Skip to content

Recent GSPM Strategic Public Relations graduate Amber Garnett wrote about how to manage a career while attending graduate school. It's a useful lesson on how to juggle one's time, energy, and passion and how a graduate degree can help take PR professionals to the next level.

"When I began working at Stratacomm as an intern in August 2016, I also began my journey in pursuing my master’s degree from George Washington University. Now almost two years later, I am an assistant account executive and completing my master’s in strategic public relations. Communications is not a field that necessarily requires an advanced degree, but I found more than a few ways furthering my education is beneficial to my day-to-day work."

Read the full article on the Stratacomm blog.

Efforts to explain the world of Washington lobbyists continue, with decidedly mixed results.

For those who try to follow the government relations profession, rather than participate in it, part of the difficulty is simply understanding the different tactics lobbyists and their clients employ and how they fit together.

Observers seem surprised, for example, that the number of registered lobbyists has declined at the same time that the profession’s earnings have increased, as Politico reports.  These earnings have increased, of course, just as President Trump has said he will “drain the swamp.”

Swamp dwellers, according to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), the source of the statistics cited by Politico, would seem to include just about anyone who makes a living by exercising their First Amendment right to petition their government — much as journalists at Politico and think tankers at CRP exercise their First Amendment rights.

Lobbyists brought in a total of more than $3.2 billion during Trump’s first year in office, Politicoreports. “Many of K Street’s top firms saw revenue rise by double-digit percentages compared with 2016, driven by intense lobbying on Republicans’ failed push to repeal Obamacare and their successful effort to revamp the tax code,” according to Politico.

‘Boom Times’ Under Obama

But these earnings aren’t as robust as those of the “boom times of President Obama’s first years in office,” when the stimulus bill, Dodd-Frank and the Affordable Care Act were either passed or being hotly debated. Lobbying revenues, for example, jumped to “nearly $4 billion in 2009, adjusted for inflation,” Politico reports.

Lobbyists identified with both the Republican and Democratic parties agree: Trump’s “talk of draining the swamp and curbing the influence of K Street hadn’t hurt their businesses in 2017. Instead, they saw the continuation of a decade-long trend. The industry in Washington saw the number of registered lobbyists decline to 11,472 in 2017 from about 14,000 in 2009.”

One of the reasons for this decline, floated by Politico, is that businesses are turning “to grass-roots influenced campaigns and social media efforts that do not require them to register with the federal government.”

Expanding Toolkit

Grassroots efforts are clearly a growing tactic in the advocacy profession’s ever-expanding toolkit. So, for that matter, is public relations, which is the subject of a study promoted by PR Underground. The number of communications jobs in the nation’s capital has increased 325 percent since 2000, which represents “a major shift in the business of public policy influence in Washington,” according to this research.

In 1999, there were more than twice as many lobbyists as PR professionals in Washington, but now the opposite is true. Just since the financial crisis of 2008, new job creation in the PR business has shot up 65 percent.

Straight to the Public

“Companies and trade associations are going straight to the public through big TV campaigns and online campaigns, versus just focusing on influencing legislators through lobbying firms,” says Brian Scully, PR Underground’s CEO. Because legislators also watch TV, “you get more bang for your buck. You get the public and the legislators instead of just going to the legislators.”

That’s an oversimplification, clearly, and the report is far from conclusive. “Proximity to D.C. has helped Maryland secure the second spot, with a 257 percent increase in PR jobs,” according to the study, although Virginia doesn’t even make the top 10.

The trend bears watching, though. In early 2015, citing statistics from the Center for Public Integrity, Time reported that when Washington’s biggest trade associations “want to wield influence, they often put far more of their money into advertising and public relations.

It’s more evidence that advocacy campaigns are employing a broader range of tactics — lobbying, advertising, grassroots, social media — and it’s more complex than some might think. We’ll keep you posted on other seismic, or mild, shifts in how we advocate.

About the Public Affairs Council
Both nonpartisan and nonpolitical, the Public Affairs Council is the leading association for public affairs professionals worldwide. The Council’s mission is to advance the field of public affairs and to provide its 700 member companies and associations with the executive education and expertise they need to succeed while maintaining the highest ethical standards. Learn more about the Council at pac.org.

Dixon McReynolds III

Dixon McReynolds III did more than choose a life of service; he was born into it. His father was a member of the Army and his grandmother was a minister who Dixon said, “Always preached to me to do something for others. I should always be able to extend myself to others and be of service.”

His first mission was to take care of his brother, who was born with spina bifida. “He wasn’t supposed to live past age two but he ended up living to the age of 21,” Dixon said. “It got really difficult for him to get around and it got to the point where he was bed ridden. It was my job to get up at night and help him get settled. That started me on my path to caregiving and public service.”

