The Washington Post

Lobbyists at Drinker Biddle redefine their brand

The lobbying group at law firm Drinker Biddle & Reath, a roughly $5 million-a-year shop best known for its work in federal health care policy, is kicking off a rebranding effort to market itself as a provider of a broad range of advocacy services that go beyond old-fashioned politicking.

The group will be renamed District Policy Group, a moniker that reflects its work in traditional lobbying, grass-roots organizing, social media training and political intelligence, said the group’s leader, Ilisa Halpern Paul.

Paul’s group has offered these services for years, such as the training session they put on for the owners of clinical labs who visited the Capitol to meet with lawmakers about cuts in Medicare payments. But now they are stepping up efforts to sell themselves more, both within the firm — having lawyers in Drinker Biddle’s 11 other offices talk up their government relations offerings to existing clients — as well as outside to potential new clients.

The move comes at a time lobbying is becoming more integrated with other professional services firms that were once much more separate, such as communications, public affairs and consulting. A number of major firms that started out as lobby shops have in the past two years been acquired by a larger public affairs or communications outfit, or have announced intentions to bulk up their offerings of those services.

Those include C2 Group, a boutique tax lobbying firm that was acquired by FTI Consulting in 2012; McBee Strategic, which in 2012 acquired PR firm Gibraltar, and a year later announced a major ramp-up of digital communications; and crisis communications firm Levick, which in December hired the majority of Dow Lohnes’ lobbying group to start its first major foray into lobbying.

“The industry in Washington continues to evolve and change,” Paul said. “We want to be a part of that evolution in recognizing the way we do advocacy work is different, and the way people are marketing and seeking new business is changing.”

Paul said that phenomenon is being driven by companies and trade groups wanting more “one-stop shopping” for lobbying and advocacy work.

“Increasingly, clients don’t want four or five different contacts for event planning, grass-roots work, policy development work, and another doing their direct lobbying,” Paul said. “It’s too much to manage. It’s not cost effective. We’re finding clients want a global agreement and a global team.”

Much of the nontraditional advocacy work that Drinker Biddle does is akin to what boutique lobby shops or advocacy firms do, rather than what lobbying groups within large law firms do. But at the same time, they have the resources of a large law firm — which Paul said sets them apart.

“When someone thinks of a law firm, they don’t necessarily think social media training or advocacy-day planning,” she said. “We want to really illustrate to prospective clients that we’re unique among law firm lobby shops in town.”

Catherine Ho covers lobbying at The Washington Post. She previously worked at the LA Daily Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Detroit Free Press, the Wichita Eagle and the San Mateo County Times.
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