Several small lobby firms have posted growth in lobbying revenue despite a downturn among industry leaders. In a dour year for many of K Street's top firms, many shops with staff in the single digits have gained more clients — and thus earned more in fees.
Josh Ackil, a partner at Franklin Square Group, said keeping clients happy is the ticket to growth in the influence industry.
“Take care of the client as best you can. Hopefully, the client says nice things about us and others come along and our reputation grows,” Ackil said.
Lobbying revenues have fallen amid belt-tightening by companies and legislative gridlock on Capitol Hill. A review by The Hill of Washington’s top 20 lobby firms found that 13 saw lobbying revenues decline from 2011 to 2012, while another three firms saw their lobbying fees stay roughly the same.
Large firms, often with staffs in the dozens or attached to law firms, say their business has not suffered because their client work in areas not covered by the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) has picked up.
Big shops monitor regulations, provide public relations and have branched out into advocacy for state governments and foreign agents — leading to more revenue that’s not reported on lobbying disclosure forms. Lobbyists at bigger firms say they can provide a wide range of services to their clients beyond traditional influence work.
Small firms contend that they can charge less due to lower administrative costs, and say they can focus on their clients more, since there are fewer of them.
"We are lean and mean, with practically no overhead so we can provide a reasonable retainer with out being bogged down with the bureaucracy that comes with a big law or lobbying firm," said John Scofield of Shockey Scofield Solutions.
Founded in May 2011, Shockey Scofield Solutions has continued to grow at an extraordinary clip. After taking close to $800,000 in lobbying fees for 2011, it earned $2.6 million in lobbying revenue for last year, according to lobbying disclosure records.
David Lugar of the Lugar Hellmann Group said he is able to provide personal attention to his clients that the big shops can’t match.
“I think you can do that for 10 or a dozen clients. I don't think you can do that for 40 or 50 clients,” Lugar said. “I want people to feel that I'm their guy, I'm their advocate, that I'm just not spreading around the same information to the same bunch of clients.”
Registering its first client in May 2011, Lugar’s firm has gone from roughly $400,000 in lobbying fees for 2011 to $1.1 million for 2012. Among the firm’s clients are Boeing and Hilton, according to lobbying disclosure records.
“If the client wants to have a weekly telephone call, I am on the call,” said Bob Van Heuvelen with VH Strategies. His firm posted lobbying revenue of $2.1 million for 2012, up from the $1.8 million the firm took in for 2011.
Enterprising lobbyists have rushed to start businesses of their own in response to a broader trend where companies give their advocacy work to smaller, specialized firms.
“I believe that companies are increasingly seeing the value of the small firm model. Representing a smaller number of clients enables me to be more proactive on their behalf,” said Jamie Brown Hantman of the JBH Group.
Brown Hantman started her one-person shop in May 2011 with eBay as her first client. She has since added three more clients and revenue has spiked — from $60,000 in lobbying fees in 2011 to $300,000 last year.
Others in the small shop world say concentrating on an industry sector or a particular committee can help. Carl Thorsen and Alec French, who run Thorsen French Advocacy, have both worked at the House Judiciary Committee.
“There is a certain niche there,” Thorsen said. “As former Judiciary Committee counsels, we are very comfortable in specializing in the broad jurisdiction of that committee.”
His firm climbed from $2 million in lobbying revenue for 2011 to $2.5 million for last year.
Other firms with small staffs showed sharp growth in 2012.
Elmendorf | Ryan reported earning $8.6 million in lobbying revenue for 2012, which is more than the $7.7 million the firm took in for 2011. Clark Lytle Geduldig & Cranford also saw its lobbying fees rise, from $3.6 million for 2011 to $4.7 million for 2012.
“We treat our clients as if they are part of our family. Our ultimate goal is to impress them with our work. We think they respect that,” said Steve Clark, a partner at the firm.