From there, Dixon joined the Air Force as a personal affairs supervisor focusing on casualty assistance. “I notified families of death. It was very intense, but I came to find out that it was a very important job. Not only did you notify the family that a loved one was gone but you also case managed them for a year. You could see them at their worst time… and help them start the healing process,” he said. After 21 years in the military, Dixon went in search of the next way to give back.

Returning to his home base in Seattle, Washington, Dixon began working with the local homeless population and became a program manager for the Washington State Department of Veteran’s Affairs, running five programs for homeless vets.

From there, he looked for ways to get more involved in politics. “I think I’ve always been politically aware. Coming to GW was a breath of fresh air for me because I got to meet a lot of people that felt like I did,” he said. “After orientation I came to the conclusion that I made the right decision.” During his time at GSPM, Dixon worked for Washington Sen. Patty Murray (D) and the Senate Veteran’s Affairs Committee. His résumé–and a GW connection–helped land him the job. “I went to the interview and the lady who interviewed me said ‘When can you start?’ and I said ‘That’s it?’ and she said ‘I gotta be honest with you and I’m also a GW grad. I saw your resume and it was impressive,” he recalled.

Later, that same contact suggested he apply for a Presidential Management Fellowship, which he did. After a grueling interview process, he was selected to serve as a fellow in the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Now Dixon is pursuing a Ph.D. in Human Services and Social Work focusing on military families at Walden University and is hoping to impact the next generation of political leaders and public servants.

The following post is courtesy of The Graduate School of Political Management's thought leadership initiative with the Public Affairs Council. 

For Adama Iwu, the breaking point came at a work-related event outside the State Capitol in Sacramento early last year.

At the gathering, Iwu, the Western states’ government affairs manager for Visa, was groped by a man, an industry peer, in the presence of professional colleagues — and the men in the room did nothing to stop the assault.

They said they figured she knew the man. Even if she had met him before, Iwu says, “that doesn’t mean when I spent three minutes pushing him off me that I didn’t want someone to step in and say, ‘She said, ‘no,’ stop.” What she found especially galling was that the group had just finished talking about the Harvey Weinstein case and what men can do to prevent sexual harassment.

Having had enough, Iwu organized more than 150 other women who signed an open letter taking a firm stand against sexual harassment by members of the California Legislature and demanding protection and accountability. They also created a website where other women can post their support.

“Each of us,” the letter read, “has endured, or witnessed or worked with women who experienced some form of dehumanizing behavior by men with power in our workplaces.” The signatories included political consultants, past and present lawmakers, Republican and Democratic officials and other lobbyists.

Since the Weinstein story broke, two California legislators have resigned their offices, and 18 others from around the country have resigned, announced their retirement or faced some form of reprimand. Six members of Congress have been forced out of office after having been accused of sexual harassment. And Iwu ended up on Time’s Dec. 18 “Person of the Year” cover.

“Charges of harassment came cascading through statehouses across the country, leading to investigations, resignations of powerful men and anguish over hostile workplaces for women that for years went unacknowledged,” The New York Times reported in December. “Amid this reckoning, one group of victims has stood apart: political lobbyists.”

Female lobbyists are “especially vulnerable in legislatures and in Congress because, unlike government employees, they often have no avenue to report complaints and receive due process. Lobbyists who have been harassed are essentially powerless in their workplaces, all-dependent on access to mostly male lawmakers for meetings and influence to advance legislation and earn their living.”

On Capitol Hill, staffers may be getting some protection if a bill that passed the House on Feb 6 can get through the Senate in some form. The Hill reports that the bill would “streamline the process available to Capitol Hill staffers to report harassment, provide additional resources for people filing complaints and establish transparency requirements for taxpayer-funded settlements to resolve cases.” It would also require the members of Congress accused of harassment, rather than tax payers, to pay for settling these cases.

But what’s not clear is if lobbyists and other non-government employees will be protected.

Protecting Themselves

Female lobbyists who have been harassed or who learned about it from colleagues are  figuring out how to protect themselves, though they cannot accomplish this alone. “We whisper and exchange information about who is ‘safe’ and who you have to watch out for,” Iwu says. “But we’re not content with that. Much more needs to be done.”

Jean Cantrell, head of government relations for Philips Lighting, says some of her peers rely on “work-arounds,” in which a female lobbyist always brings another woman when she meets with a legislator at a hotel restaurant, for example. But this “buddy system” means any such assignment requires two lobbyists when it should call for only one. If the lobbyists are billing by the hour, the meeting costs twice what it ordinarily would.

