Nobody works alone in Washington. Issues gain the momentum
necessary to nudge their way into the legislative consciousness only
after the concerted efforts of a number of factions - donors, interest
groups, constituents and assorted gurus.
Before Watergate, when interest groups were fewer and less powerful, and
before the days when media-outlets-per-square-inch outnumbered members
of Congress, lobbyists were the exception to this rule. They worked in
back offices and smoke-filled rooms in unmonitored delight, compiling
support for the issues they were paid to push. Talking about it now,
some lobbyists sound almost wistful.
But that's all changed. And lobbyists have been forced, perhaps not
always willingly, to accept the support of a sizeable army of public
affairs practitioners - people skilled in media relations, grassroots
As BSMG partner Lance Morgan puts it, 'The days when a lobbyist for the
American Widget Society could walk into a Senator's office and, based on
a 20-year friendship, get him to vote one way or the other, are
These days, few legislative campaigns are without both PR and lobbying
elements. An issue or a piece of legislation is sold like a
The 'campaign style' approach, as it's commonly called, is the
prevailing way of Washington.
But while most profess amiable relationships among the troops,
presenting a unified front to the opposition - and the client - is not
'We're talking about moving public opinions; they're talking about
influencing Senator X,' says Neal Fleiger, general manager of Edelman
'Public affairs and public relations are about broadcasting information
to broad audiences. Lobbyists are in the business of disseminating
information to a narrow audience. We're coming at the same thing, but
from two different sides of the process prism.'
Most modern lobbyists appreciate the need for a larger messaging
campaign, but Reginald Gilliam, senior managing director and lobbyist at
Hill & Knowlton, admits that for some, working with public affairs
practitioners takes a little getting used to. 'I run into a lot of
lobbyists who spend their entire career getting a sentence or two
changed in a bill,' he says.
'Not that I don't appreciate that sentence or two, but you have to focus
on the larger message.'
The whisperer vs. the big mouth
Lobbyists who can't see the larger message, says Bill Murray, partner at
MWW, are the ones most likely to feel that PR practitioners go
'I think lobbyists sometimes feel like there is just one point they want
to get across to one specific person, and we seem to want to communicate
it to the world.'
'Traditionally, lobbyists like to do things quietly,' adds Ketchum
partner Mark Schannon. 'They don't always see the value of PR. To them,
it can be a distraction.'
Besides the immediate issues lobbyists may have with PR practices, many
have an innate discomfort with publicity in general. 'In many cases, the
government relations guys are still a little uneasy about dealing in a
more public environment,' says Jody Powell, chairman and CEO of Powell
Tate, a PA firm started by the leading lobbying shop Cassidy Associates
in the early 1990s. 'Even now most government relations work is still
done in the cloak room. Those matters don't involve public debate. Even
the trade pubs don't pick it up.'
Lobbyists get bought
Adding to the friction is the fact that while lobbying firms are
traditionally the political powerhouses, they are no longer always
masters of their own destiny. In increasing numbers, lobbying firms are
being brought into the public relations mix through acquisition. The
most notable example of this was last year's acquisition of the Cassidy
Companies, the No.
1 lobbying powerhouse in DC, by Shandwick. But this merely continues a
trend that has been accelerating for years.
