Most of the region’s dominant lobbying shops stumbled slightly during the first half of 2011, with seven of the 10 most profitable firms experiencing revenue declines compared to the same period last year.
The top 10 firms reported combined midyear revenue of $126.7 million, down from $127.1 million during the first half of 2010. While that represents only a 0.3 percent drop as a group, most lobbying shops saw revenue drop between 1 percent and 14 percent, according to Capital Business estimates based on Lobby Disclosure Act forms filed with the Senate.
There were three exceptions: Patton Boggs (up 19.8 percent), Ogilvy Government Relations (up 7 percent) and Williams & Jensen (up 2.8 percent).
“This has been a very challenging year,” said Nick Allard, chairman of the Patton Boggs lobbying practice. “The lingering slow economy and preoccupation with the debt ceiling discussions has really slowed down traditional legislative work to a crawl. For the top firms, it’s been strong and flat.”
Patton Boggs was the only lobby shop that saw double-digit growth, once again leading the pack with $24.7 million in revenue as of June 30. The firm’s 2011 numbers were boosted significantly by its merger with Breaux-Lott Leadership Group. Patton Boggs, which has by far more registered lobbyists than any other firm, acquired Breaux-Lott in July 2010, a move that helped grow its lobbyist head count from 120 to 137.
Ogilvy bolstered its business by growing its financial services and health care practices, said chief executive Drew Maloney. In the second half of 2010, Ogilvy hired Justin Daly, a former Securities and Exchange Commission counsel, and De’Ana Dow, a former Commodity Futures Trading Commission lawyer, to beef up its financial services group, Maloney said. And in 2011, the firm brought on Mike Hogan, deputy chief of staff for Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), and Steve Tilton from Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America to lead its health care team, and added Ryan Thompson, former chief of staff to Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), to its energy and environmental practice.
The only newcomer to this year’s top 10 was Williams & Jensen, which replaced Dutko Worldwide. Dutko, which ranked 10th in last year’s top 10, dropped out after seeing revenue slip 30.5 percent, from $8.9 million to $6.2 million.
Though legislative work has slowed at many firms, demand continues to grow for regulatory and investigative work, in part spurred by landmark health care legislation and financial regulatory reform, some said.
“There’s more of a demand for expert advice and analysis and forecasting,” Allard said. “That doesn’t show up in LDA figures — you’re talking to clients, not Congress.”
Corporate tax reform and a jobs bill may also be on the horizon, said Rich Gold, head of Holland & Knight’s public policy and regulation practice group.
“We’re heading into a presidential year and there’s little time left on legislative calendar,” he said. “I’m not expecting huge growth in Hill work. That said, I think the signals are clear we’ll see corporate tax reform gear up in earnest when we get back here in September and October, and that’ll be a two-year issue. It won’t get done this fall.”