Also, such tactics put the responsibility on the victim, which isn’t quite fair. “It isn’t the female lobbyist’s behavior that is the problem,” says Elizabeth Bartz, president and CEO of State and Federal Communications, Inc., of Akron, Ohio. “It’s the male legislator’s.” Virtually all of the harassers are men preying on women. “We hear war stories from our members,” says Beth Loudy, executive director of the State Government Affairs Council in Alexandria, Va., “This is about power in the workplace and extends far beyond statehouses. That just happens to be our members’ workplace.”

Relentless Pressure

“The lobbyist’s bread-and-butter is her relationship to powerful men,” says Christopher Metzler, the former senior associate dean for human resources at Georgetown University. Metzler, who has investigated hundreds of sexual harassment cases, says elected officials “have outsized egos to begin with, so the only thing that will bring about real change is relentless pressure. That can involve leaking information to the press, as risky as that can be. Realistically speaking, there are few legal protections in a situation like this — no way to lodge a formal complaint.”

Even so, more and more often, women in this business are no longer willing to change their behavior when they believe they are doing nothing wrong. “I wouldn’t dare tell a young woman entering into this profession how to be safe — how to dress or talk or any of that,” Iwu says. “But what I would tell her is that you no longer have to cope with harassment the way women have done forever, which is internalize it and eat yourself alive with shame, asking what you wore or did that ‘invited’ this treatment. Those days are gone.”

Unfortunately, the culture and the law that governs sexual harassment have yet to catch up. “As others have pointed out, the difficulty for lobbyists is that the harasser is not an employee of the same company, where company policies and procedures can be followed and you can complain to the company’s human resources department,” says Evan Gibbs, an employment lawyer with Troutman Sanders in Atlanta. “It is comparable to the Weinstein situation in that the women he harassed were not employees of his company but other people in the film industry who looked to him to help them with their careers. They needed the relationship to succeed.”

A possible legal response — but one very few lobbyists would be willing to make — is to sue their own employer.  “Not many people know this, but Title VII, which is the federal law covering sexual harassment and gender discrimination, prohibits employers from allowing their employees to be harassed by a third party,” Gibbs says. “Ultimately, [the employer] is responsible whether the person committing the harassment is an employee or not. If you work for a restaurant, the owner of the restaurant is required by law to protect their wait staff from harassment by a customer. The same holds true for lobbyists and elected officials.”

Risking Relationships

Plus, some lobbyists have experienced harassment from clients, which can also make the situation challenging. In such cases, they might complain to the client’s HR department, but they do so at great risk to their relationships with the client’s company. And there’s no guarantee they will derive any satisfaction from such a complaint.

In one respect, going to an HR department to complain can actually make matters worse, Metzler says. “Sexual harassment is too often seen as something set apart from the general culture of a company. Too often, HR departments still see their job as protecting the company by making the problem go away. What they don’t realize is that by failing to protect the victim, the HR department can open up the company to massive liability.”

Another problem, Metzler says, is that even when a company decides to turn a complaint over to its outside counsel to investigate, “the outside counsel almost always sees everything from the company’s point of view, which creates a conflict in itself. The way to investigate a complaint properly is to turn it over to a law firm that isn’t already working for the company.”

Going Public

It is a rare lobbyist, of course, who wants to jeopardize her career — which depends on maintaining relationships with lawmakers — by going public with her accusations, much less sue her own employer. She can go to the press, “which eats this stuff up,” says Bartz. In their letter, Iwu and her colleagues managed to generate great media coverage for their position without naming names of legislators.

As a result of their letter, the California State Legislature has begun hearings on the issue, and the Subcommittee on Sexual Harassment Prevention and Response, described by Iwu as “dormant for years” is meeting regularly again. Meanwhile, a growing number of states have taken action too, passing or stiffening sexual-harassment rules, investigating claims and punishing lawmakers who prey on lobbyists. In Oregon and Washington, the action was a response to letters like Iwu’s signed by some 300 women.

In Illinois, where more than 160 women signed a letter of their own, lawmakers are now required to attend a sexual harassment seminar. The legislative state inspector has also been empowered to investigate 27 ethics complaints against lawmakers.

That’s certainly progress. But the reaction in Illinois provides proof that much educational work remains to be done. That’s because the Illinois legislature has also taken a position that critics say is misguided — because it is designed primarily to prevent harassment by lobbyists, not harassment of them, Senate Bill 402 establishes a $5,000 fine for violations and requires lobbyists to take a sexual harassment training course within 30 days of their registration or renewal; they also have to have a written sexual harassment policy of their own, or their company’s.

“I don’t get it,” Bartz says. “Lobbyists have never been the problem.”

About the Public Affairs Council
Both nonpartisan and nonpolitical, the Public Affairs Council is the leading association for public affairs professionals worldwide. The Council’s mission is to advance the field of public affairs and to provide its 700 member companies and associations with the executive education and expertise they need to succeed while maintaining the highest ethical standards. Learn more about the Council at pac.org.

