Quarterly report: Lobbyist’s slide decks take off
For more than 10 years, Bruce Mehlman, a founder of Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen & Thomas, has been putting together quarterly slide decks and freely distributing them to clients, fellow lobbyists, the media and others looking for insider insight in D.C. But he says the Trump administration and coronavirus have brought on serious spikes in his readership.
“The Great Acceleration: How 2020’s Crises Are Bringing the Future Faster,” which was inspired by the protests surrounding the death of George Floyd, came out in July, and his next slide deck drops next month.
“How will this historically disruptive year impact the future?” Mehlman asked in a recent interview. “My takeaway is I think the deep recession combined with the pandemic, combined with the social unrest, combined with the intense election, is merely accelerating some trends that preexisted this year — and it even preexisted this president in some ways.”
In his “After COVID” report that came out in April, which was downloaded more than 115,000 times, Mehlman, who served as assistant secretary of Commerce for technology policy under former President George W. Bush, discussed the likely long-term impacts of the pandemic.
“Everybody was stuck at home, online, stressed about the future and lacking any live sports. So what else was there to do?” Mehlman said. “I’m not an epidemiologist. I can’t tell you the next economic steps. But trying to take a step back and think about the likely impact on politics and policy over a several-year period is, in some ways, easier than trying to understand the path of a disease in a several-week period.”
“After COVID” was his second-most-downloaded slide report, trailing only the one that came out following Election Day 2016.
“The day after that election was the one day that year I didn’t get 10,000 steps on my Fitbit. That was a 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. at the office, fielding lots of calls from clients who wanted to know … what does it mean?” he said. “When these are done well, they’re digestible. There’s a lot of smarter people who were going to write books, but books take work. I think people often like the presentation of clear data that tells a credible, compelling story and can be consumed in 10 minutes.”
Mehlman, who spends about 50 hours putting together each report, is expecting a similar response to the one that will come out after the 2020 election, regardless of the outcome.
“Some people play golf. I’ve let my handicap stay up in the low 20s, but I’ve gotten pretty good at slides,” he said.
He gets suggestions and feedback from the team at Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen & Thomas, specifically co-founder David Castagnetti and partner Sage Eastman. Mehlman also has about 15 people, both Republicans and Democrats, who look at early drafts and offer suggestions and improvements.
And he solicits edits from his parents. His father was an accountant and “represents the outside-the-Beltway, well-read, thoughtful observer” and his mother is a “great grammarian.”
When asked if he has a favorite slide deck, Mehlman replied, “It’s like when my kids ask me who my favorite kid is, and the answer is the dog.”
The PowerPoint-style slides have led to more than 60 speaking appearances each year at national conferences, corporate boards, investor forums and other venues. This year, as the pandemic has taken his appearances digital, he’s on track to speak more than 100 times.
“In the last couple of years, the level of interest has grown. Part of it I think is just the reports are getting more circulation, but part of it also is a growing need to make sense of where we are and where we’re going. Geopolitical risk is higher, government impact is higher and predictability is lower,” he said.
Marlene Colucci, executive director of the Business Council, a group of 175 global CEOs who gather to network and engage in policy discussions and which Mehlman addressed in February and May, said he is “someone who can set the stage for a broader conversation.”
“There’s always this great interest in the future and how business leaders can think about what is around the corner. What he is able to do from a global perspective is take a step back, look at the world and say, ‘Here is what is going on, here are the global trends and here is a way of looking at them,’” Colucci told The Hill.
Mehlman has also spoken at each of Dell Technologies’ senior leader meetings in the past three years. CEO Michael Dell says that Mehlman’s “creative analyses” helps the team to focus on long-term considerations.
“He’s done a great job presenting the global political trends and policy implications that impact the technology sector. Our senior leaders appreciate his insights, and we all benefit from his expertise,” Dell said.
Mehlman says he tries to close his presentations on an up note as the U.S. faces challenging times.
“All of my speeches started ending on the optimistic note that, while it feels disruptive, usually America goes through these periods and emerges stronger and fairer and better,” he said.
“Navigating The New Gilded Age,” a slide deck released in October 2017, stuck a particular chord with people who “want to believe that America will improve and will solve challenges,” he said.
“The fact that we’ve done so in the past, the fact that we’ve been here before and emerged stronger, gave a lot of people hope, including me.”