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K Street’s CGCN Group picks up big names from Definers

Matt Rhodes and Antonia Ferrier join growing GOP lobbying firm

CGCN has cultivated a reputation as a scrappy, profitable K Street player with big-name clients. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
CGCN has cultivated a reputation as a scrappy, profitable K Street player with big-name clients. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The CGCN Group, a K Street shop known for its deep Republican connections, is scooping up Matt Rhoades and Antonia Ferrier from the communications and opposition research firm Definers Public Affairs.

Rhoades, who managed the 2012 Mitt Romney presidential campaign, will serve as co-CEO, along with GOP lobbyist Sam Geduldig, of CGCN. Ferrier is a former Republican congressional aide, most recently working for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

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Definers landed in the headlines late last year for its work on behalf of Facebook. One November 2018 headline in The New York Times said the outfit had brought “political trickery to tech.” Ferrier joined Definers in December.

“Things were great at Definers, but this was just too great to pass up,” Ferrier said of the move.

The CGCN Group reported federal lobbying revenue just shy of $5 million for the first six months of this year, putting it on a path for its highest grossing year yet. It’s not among the top lobbying firms based on revenue, but it’s been in a growth mode particularly since 2010. CGCN has cultivated a reputation as a scrappy, profitable player with big-name clients such as the American Petroleum Institute, Bank Policy Institute, Boeing, MasterCard Worldwide and the U.S. Travel Association, among others.

“We’ve never been this excited about our business,” said Geduldig, who previously worked for former Speaker John A. Boehner and for Sen. Roy Blunt when the Missouri Republican served in House leadership.

At least three current CGCN professionals departed the firm, including Ken Spain, a former communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee. Spain, Patrick O’Connor and Ed Mullen opened their own shop, Narrative Strategies.

Definers Public Affairs will morph into the Bullpen Strategy Group, according to the firm’s owner Joe Pounder, who outlined his plans in a post on the site, Medium. Others from Definers are also expected to join CGCN.

Geduldig said the reorganization of his firm, especially the big-name additions, was expected to boost CGCN. The shop will offer an integrated campaign-style approach for clients with lobbying, communications and advocacy work, he said.

“Matt Rhoades has been at the pinnacle of presidential, national politics, and I just cannot believe how fortunate we are to have Matt and Antonia come and join our firm and take it to the next level,” Geduldig said.

Geduldig said Ferrier brought him and Rhoades together earlier this year to discuss a possible move.

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Mike Catanzaro, who left the firm to serve in the Trump administration until 2018, and then returned, will be CGCN’s president and chief policy officer. Catanzaro was special assistant to the president for domestic energy and environmental policy at the National Economic Council. He said he hoped to expand the firm’s work in health care, trade and other policy matters. Mike Nielsen will be chief financial officer, Jay Cranford will be senior partner, and Steve Clark will remain as founder and chairman.

“This new team is going to take this firm to a whole new level,” Catanzaro said. “These are experienced, seasoned strategists who understand the 360-degree landscape in Washington, D.C.”

Though CGCN will remain Republican, the shop will also continue with an odd-bedfellow partnership it has in United By Interest, a collection of firms spanning the political spectrum that focuses on working not only congressional leadership offices but also Capitol Hill’s various factions and caucuses including the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus as well as the conservative Republican Study Committee and House Freedom Caucus.

Amid an increasingly polarized and partisan environment, Geduldig and others involved in UBI say they are searching for a model that can produce greater collaboration between the left and right.

“The UBI connection is hugely important,” Geduldig said. “We are living in interesting times, and it requires building unique coalitions. I think a lot of K Street firms miss these niches, and we’re just all over them.”

UBI’s clients include the American Petroleum Institute as well as the Blackstone Group and the Property Casualty Insurance Trade Association.

Democratic lobbyist Mike Williams, a partner in UBI, said he expected “to hit the ground running” with the new team. “We need third-party engagement,” he said, referring to public relations efforts in conjunction with lobbying campaigns. “Now you have this more robust team to be able to do that.”

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