For example, in 1998 Fleishman-Hillard bought lobbying firm R. Duffy
Wall and Associates, building on a longtime friendship between F-H
regional president Paul Johnson and Duffy Wall chairman Bill Brewster
In December 1999, former Republican National Committee Chairman Haley
Barbour's lobbying shop, Barbour, Griffith and Rogers, was purchased by
what was then Weber-McGinn. But once Weber merged with Shandwick, two
lobbying shops - the Cassidy Companies and Barbour's firm - were one too
many for Weber-Shandwick to hold on to. So earlier this year, Barbour,
Griffith and Rogers was realigned under Golin/Harris, another
There have been some rumblings of discontent at the Cassidy Companies
following last year's acquisition. However, a top source insists that
the tension is not caused by friction between lobbyists and public
affairs counselors. 'The problem is that Gerry Cassidy ran the show for
20-something years, and now every time he wants to give somebody a
dollars 25 raise he has to fill out a hundred forms and submit them to
his superiors - and sometimes they say no. That can drive a guy like him
Earlier this year, Ketchum purchased lobbying firm The Washington Group,
reportedly for dollars 15 million. Unable to bring 14 new employees into
Ketchum's current office space, Schannon says he is going to 'work a
little harder at integration, at feeling like one company.' He explains
that, even when working in the same agency, lobbyists and public affairs
people are often separated by hierarchy, which allows two different
cultures to develop independent of one another - a circumstance he is
determined to avoid at Ketchum.
'In the past there has been this vast gap between lobbying and PR,'
Schannon says. 'Corporate lobbyists often report to corporate counsel,
and the PR people to ad people or the CEO. Not working in the same group
creates a distance.'
While ideological tension may be overcome in favor of developing
mutually beneficial relationships, day-to-day working arrangements
clearly can still be problematic for many PR firms and lobbyist shops.
Precisely who to partner with and how to go about it generates little
There are primarily three different PA/lobbyist relationships. The first
is a fully integrated public affairs/government-relations shop, where
both parties work together under the same roof (e.g., Hill & Knowlton,
MWW and APCO). There are also public affairs shops with 'sister'
lobbying groups, which are generally housed elsewhere (e.g.,
Fleishman-Hillard and Ketchum). And then there are public affairs firms
that work with lobbyists on a project basis, without employing internal
lobbyists or having formal ties to specific lobbying firms (e.g.,
Edelman, BSMG and Ogilvy).
Those who integrate both practices under the same roof believe that only
a close-knit team working together can construct a consistent,
coordinated message. Powell swears by close proximity. 'You need to be
in the same building. You've got to be able to walk down the hall or to
the next floor and look each other in the eye.'
But F-H's Johnson sees a downside to everyone being in the same
'From a conflict standpoint, it's a good thing to be separated,' he
Although F-H bought lobbying shop R. Duffy Wall & Associates, it doesn't
share office space with it. 'There might be times when we have a big
client, and it might be more complicated if (R. Duffy Wall) was working
a government relations issue for a competitor and we were in the same
building,' he says. 'We can say we're separate. That's difficult to say
if we're under the same ceiling.'
At BSMG, where there are no formal ties to any one lobbying shop, Morgan
says firms that associate with various outside lobbyists are better
'The advantage is you're not tied down in the community to any one
particular lobbying operation or political affiliation.' Therefore, he
says, depending on the issue at hand, his firm can team up with the most
appropriate lobbying arm. This flexibility outweighs any benefits of a
committed working relationship.
Lobbying firms also share a fear of overlap, because many of them have
also expanded into the media relations field. A partner at a mid-size
Washington lobbying agency says: 'Hill & Knowlton's DC office does a lot
of what we do, so it's often hard to distinguish who is doing what, and
it might be more difficult than the headaches are worth. WPP-owned PR
firms are, generally speaking, big entities, and it's often hard in
terms of partnering. Sometimes it's more productive to partner with a
similarly small PR agency.'
The good news is that the number of amiable, productive lobbyist/PA
relationships in Washington exceeds the difficult ones. So formal
working arrangements aside, what are the keys to making it work?
Surprisingly, many public affairs executives say it's knowing whose job
takes precedence - and it's not theirs.
'If a public affairs campaign isn't supporting a government relations
campaign, why are you doing it?' asks MWW's Murray.
Powell concurs: 'If you've got a joint project, the role of the PR
campaign is to support the government relations initiative. If it's a
legislative matter, that is your primary objective.'
Murray, whose firm houses lobbyists under its roof, says of his
successful relationship with Jonathan Slade, SVP and lobbyist, 'Jonathan
knows I understand that the public affairs goal is to help the
government affairs professionals win. Public affairs is there to support
the lobbying initiative.'
