There may be someone in the public relations industry who knows more about grassroots lobbying and coalition building than Hawthorn Group chief executive John Ashford, but we doubt it. Ashford was there at the birth of grassroots—working alongside veteran political consultant Matt Reese—and over the past 20 years has managed hundreds of campaigns for clients such as AT&T, Philip Morris, BP, Chevron, United Airlines, and American Honda. As a result, his firm has emerged as perhaps the premier independent public affairs consultancy in the nation’s capital.
Hawthorn can handle more than just grassroots campaigns, of course. The firm manages media and government relations campaigns, crisis and litigation communications, and has recently expanded into investor relations through its New York office. And Hawthorn’s reach extends beyond Washington, D.C., thanks to offices in Atlanta and London, a network of more than 40 partners in the U.S. and Canada, membership in PR Organization International, and a unique service called Intercept, designed to monitor and respond to issues as they arise in state capitals around the country and to provide local support to the firm’s national programs.
Hawthorn’s approach derives from the fact that most of its senior people are political campaign veterans. They bring to their corporate work a campaign approach that includes a sense of urgency, an ability to draw on a wide range of resources (from advertising to media relations to coalition building), and an emphasis on research.
The firm has added several key senior people over the past year, including executive VP Tom Lambrix, formerly head of external affairs at Union Camp; Tom Goodwin, also as executive VP, from Porter Novelli; and senior counselors Pat Schiavone and Ed Quick. At the same time, the role of the firm’s president and COO Shaila Aery (former U.S. Senate chief of staff) has expanded. Fees for 2000 will be about $8 million, thanks to new business from clients in the aeronautics, electronics, and healthcare sectors, offsetting the end of a $2 million project that slowed its growth considerably. The firm continues to work for high-profile clients including Alabama Power, the Council for Affordable Quality Healthcare, Georgia Pacific, Honda, and Southern Company.