The Graduate School of Political Management is always looking for the latest and greatest tools, techniques, and strategies for success in the fields of politics, communications, and advocacy. One key source of information is our Board of Advisors, senior leaders in their fields that have taken the time to provide strategic guidance and insights to our school and its students.

We asked our Blue Co-Chair Robert Hoopes, President of VOX Global and General Manager of FleishmanHillard's DC office, and Red Co-Chair Leigh Ann Pusey, Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs and Communications at Eli Lilly and Company.

They told us that the opportunity to work to improve political discourse, as well as engaging with the next generation of political leaders has been an inspiration to them.

Grassroots Professional Network

The Graduate School of Political Management (GSPM) didn’t become the first and foremost school of applied politics, communications, and advocacy on its own. We have an extensive network of partners that team up with us for panel discussions, networking receptions, and other events. One of GSPM’s key partners over the last three years has been the Grassroots Professional Network (GPN).

Founded in 2015, the GPN started as a community for public affairs professionals to provide professional development and networking opportunities. From those humble beginnings, the organization quickly garnered hundreds of members. The group now offers a portfolio of online resources, industry assets, and networking events, all at no cost.

GSPM and GPN started their partnership three years ago in the fall of 2015 with a series of lunch and learn events featuring advocacy industry leaders, including alumni of the GSPM. From there, the relationship has grown exponentially. In 2017, the groups worked together to create The Agora Government Relations and Public Affairs Marketplace, which featured more than three dozen vendors and drew more than 800 attendees. Using that success as a guide, GSPM and GPN plan on expanding their relationship yet again in 2018, starting with the State of Advocacy Forum to be held on campus at GW on January 31.

“GPN would not be nearly as successful of a non-profit organization without the support, ideas, and innovation of the GSPM program and staff who have taken an interest in seeing GPN grow and succeed throughout the course of our partnership. I look forward to working with GSPM for many years to come,” said GPN Founder and Chairman Joshua Habursky.

In many instances, GSPM alumni have been at the forefront of these events, serving as facilitators and panelists. Both groups look forward to a continuing relationship that raises the profile of each organization, and continues to professionalize the field of grassroots advocacy.

Current Student Taylor McCarty says GSPM is "the ultimate networking opportunity"

 

It’s not what you know it’s who you know. Your network is your net worth. These sayings are clichés for a reason, but like many clichés, they contain a grain of truth. How do you stand out in a crowded job market? How do you learn about job openings before anyone else?

The most effective way is to leverage your personal and professional networks. Your current and former coworkers, your friends, and the alumni of the schools you attended are the key to your job search. This is even more important when looking for career opportunities in competitive fields such as politics and advocacy.

We asked several of our alumni how they got into the world of politics, and why they look to GSPM for future hires. A key for Bret Caldwell, GSPM ’95 and Special Assistant to the President and Director of Communications for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, was a shared understanding. “What I’m looking for are people who can enter an organization and adapt quickly; have the skills to bring about organizational change if necessary; and the ability to become leaders within the organization,” said Caldwell.

While filling a recent vacancy, Caldwell interviewed another alum, Ash Latimer, GSPM ’15. “It was clear she was going to be a great add to the team and since we’ve both been through the program it’s very apparent we’re on the same wavelength on our approach to tackling complex issues,” he noted.

Latimer first found out about the opportunity from a mutual friend. “I got a text saying are you interested in working for the Teamster’s,” she said. “Within an hour he had connected me with Bret. We set up a meeting two days later, I met with assistant directors the next week, and I got the offer later that week.”

For Bill Meierling, GSPM ’08 and Chief Operating Officer and Senior Vice President, Public Affairs at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the school’s unique curriculum is an asset for any politico on a job hunt. “If you actually want to win the campaign, you go to GSPM,” he says. “Thinking about the types of classes offered you can really get a specialized education in various disciplines in politics. It’s the single best place to gain knowledge from practitioners.”

Meierling added that the longevity of the school is a key asset for anyone looking to work in Washington. “There are 5,000 alumni in the school, and about 2,000 in the DC area. There aren’t 2,000 corporate offices in DC so think about how many organizations where there is a GSPMer. Virtually every one.”

Taylor McCarty, a current student and Communications Strategist at DDC, echoed that sentiment. “I stay in touch with the students and several professors and it’s benefited me personally and professionally,” she said. “It’s a great way to find a mentor and make new friends. You never know who may lend a helping hand down the road.”

GW is committed to digital accessibility. If you experience a barrier that affects your ability to access content on this page, let us know via the Accessibility Feedback Form.