Joel Malina, a theater actor turned lobbyist, is taking on a new role — chief executive of lobby shop Wexler & Walker Public Policy Associates, the firm plans to announce today.

Malina, who has been with the firm since 1992, was previously executive vice president and managing director of the 16-member lobby shop. He assumes the chief executive position from longtime CEO Dale Snape, who will become vice chairman. Robert Walker, a former congressman from Pennsylvania, will remain the firm’s executive chairman.

The change, Malina said, is part of a multi-year transition that he hopes will keep the firm “fresh and current.”

“This is an industry that over the last number of years has become quite crowded with new firms sprouting up,” said Malina, 48. “Among my first responsibilities will be to look at where we see the best opportunities for growth.”

Malina said that he plans to recruit new talent and grow in strategic policy areas such as tax and technology.

Joel Malina, chief executive at Wexler & Walker Public Policy Associates.

Like many lobby firms, Wexler & Walker enjoyed a relatively steady decade of growth that peaked in 2010. Last year, the firm reported $7.6 million in lobbying revenue — up from $4.48 million in 2002, but down from its 2010 peak of $10.43 million. A year ago, the firm lost three senior lobbyists — President Tim Hannegan, Senior Vice President Daniella Landau and Senior Vice President Jennifer Poersch — who left Wexler & Walker to form their own firm, Hannegan Landau Poersch Advocacy.

Malina said the departures were amicable and had little impact on the firm’s current transition plan. Firm leaders adjusted revenue expectations after the departures, and ended the year exceeding those figures, he said.

“It did kind of reset our growth goals,” he said. “We ended up sharing a lot of business [with Hannegan Landau Poersch] for the remainder of 2012. Now it’s building on where we ended and finding new ways to continue the growth pattern.”

Founded in 1981 as Wexler & Associates, the firm was the first major lobby shop to be led by a woman, Democratic strategist and former assistant to President Jimmy Carter, Anne Wexler. In 1983, Wexler combined with Republican strategist Nancy Clark Reynolds to become one of Washington’s first bipartisan lobby shops. In 1990, the firm joined global public affairs company WPP Group, and today operates as an independent unit of public relations firm Hill+Knowlton, another WPP company.

The firm initially carved a niche in international trade issues, with Wexler helping negotiate the passage of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement. Malina’s first client when he joined the firm in 1992 was the Business Roundtable, which at the time was pushing for the passage of NAFTA. He has since branched out to other policy areas such as higher education, transportation and energy, largely representing coalitions focused on public relations campaigns rather than direct lobbying on legislation.

Prior to his career in Washington, Malina was a working actor in New York for six years, performing in regional theaters and national tours, including a part in the off-Broadway musical “The Rothschilds.”

“I think my theater background is a large part of what makes me successful today,” he said. “It’s my little trade secret because it’s a good set of talents ... If I learned one thing from the performing business, it’s that your people skills and the energy your bring to what you do has an impact on your audience, whether it’s members of Congress or clients you’re pitching business to.”