The McCormick Group’s Ivan Adler discusses the disappearing line between lobbying and public relations in an article by The Hill.
By Megan R. Wilson | February 9, 2016
K Street isn’t just for lobbyists anymore.
Some of Washington’s hottest law and lobby firms are bringing public relations professionals in-house as they seek to influence Capitol Hill and the administration.
Offering PR services, many in the industry say, has become a necessity in an era when controlling the media message is just as important to clients as cultivating relationships.
“This is not your father’s lobbying anymore,” said Ivan Adler, a principal at the McCormick Group. “It’s a whole different ballgame.”
Adler, who works as a K Street headhunter, says he is fielding more calls from law firms, lobbying firms and industry groups that are looking to add public affairs capabilities.
“They’re looking to reach other audiences besides lawmakers, and that’s what public affairs is about,” he said.
The bipartisan firm Monument Policy Group is one of the latest lobby shops to get in on the PR boom.
The firm plans to announce this week that it has hired John Murray, a former House GOP leadership aide who has been working behind the scenes for clients such as the International Franchise Association (IFA) and the investment bank Moelis & Co.
The addition of Murray is part of a growth spurt at Monument Policy Group that includes the addition of former White House counsel Stephanie Martz.
“Clients want and deserve a broader view on how to win,” said Stewart Verdery, the founder of Monument Policy Group, which is not lobbying for the IFA or Moelis. “Obviously lobbying is essential, but it’s not sufficient without shaping the environment to your client’s advantage.”
Murray has also overseen strategy and fundraising for the YG Network and served as the No. 2 aide for former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.). He’s also worked at trade associations and the PR giant Burson-Marsteller.
“He’s got an innate sense of the bigger picture, and that’s what he and Monument are trying to do — trying to expand on what the conventional notion of a lobbying practice with influence on the Hill is,” said Cantor, now a vice chairman and managing director at Moelis & Co.
While some D.C. firms still send clients to preferred vendors for help with public relations and grassroots organizing, the movement toward one-stop shops is accelerating.
One firm making the shift is the all-GOP lobby shop S-3 Group, which is rebranding as S-3 Public Affairs as it merges with Bryant Row.
The move comes with the addition of veteran communications pro Amos Snead and his boutique PR team. Stationed in a row house in Eastern Market, S-3 Public Affairs plans to integrate lobbying services with coalition management, digital advocacy campaigns, crisis communications and brand development.
In a similar move, the Democratic powerhouse lobby firm Elmendorf | Ryan last September merged with the PR firm Home Front Communications to create a 70-person organization named Subject Matter.
Steve Elmendorf, one of the firm’s founders, said that working closely with mass communication experts makes him a better lobbyist.
“Lobbyists are essentially in the communications business. We’re communicating sometimes one-on-one or in a small group,” he said. “The more you know about how a person gets information and makes decisions, the better you’re going to be at doing your job.”
With the explosion of information online, public relations campaigns have become even more important, lobbyists say