500 employees and its business has boomed, Barker–who recently returned to the company after having a baby–decided that bigger was not better, at least for her.

“I had a pretty deep evaluation when I was away from the company that what I am good at and what I like is working with early-stage companies and their teams,” said Barker, who will start a communications consultancy. “At this point in my career, that’s what I want to do.”

Barker noted, in fact, that there were a lot of companies started by former early Facebook employees like her that might become clients, although she declined to be more specific.

In the end, another “no comment” for me from Barker!

I don’t mind, because here is my comment, on the record and for attribution: It’s a sad day for Facebook, and I’ll miss Brandee Barker very much.

Speaking of no comment, here is Barker in one of my favorite no comments, from behind a plant at a 2008 Silicon Valley luncheon for the German DLD conference:

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There’s a lot of attention and PR around Marissa, but their product lineup just kind of blows.

— Om Malik on Bloomberg TV, talking about Yahoo, the September issue of Vogue Magazine, and our overdependence on Google