Celebrities could use some help on Capitol Hill, too. That’s the message from strategist Gary Feld, whose new firm is boasting a unique offering—he calls it celebvocacy.
The idea came to him when Feld was vice president at the public affairs firm DCI. Actress Hilary Swank found controversy after attending the birthday of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov.
“She was criticized because there were a lot of human rights violations that were going on at the time,” Feld recalls. “For someone who had been a big advocate for human rights issues it was embarrassing.”
Feld’s solution: When celebrities or prominent advocates come to D.C. to lobby Congress, speak at a rally or appear on television, leave no stone unturned to ensure they don’t end up in a situation that undermines the message.
“What I can offer is unique among opposition companies because I’ve got experience in journalism, academics, government and politics,” says Feld. “So it’s a combination of not just finding the information, but presenting it in a way that best suits the goals of the client.”
Celebvocacy is far from the firm’s only offering. Feld wants to offer smaller companies and lobby shops what his former employer couldn’t—the quality work product a larger firm delivers, but at a lower price. Since opening his own shop earlier this year, Feld has been targeting industry associations and smaller public affairs firms.
C&E: You have a pretty extensive background in GOP politics. Have you found it tough to launch your own bipartisan firm?
Feld: The bipartisan thing isn’t a big deal. My wife’s a strong Democrat, so it’s always worked for us. And it’s mainly the case now that a lot of issues will break both ways. Some of it is regional, for example, working in the auto industry. Republicans and Democrats represent auto states, so there’s a lot of overlap on issues. Partly because of my academic background and partly because of the journalism background, the information I provide my clients is not ideologically driven. It’s factually driven and focused on their particular point of view.
C&E: What new trends are you noticing in the industry?
Feld: One of the big trends I see is people leaving larger firms with a specific expertise and opening smaller shops. You see that not just in the research world, but with lobbyists who are experts on energy issues. Three or four people will leave some of the bigger firms and open their own. That trend is fantastic for us because those smaller firms aren’t going to have the resources to provide their clients with the in-depth research information they might like. There will be a lot of strategic partnerships arising in the next couple of years because now, with all the technology, social media and connectivity, you don’t have to be part of a big firm to get your message out, or to advocate on Capitol Hill.
C&E: What sort of strategic partnerships are you envisioning?
Feld: If a smaller public affairs firm wants to compete with a larger one on a possible contract, they can join forces with other small firms to present their bid. Let’s say a very large association wants to do a public affairs campaign. A couple of the bigger firms will bid on that, but the smaller firms will also be able to bid because they can bring a company like PowerBase Associates, and then a social media firm and another firm—basically creating a coalition of companies to bid on that. The larger firms will end up competing against coalitions of smaller firms, where they’ll come together.