Conversely, it is important that lobbyists understand the need for PA
professionals. It is the job of the public affairs shop to provide 'air
cover' for the lobbyist and the politician. There are two explanations
as to how this works, one cynical, one idealistic.
The cynical explanation maintains that public affairs practitioners
encourage the public to voice support for issues so that members of
Congress have a publishable reason to vote one way or the other. 'My
friend the lobbyist asked me to vote for it' doesn't play well above the
fold. 'My constituents clearly wanted me to support this bill' sounds a
The more idealistic explanation is that PA people simply move the
megaphone to the voters so that politicians can vote according to public
If constituents don't make their voices heard, Washington
representatives can't know what they want. Either way, for PA
practitioners to perform effectively, lobbyists need to understand the
need for the kind of 'protection' only they can provide.
'People in public life need cover,' says Mike Collins, EVP of Powell
Tate. 'When they face the voters, they need to have an explanation for
every single vote they make. They need to be able to explain what they
do in a sentence or less. I think lobbyists, as a group, don't always
have an appreciation for the need to have that.'
One longtime Washington PA executive puts it this way: 'In the 21st
century, any lobbyist who can't see the value of PR is too stupid to
earn a living.
Any lobbyist worth his salt in this town understands that he can't make
a living trying to get a congressman to work against the public
Luckily, few such lobbyists remain in Washington these days. Most have
embraced media relations and the practitioners who have mastered it - a
fact that bodes well not just for PR, but also, ironically, for the
HOW THEY DO IT
Policy Impact is a public affairs agency spawned by lobbying shop
Barbour, Griffith & Rogers. According to agency president Jim Lake,
Policy Impact was created when BG&R founder Haley Barbour, ex-chairman
of the Republican National Committee, 'realized his clients could use a
communications capability and didn't want to go to big firms like
Edelman or Burson.'
'It's a way to handle conflicts,' says Lake. 'If something comes along
that BG&R can't take, they can come to us.'
Policy Impact does not share offices with BG&R. It couples with other
lobbying shops, and also does some lobbying of its own.
MWW opened its Washington office 10 years ago - primarily as a lobbyist
shop. 'Back then, public affairs wasn't nearly the practice it is
today,' says SVP Jonathan Slade. 'Now, I'd say we're two-thirds
lobbyists and one-third public affairs staff.'
All 15 staff members - lobbyists and public affairs practitioners
included - work under the same roof at MWW's Pennsylvania Avenue offices
overlooking the White House.
The lines of division aren't so simple. 'All of our lobbyists do a
certain amount of coalition building,' Slade says. 'You're not a good
lobbyist if you don't do a fair amount of public affairs work.'
The division between lobbying and PR practices is hazy at APCO. 'The
theory here is 'No walls,'' says director of Public Affairs Robert
'We have people who only do lobbying and people who only do public
affairs, but there are many more who do both.'
This 17-year-old firm was started as a one-woman shop by Marjorie Kraus
and now boasts 400-plus employees. Schooling views 'integration' as the
'Marjorie has always had the idea of a one-stop shop,' he says.
'I think public policy has developed to the point where that's the best
APCO will bring in outside lobbying help on certain issues, though the
goal is to make such moves unnecessary.
Fleishman-Hillard purchased lobbying firm R. Duffy Wall and Associates
in 1998. The relationship has roots on Capitol Hill. 'I knew Bill
(Brewster, chairman of R.Duffy Wall) from our days on the Hill,' says
Paul Johnson, F-H president. 'Everything's a relationship first,'
The two entities maintain separate residences but work together
'We understand the importance of speaking the same language,' says
This doesn't mean, however, that they speak only to one another. While
the two firms do joint work and even pitch together occasionally, F-H
works with other lobbying shops when appropriate, and a recent tie-up
with fellow Omnicom public affairs agency GPC further extends the
network of potential relationships.