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The Web site already has the firm’s new name. The new stationery is on order. And so are the Democrats. Barbour Griffith & Rogers, Washington’s largest all-Republican lobbying shop, announced last week that the firm will change its name to the more neutral BGR Holding LLC and go bipartisan in 2008. It’s the latest in a series of Republican-leaning firms to yield to a Democratic tidal wave this year, and came after months of hints from firm leaders. The public statement commits them to changing the firm’s political stripes, a key step in recruiting prominent Democrats with reservations about a firm deeply entrenched behind Republican lines. The firm also announced it will expand its offerings to include public relations, crisis management, and other such services, a clear bid to keep more corporate business in house and decrease reliance on subcontracting the work to other firms. The reasons for the changes seem obvious: Democrats took control of Congress in the last election, and the party may strengthen that hold — and possibly take the White House — in 2008. Other firms — including Ogilvy Government Relations and the Livingston Group — have already moved to establish their Democratic bona fides. Even in its current incarnation, Barbour Griffith — which ranked No. 10 in Legal Times‘ Influence 50, with $28.8 million in gross revenue for 2006 — says 2007 wasn’t bad. In fact, it’s touting 2007 as a record year for revenue; Loren Monroe, the shop’s chief operating officer, says gross revenues are up about 2 percent (final accounting is still under way) and the firm had its best fourth quarter ever after reporting only a slight uptick at midyear. So why tinker with a formula that’s working? Clients want a bipartisan team, something that’s increasingly forced BGR to partner with other firms such as the Podesta Group and the Glover Park Group. “I think in some ways [the GOP business model] was inhibiting future growth,” says Monroe. The firm has yet to announce any Democratic hires, and Monroe says BGR is still having “conversation” with different possibilities around town. He won’t rule out either a merger or a strategic alliance with an existing firm, though he says BGR would prefer to hire directly. And he concedes the firm is more likely to “work through someone who has a business already” than hire someone entirely new to lobbying. BGR currently has 17 Republican lobbyists. Monroe says the firm hasn’t committed to hiring a specific number of Democrats, but stresses that the plan is to make a substantial shift, not hire a single, token Democrat. The firm’s lease is up in 2008, he says, and it will be in the market for new (and likely bigger) office space to accommodate the new hires. And was the name change a way of gently ushering the firm’s Republican roots into the background? “Changing our name enables us to develop a new generation of firm leadership while expanding our brand to include services we offer beyond the lobbying practice,” Monroe says in an e-mail. The firm’s executive management team weighed in on making the change, but the firm’s two partners — Lanny Griffith and Ed Rogers — had the final say on the shift that shortened their names to initials. Monroe, firm President Bob Wood, and a few others share profits in the firm, but don’t have an ownership stake. The third original partner — Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour — stepped down after being elected to public office in 2003. Monroe declined to comment directly on whether the firm would bring in any more partners or change its business model, saying no final decisions have been made about the shape the Democratic presence will take, or the new PR and business-to-business offerings. But if the plan moves forward, it’s clear the firm won’t look the same a year from now. That’s OK, Monroe says, because the lobbying business isn’t the same as it once was, either. “Straight lobbying is now more and more in need of additional resources, and that’s what we’re doing with some of the strategic messaging and research,” he says. “It’s really a rounding out” of how BGR lobbyists shape their message.
Carrie Levine can be contacted at [email protected].

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