Fierce and Fun
Latino Lobbyists on the Rise
By Patricia Guadalupe
The government affairs and lobbying business helps keep the nation’s capital running, and Latinos are becoming a growing part of this multi-billion dollar industry. While Hispanic-owned firms are still just a handful among the many others in Washington, D.C., two up-and-comers have everyone taking notice.
Cristina Antelo started Ferox Strategies, which recently celebrated its two-year anniversary. The name, she says, comes from wholeheartedly embracing part of her personality. “I’ve been described as aggressive, and as a woman sometimes that’s good and sometimes that’s bad, and I decided to own it and say, ‘Yeah I’m aggressive.’ I’m going to work everyone under the table and so the name, Ferox is Latin for aggressive.” (And in Spanish, feroz means fierce.)
The Cuban American credits hard work, in fact, “working harder than everybody else” with helping her get to where she is now. “Don’t be so scared of failing that you don’t even try,” she says, and Ferox’s mantra is prominently displayed on its website: Hustle is Our Strategy. And hustle she has: “On day one we had two clients, day two, three clients, and within a few months we had five, six clients. In a year it was close to ten clients. We’ve got a full roster now going into the third year.”
But fierce can also be fun, and Antelo maintains her sense of humor by noting on her bio that her two young daughters are “fiercely loyal to any client that provides toys…or snacks…or anything with glitter.” Antelo is no newbie to the business, coming with extensive experience working in several top firms, but says she had thought about going out on her own for some time before actually taking the plunge. It was when her then-employer, lobbying powerhouse Podesta Group, closed its doors in 2017 that she finally launched Ferox, along with Chief of Staff Lucia Alonzo.
“I was scared and nervous to go out on my own but I wanted to see if I could do this for myself, and thought I could try it and if I’m still eating Ramen noodles after a year, I could still go to another firm. But, wouldn’t it be a shame if I never tried? I gave myself permission to fail,” she said. “It was freeing to do that, and I gave myself the ability to try and we succeeded nonetheless. In this town there aren’t a lot of women-owned lobbying shops, even at a time when there are a record number of women members of Congress and this is the most diverse Congress ever.”
Ferox’ clients include Walmart, Mylan, Gap, Diageo, Waste Management, Westfield and 4-H. In 2019, it made Bloomberg Government’s Top Performing Lobbyists list, ranking 4th in “Firms with Highest Revenue Growth.” And the forecast for 2020 and beyond is encouraging, adds Antelo. “One of our clients recently extended their contract, another gave us a raise, others have re-signed, and the prospects for new business look good. It’s been very rewarding.” Ferox is also bipartisan, having recruited Republican and fellow Dallas native Mark Williams, one of just a few Latinos who have served as congressional chiefs of staff.
Oscar Ramírez is a co-founder of Fulcrum Public Affairs, a year-old company touted as the only 100 percent Hispanic and Black-owned federal affairs firm in Washington, DC. The decision to go with the firm’s name is as unique as Ferox’s. “A fulcrum plays a central or essential role in any activity and we feel that our firm is an essential part of what a client wants to do. We want to be there for them,” says Ramírez. He adds that Fulcrum’s team is as diverse as its co-founders, which adds to the firm’s value, and touts the hashtag #YoungScrappyAndHungry from the musical Hamilton. “That’s who we are as individuals, as professionals and as a firm.”
Ramirez continues: “Our five senior people are very diverse. I’d like to think we’re walking the walk. You really can hire diverse talent, you can excel and provide top notch service to your clients. We’re unique in a couple of ways, including diversity. We do most of our work in federal lobbying but we also do a lot of state and local work, stakeholder coalition building and political work, and that is something that we can bring to the table. Different companies have different needs and we have a lot of experience in many areas. Even though we are a small firm we bring a lot to the table.”
Fulcrum’s two dozen clients include brand names like Google, Tesla, Airbnb, Lyft, T-Mobile, and JPMorgan Chase as well as nonprofits like March of Dimes, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and Alianza Americas. “We represent and have represented non-profits that work on immigration, gun control, and to forgive medical debt. The work those organizations do align with our progressive values,” says Ramirez, adding that the future looks bright. Bloomberg Government named Fulcrum the top new lobbying firm by revenue in 2019.
Like Antelo, Ramírez brings extensive experience to opening his own shop. He is also an alum of Podesta Group, and both credit their work there with making the transition to setting up their own shops easier. “It’s always a risk to go out on your own but I give Tony Podesta a lot of credit because he gave us the opportunity to work with top-notch clients that otherwise we wouldn’t have had and we were able to show we can do the work,” Ramírez tells LATINO. “We knew we could do the work, we were already managing and servicing these clients and they knew we could do the work, so it made it the transition easier. Tony gave us the best shot to prove ourselves and we did. We didn’t have to convince anyone that we were good.”
A proud native of Peru, Ramirez is also part of a DC power couple, married to Obama veteran Stephanie Valencia, the founder of polling firm Equis Research. The two actively support Latino political candidates and mentor a new generation of Latinos in public service.
Many Latino lobbyists – Antelo and Ramírez included — are members of the Hispanic Lobbyists Association (HLA). Currently, the HLA has over 100 members, and is committed to advancing and empowering Latino government relations and public affairs professionals by fostering mentorship and professional development opportunities.
“There’s a growing number of Latino lobbyists and with that comes a responsibility to ensure that there is a place to grow and foster future generations. I see our role as making sure that we show up, that we are in the halls of Congress, like any other group. Our interests are so varied and it’s more important than ever to be there at the table. When you’re advocating for different issues you need that Latino perspective. We have so much more to offer than just immigration or issues that pigeonhole the Latino community. We know foreign policy, we know national security, we know energy policy, we are in so many different sectors and we have a lot to offer,” says HLA Vice President Anaís Carmona, Director of Federal Government Affairs at T-Mobile.
“HLA gives us a true sense of community. There is diversity within our membership and you do truly do get mentorship. We help each other even if we are competitors. It’s a very collegial environment. Diversity is the fuel that propels our business forward. The demographics of this country are changing, our leadership in Congress is changing and our advocacy has to keep up with that too.”