Mark Irion.
Mark Irion. (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM)

Boosting its client offerings and its nonlegal business, Hogan Lovells has hired a public relations executive to create a communications group inside the firm.

Mark Irion, previously president of the public relations and strategic communications group Levick in Washington, D.C., joined the U.S.- and U.K.-based firm this week as a senior adviser. The law firm plans to build a team of public relations professionals around him. 

“The whole thing is designed not just to add additional services but how to win. How do we win?” Irion said Tuesday.

The acquisition is unusual for a law firm, even in D.C., where nonlawyer lobby shops and and consulting services occasionally complement traditional law partnerships as business subsidiaries. For instance, firms including McGuireWoods, Bracewell, Drinker Biddle & Reath and Cozen O’Connor all operate consulting or lobbying subsidiaries. McDermott Will & Emery and Manatt, Phelps & Phillips have nonlawyer subsidiaries that focus on health care.

Holland & Knight is one of the few firms that has had public relations professionals within its regulatory and lobbying group for about a decade. The practice of mixing lobbying and PR professionals in one business is more common at nonlawyer lobbying companies.

Hogan Lovells already offers some nonlawyer services, including lobbying, cybersecurity risk management, financial services regulatory consulting and global transfer pricing.

“A lot of firms can’t do this,” partner Mike House said of the new venture. House is head of Hogan Lovells’ lobbying group, which he said will work closely with Irion. ”The reason we feel like we can is we have a large national and international platform.”

Hogan Lovells first considered adding the business about two years ago. House said they discussed how it would work with the firm’s white-collar and regulatory groups, and how those practices could cross-sell a public relations service. The headhunter Ivan Adler, who specializes in placing lobbyists, worked on the deal with Irion.

Irion will have to track his hours as billable time — a standard in the legal industry but not in the communications or lobbying professions, which often work on retainer or flat fees.

He also emphasized the support the move has gotten from Hogan Lovells’ CEO, Steve Immelt.

“In this digital age public perceptions form rapidly and can determine the ultimate outcomes of our clients’ legal strategies, which makes it imperative that we help shape the public narrative in order to achieve a successful outcome,” Immelt said in a statement from the firm.

House declined to say how much the firm will invest in the communications group.

“I think the fact that we brought Mark on board is a pretty good investment in itself,” House said. “We intend for this to be successful and will invest what we need for it to be.”

The types of services that make up strategic communications include traditional public relations, like getting stories covered by the mainstream and trade press, crisis control, reputation management, and stoking public support for clients and issues on social media.

Levick’s clients have included the toymaker Hasbro; Shaun McCutcheon, the petitioner in a major U.S. Supreme Court case that loosened donation limits in campaign finance; an undisclosed company that feared being associated with the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico; and the government of Dubai. Major lobbying clients of Hogan Lovells are the investment firm TPG Capital, Nissan North America, the insurance company Aflac, and oil, natural gas and coal companies.

Before joining Levick, Irion spent most of his career as the PR firm then known as Dutko Worldwide (now called Grayling). He was president at Levick until his departure a year ago. The strategic communications shop has been through several big-name departures since then, including former Rep. Connie Mack and Lanny Davis, formerly special counsel to President Bill Clinton.

Copyright National Law Journal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.