Winds of change on K Street as ex-Dutko lobbyist joins advocacy firm

Mark Irion, the former CEO of Dutko Worldwide, has signed on to help lead the strategic communications firm Levick.

Irion will start as president at the firm on Friday, and told The Hill he’s eager to adopt Levick’s wide-ranging approach to advocacy, which includes digital campaigning, issue advertising and media relations.

"I'm really excited by Levick because of what we can to do in so many different areas," Irion said.

The hire is another sign that the influence industry is no longer defined by the shoe-leather work of walking the halls of Congress and talking to lawmakers, which is the calling card of Irion’s former employer.

"The heart of what we did at Dutko was the direct conversation with decision-makers. We really tried to evolve what it meant to be a lobbying firm by adding in all of the other public policy disciplines," Irion said.

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Irion said traditional lobbying will always have a role in Washington. He didn’t rule out registering under the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) at Levick, but said the firm will most likely help lobby shops in wide-ranging issue campaigns.

“Our business model here will definitely be dynamic. A decision like that will definitely be client-driven. I will definitely never rule anything out. We are absolutely going to be supporting a lot of lobbying efforts,” Irion said. “I'm anticipating most right now is working with lobby firms and law firms who are hired to do the LDA work and we will help them run the most effective campaigns.”

Levick’s chief executive said he believes Irion will help grow the firm.

“Having built this company from the ground to where it is today, I know Mark has the leadership and experience to take this firm to where it will be in the next decade because his track record in this town speaks for itself,” said Richard Levick, CEO and chairman of the firm, in a statement.

Irion, a former aide to ex-Sen. Alan Dixon (D-Ill.), first joined Dutko in 1990 and would go on to become its president in 1996 and then its CEO in 2003. After Huntsworth bought the firm in 2009 and later merged it with public relations firm Grayling, Irion took charge of the firm’s public affairs and public relations.

Irion left Dutko Grayling in early 2012.

Dutko has struggled to maintain its lobbying revenue in recent years. The firm earned $9.5 million in lobbying revenue for all of 2012 — a drop from its $11.3 million take for 2011.

Levick, in contrast, appears to be an up-and-coming shop that is looking to hire. The firm recently brought on former Rep. Steve Bartlett (R-Texas), the former head of the Financial Services Roundtable, as a strategic policy adviser. 

Irion said Levick is able to connect to lawmakers and administration officials through its advocacy campaigns, using the Internet and issue advertising as well as talking to the press.

“What Levick brings to that is the ability to connect all those networks linked to the decision-makers,” Irion said.

He said Levick will be using several tools for its campaigns, including focusing on the use of Web video in advocacy campaigns since that attracts more interest online.

“One of the things you are going to see us do more is video because using video makes it 57 times more likely you are at the top of the search,” Irion said. “That is just one new tool for advocacy campaigns.”