An old saying on the blending of public policy and politics is, "If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re on the menu." And that makes you — and your business and/or industry — vulnerable.
With that as a backdrop, Tampa-based Shumaker Advisors, a wholly owned subsidiary of Shumaker Law, is like a maître d' at a five-star restaurant: It guides its clients away from the menus and directly to the best tables, with the best wine, and the best food, all behind a discreet yet dogged customer-first strategy.
Launched in May 2017, Shumaker Advisors Florida, with a sister branch in Ohio, is now one of the fastest-growing public affairs firms in the Sunshine State as it turns five-years old. It's grown from 17 clients that first year to 95 in 2022. On revenue, officials project the firm will surpass $4 million in 2023, up more than 150% from 2020. And on advisors, the full-time rainmakers who bring in the clients and work the accounts, it has 18 in Florida — a roster that includes multiple boldfaced names such as former Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and former St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman, both Democrats; former U.S. Congressman David Jolly, R-Indian Shores; and former two-term South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, a Republican talked about as a potential presidential candidate before an extramarital affair derailed national interests. Sanford runs the Charleston, South Carolina, office for Shumaker Advisors Florida. (Jolly was a Republican when he held office but has since switched to Independent and is part of a new political entity, the Forward Party.)
Ron Christaldi, a partner at Shumaker and prominent business attorney, oversees Shumaker Advisors Florida as president and CEO. He says one key to the success is the firm’s approach of helping clients long-term but what could be for short-term situations — like dealing with an unexpected provision in a bill or understanding competitive risks in new markets. The firm — sometimes on offense, other times on defense, says Christaldi — works with both public and private clients at the federal, state and local levels.
“Many public affairs firms are transactional in nature, but the basis of what we do isn’t transactional, but built on relationships,” Christaldi says. “I’m super excited about the team we’ve built. It really is a team of all-stars.”
Another key? In a hyper-partisan world, Shumaker Advisors makes a point to not make things about politics. Kriseman and Buckhorn are both longtime Democrats, while Sanford is among the Republicans at the firm.
Another noteworthy example of sidelined politics? Christaldi boasts about having both Sandy Murman and Les Miller as part of the Shumaker Advisors team. Murman and Miller both spent a decade as Hillsborough County Commissioners, Murman a Republican, Miller a Democrat. Both also served in statewide politics prior to Hillsborough County: Murman was a state representative, ultimately holding the position of speaker pro-tempore, while Miller was a minority party leader as both a state representative and state senator.
“We pride ourselves in our political diversity,” Christaldi says. “We check our politics at the door — our (only) issues are our clients' issues.”
The genesis of Shumaker Advisors Florida dates back to a Shumaker law firm retreat in 2014, when Christaldi connected with Andy Herf of the firm’s Ohio office. At the wine station at the retreat, Christaldi chatted up Herf and asked what kind of law he practices. “I’m a lobbyist,” Herf answered, “not an attorney.”
Herf actually was, and remains, a prominent lobbyist in Ohio state government, working with food and beverage, health care, environmental clients and more. The conversation with Herf crystalized something for Christaldi, who has steered a bevy of big community efforts in his career, including a group trying to find a home for the Tampa Bay Rays in Tampa. Christaldi says he’s long heard from clients at the law firm, knowing his connections, who sought his assistance. “People ask, ‘can you put me in touch with the governor or can you get in contact with the mayor?’ — things like that.”
“I thought it was a brilliant idea,” Christaldi says, to have a public affairs firm complement the law firm.
Brilliant, but also competitive, complicated and difficult to navigate. Christaldi says some Shumaker partners “looked at me like I was crazy” when he first suggested it, but they also “trusted me to make it work.”
Five years later Shumaker Advisors is primed to keep on working — and growing. One of its recent hires, Hagir Elawad, follows the firm’s patterns of aiming high. Elawad, named senior vice president of federal affairs for Shumaker Advisors and based in Washington, D.C., has been a government relations strategist for more than 15 years. She previously handled high-level legislative, political and military affairs with the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates, among other posts, according to a statement.
Christaldi sees more hires like Elawad in the near future for Shumaker Advisors, part of the firm’s overall mission to grow based on need. “It’s not about what clients can I bring in or how much money can I make for the firm,” he says. “It’s about how we can move the needle on making us a better community.”
(This story was updated to reflect the current political party David Jolly is in.)