Jan 14, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Twitter banning Trump undercuts some D.C. lobbyists and consultants

A view of K Street - known as "Gucci Gulch" - in Washington.
Gucci Gulch. Photo: Brooks Kraft/Getty Images

Banning President Trump from Twitter didn't just cut his personal communications channel but curbed a cottage industry of lobbyists and consultants who monetized their ability to get clients into his Twitterverse.

Why it matters: Trump’s social media fixation offered K Street a unique way to get issues either noticed by the one person in Washington who really mattered, or amplified by those who'd built their own broad followings through connections to him.

The big picture: Promoting clients on social media has been a routine public affairs tactic for as long as it's existed. But Trump’s unique obsession turbocharged its value for firms and their clients looking to get his attention.

  • Getting Trump to tweet about a client or pet issue was gold. He had 88 million followers and used his feed to promote people, TV programs and causes.
  • A retweet was silver. A tweet by Don Jr., Ivanka or Trump pals like Rudy Giuliani earned a bronze.

What we’re hearing: One connected Republican consultant told Axios the prominent connection between Trump and Twitter caused the influence industry to focus on it "instead of more traditional means of communications, like placing op-eds."

Lobbyists and PR execs who figured that out early offered clients a valuable service that even some of Washington’s most established firms had overlooked.

  • One lobbyist told Axios his firm paid another consulting shop to generate earned media for clients, including tweets from prominent MAGA personalities such as Charlie Kirk, the founder of the pro-Trump student group Turning Point USA. Kirk himself was not paid for the tweets, the lobbyist said.
  • “For a company facing an existential threat, sometimes a tweet from the right Trumpfluencer had more impact on an outcome than an army of $1,200-an-hour lawyers from a white-shoe firm,” said the lobbyist. Both the consultant and lobbyist requested anonymity to candidly discuss internal firm strategies.

It wasn’t just the influence industry. Officials in Trump’s own administration worked to ensure the president was tagged in tweets about their policy work.

  • FOIA’d emails released Wednesday by the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington show Interior Department communications director Nicholas Goodwin was determined to include the @realDonaldTrump handle in agency Twitter dispatches.
  • In one message, Goodwin stressed the importance of “mentioning that the president (and using his official @realDonaldTrump handle) signed [a piece of] legislation into law.”

The bottom line: The Trump-era focus on Twitter shows how an administration's idiosyncrasies can shape the way the rest of Washington works.

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