K Street group ready to drop 'lobbyist'

An advocacy group for K Street is moving forward with a rebranding effort that would remove the word “lobbyist” from its name.

The board of the American League of Lobbyists (ALL) announced Tuesday it has recommended to members that the group change its name to the Association of Government Relations Professionals.

The group says the board “overwhelmingly” backed the name change as a way to more accurately “represent the range of associated professions involved in the government affairs, lobbying and public affairs community.”

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ALL officially began moving forward with the rebranding effort last month. Board members voted initially to recommend a name change but said the discussions would be taken in “baby steps.”

After Tuesday morning’s vote, members were sent an email asking to approve the board’s decision. The group’s 1,300 members will have a month to vote, and a two-thirds majority is needed to approve the new name.

Monte Ward, the president of the trade group, said he is thrilled about the “evolutionary change.”

“[We] look forward to serving more effectively all our current and future members,” he said in a statement.

The group’s board also approved a “tag-line” to compliment the proposed new title: “Voice of the Lobbying, Public Policy and Advocacy Professions,” an effort to retain its roots as a K Street group.

ALL was founded more than 30 years ago to promote the lobbying industry as an above-board profession protected by the First Amendment, a mission Ward says will continue.

But barely half of the organization's members are now registered lobbyists, with many reporting other kinds of political activity — including grassroots advocacy, the management of political action committees, consulting and public affairs.

Reaction to the proposed name change was mixed, though many on K Street said they were inclined to support it.

Tom Susman, the director of governmental affairs for the American Bar Association, served on ALL’s board 25 years ago when the organization tried to make a similar name change. He opposed it then but says he supports it now.

“I think the time has come,” Susman told The Hill, citing the Obama administration’s lobbying rules and the recent string of lobbying scandals and reforms.

“We're not disowning that lobbying is a profession. When we deal with people outside the Beltway, outside the profession and outside the country, being a ‘government relations professional’ makes a lot of sense. Names are not unimportant.”

Ivan Adler, a headhunter at The McCormick Group, said ALL needs to change with the times.

“If you don't like change, you'll like irrelevancy even less,” he said.

Jeff Birnbaum, a president at BGR Public Relations and former lobbying reporter for The Washington Post, said the name change would better reflect the state of the industry — “a collection of many professions working to affect legislation and regulation.”

“It’s also good to see that the word lobbying wasn’t jettisoned altogether; it’s still in the tag line. That only makes sense,” he said.

But others aren’t as enthusiastic, and say ALL should continue to embrace the “L” word.

Nick Allard, the dean of Brooklyn Law School and partner at K Street king Patton Boggs, opposes the change, which he says is purely cosmetic. He likens the issue to a character on a British sitcom called “Keeping up Appearances.”

The woman, “the annoyingly cloying Mrs. Bucket,” Allard describes, insists “her name be pronounced ‘boo-kay’ like a fine floral arrangement. No matter what she calls herself, she isn’t fooling anyone.”

Though, “as long as [clients] can find you in the directory, I suppose it doesn’t matter what they call you,” Allard said.

Howard Marlowe, a former ALL president who was the only member of the board to oppose the rebranding, said he was disappointed at the decision, but expects the members to ratify it.

“The profession has always been dynamic. It's clear we're changing our name because it's got mud on it — more mud than it's had in the last 10 or 20 years,” Marlowe said. “The changes that are taking place today are more of an excuse for making the name change.”
 
One lobbyist noted that the proposed switch to Association of Government Relations Professionals has one major downside.

"It's a mouthful!" joked Kathryn Lehman, a partner at Holland & Knight.

— This story was first posted at 10:08 a.m. and has been updated.