Former Podesta CEO launches new firm

Former Podesta CEO launches new firm
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Kimberley Fritts, who until last week helmed the Podesta Group as its CEO, officially launched her own firm called Cogent Strategies on Thursday, The Hill has learned.

She has brought with her both clients and staffers from the Podesta Group, though the amount of old business coming to the new firm is still unknown. The firm is in the early phases and still searching for office space.

About 15 to 20 ex-Podesta staffers are expected to head over to the new shop, The Hill has confirmed with a source at the new firm, including Mike Quaranta, Randall Gerard, Kevin McLaughlin, Dave Adams and Erin Billings.

“Cogent Strategies exemplifies clarity and precision in advocacy and clear and convincing storytelling to deliver for clients in today’s dynamic political, policy and media marketplace,” the firm touts. “This new firm will reach those who matter with the precise strategies, messages and messengers that will move them.”

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Founded by Tony Podesta three decades ago, the Podesta Group grew from an upstart K Street shop to a massive lobbying and public relations firm. In recent years, public relations and digital advertising business have been taking over a larger share of the firm’s revenues.

That represents the overall shift in how advocacy in Washington works, Fritts said.

“The public affairs landscape has evolved, and Cogent Strategies is a product of that evolution,” she said in a statement.

Although Podesta Group had been largely billed in media reports as a Democratic-leaning firm because of the Podesta name and his presence at the firm and in Washington, Fritts — a Republican who worked on Jeb Bush's Florida gubernatorial campaign — has been running the day-to-day activities as chief executive since 2007.

“This is the right time and the right team,” Fritts said in a release, “and I’m excited about the opportunity this presents for clients.”

The launch of Cogent comes in the wake of Podesta stepping down from his namesake firm.

Both Podesta and his firm are being pulled into the investigation, run by special counsel Robert Mueller, probing Russia’s interference in last year’s elections.

Podesta recently told The Washington Post that he did not want his presence to be a “distraction” at the firm and decided to step away.

“I'm not bowed. I'm not retreating,” he told the Post, saying he'll be back throwing parties and holding political fundraisers.

It’s still unclear what will happen to the dozens of other Podesta Group staffers who have not yet made the leap. One former employee told The Hill that staff has not yet been notified what lies in store. Some clients have paid for services through November, so the work is still going on, the person said.

A representative for Podesta did not respond to a question from The Hill about his firm’s future.

Two Podesta Group staffers have announced the launch of new ventures: Paul Brathwaite, a former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus, is hanging his own shingle on Dec. 1, at firm Federal Street Strategies; and Colin Hayes, a former staff director for the Senate Energy Committee, founded Lot Sixteen.