What's in a name? A lot of business, lobbyists say

A rose by any other name may smell as sweet. But would a Livingston Group called something else make as much money? If you’re the former chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, a better question is, why be creative? Your name, even if you left the Hill under less than ideal circumstances, is good as gold on K Street. Bob Livingston’s (R-La.) firm generated more than $9 million in revenue during 2004.

A rose by any other name may smell as sweet. But would a Livingston Group called something else make as much money?

If you’re the former chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, a better question is, why be creative? Your name, even if you left the Hill under less than ideal circumstances, is good as gold on K Street. Bob Livingston’s (R-La.) firm generated more than $9 million in revenue during 2004.

For lobbyists less well known, however, surnames stenciled on office doors don’t always leave a lasting impression.

More imaginative monikers are popping up in registrations as the business booms and lobbyists seek ways to distinguish themselves from their 20,000 or so potential competitors.

Marketing concepts such as branding might be less important to a lobbying firm that relies on relationships established by years on Capitol Hill, than, say, it is to a coffee company. But lobbyists say their firm names still mean something.

When Thomas Crawford and John Cline created a new firm, Crawford said, the two wanted a name that would suggest the type of “next generation” firm they wanted to become.

“We thought that names on the door connoted an old way of doing it,” said Crawford, whose clients include Pepsico, Fannie Mae and Yum Brands.

So the firm they founded in 2001 wasn’t Crawford and Cline or Cline and Crawford but the C2 Group.

“It was going to be C squared, but the IRS doesn’t allow that symbol,” he said.

Just as well. “The name kind of resonates and sticks with people,” he said. Another benefit is that it avoids potential complications over whether other names should be added to the door, Crawford said.

Perhaps owing to its inclusiveness, the word “group” appears in firm names all over town. There is a Glover Park Group, a Jefferson Group, a Madison Group, a Harbour Group, a Federalist Group and an Alpine Group, to name only a few.

Some references are obvious, others less so.

The word “alpine” may conjure intrepid climbers scaling seemingly unreachable peaks, a good image for a lobbyist negotiating the treacherous terrain of Capitol Hill. But the name refers to a calmer setting: an Italian restaurant on Columbia Pike.

“People ask, ‘Did you grow up in Colorado?’ No, think Alpine Restaurant. That’s as far west as we go,” said Rhod Shaw, a former chief of staff to Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and former Rep. James Hayes (D-La., R-La.), who joined the firm a year after its founding.

The firm’s framers met at the restaurant to discuss their plans for a new firm.

“You can’t go to Capital Grille because people will start to say, ‘Why are those four people sitting together?’ You need a place a little out of the way,” Shaw said.

The name also “somewhat stands out,” he added.

Being distinctive is the most critical consideration when choosing a name, according to David Burd of the Naming Co., a East Stroudsburg, Pa., company that advises businesses on company and product names, although it has had no lobbying firms as clients.

“Even if it’s a lobbying shop and not a corporation, you are still building a brand and you want clients to remember your name,” Burd said.

“You want to come up with something that has never been done before.”

Not easy to do, because there are more registered trademarks than words, Burd said.

When read a list, Burd seemed most impressed with a new entrant, Keep the Change, a firm started last year by Roger France, a former chief of staff to Rep. Charles Taylor (R-N.C.).

Though it seemingly promises a measure of generosity not typically associated with K Street, the name actually refers to the 1994 election when Republicans took control of the House, France said.

Several members that year ran on the slogan “Time for a change.” But while his firm name is meaningful to him, France said, he didn’t think it would necessarily be to anyone else.

“It’s just a name,” he said.

Other firms are less creative. Founding Fathers remain a popular source of inspiration.

In addition to the Madison Group, there is Madison Government Affairs, which specializes in representing communities that want to protect military bases from closure. There is also a Madison Services Group, although the namesake is Dolley, not James.

“We are a woman-owned firm,” founder Ann Sullivan said. “No James Madison for me.”
Plus the firm is located near Route 123, also called Dolley Madison Highway.

“I like to remember that she used that road to flee a burning White House,” Sullivan said. Clients similarly under fire can find respite at her firm, she said.

Thomas Jefferson lends his name to four firms, including Jefferson Government Relations and Jefferson Consulting Group.

And while polls show that George Washington’s popularity among Americans is sliding, the trend isn’t true among lobbyists, although they could be referring to the city that bears his name more so than the man himself.

From 1998 to 2005, more than 20 firms have operated with the name “Washington” somewhere in the title.

There is a Washington Group, a Washington Capitol Group and a Washington Capital Group.

Washington Strategies represents Gillette, Wyo., and Arcadia University in Pennsylvania. The Washington Strategy Group’s clients include Eastman Kodak and FNC.

Some lobbyists say they choose a firm name to tip off prospective clients to what they consider to be their niche.

Duane Gibson, a former counsel to the House Resources Committee when Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) was chairman, named his firm GovBizAdvantage because as he navigates the “maze of government,” he said, he tries to keep always in mind the specific business needs of his clients.
Other lobbyists choose more generic names. Michael Whatley, a former chief of staff to Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.) and staff director to the Environment and Public Works Clean Air Subcommittee, represents nine energy clients.

For each, Whatley lobbies on “Clean Air Act reform legislation and regulatory issues,” according to disclosure records. But while environmental policy is his specialty now, it might not be forever, and Whatley chose a name that didn’t point to any one particular issue: The Patriot Group.

“Folks try to find something that can apply to everything,” he said. Whatley said he came up with his firm name while still a staffer and was surprised to learn it wasn’t taken.

Michael McKenna, who left one of the city’s largest firms, the Dutko Group, to go out on his own, was inspired by family.

His clients are some of the same ones he had at Dutko, including Tampa Electric and Tractebel.

MWR Strategies comes from the first names of McKenna’s three children, Margaret, William and Robert.

“It reminds me of why I do this,” he said.