WASHINGTON, D.C., March 12—It’s not easy for an out-of-town agency to establish itself as a player in the Washington market, so the success enjoyed by The MWW Group (headquarters: East Rutherford, NJ) since it opened its doors in the nation’s capital eight years ago is impressive. MWW’s has public relations and lobbying fees in Washington of more than $7 million—enough to place it ahead of top tier agencies such as Manning Selvage & Lee, GCI Group, Cohn & Wolfe and Ruder Finn. Until the recent restructuring of Interpublic’s PR operations, MWW was even ahead of Golin/Harris, which became its parent company in October of last year.

Now MWW is moving to strengthen its Washington operations, headed by Jonathan Slade, with the addition of veteran lobbyist and telecommunications expert Jeffrey Walter. Just three months after he left The Washington Group (recently acquired by Ketchum) to start his own firm, Walter has been named second in command at MWW.

“Our philosophy since we opened in Washington has been to look for people who are among the most respected players in their niches,” says MWW executive vice president Bob Sommer. “We didn’t look for the ultimate rainmaker, the former congressman of former cabinet official with high visibility. For every one of those guys who succeeds in the public affairs realm there are five who don’t. We looked for people who were smart and who were strong in their own areas.”

In Walter’s case, that’s the telecommunications sector. He brings three telecom clients with him to MWW: News Corp., the National Cable Television Association, and the American Names Association.

But MWW made its name in a less fashionable niche. Slade, a former staffer on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, built a strong practice focused on Latin American and Caribbean issues, handling the Puerto Rico statehood movement—which became one of the firm’s largest accounts—and the Cuban-American Foundation, which has led the fight against normalization of trade relations with Cuba. The firm also represents Bacardi on trademark and other trade issues.

Other areas of expertise include tort reform and appropriations.

In addition to staffing the Washington office with experts in a few specialty areas, MWW made several other decisions that proved key to its success, Sommer says. “We decided we did not want to become known as either a Democrat or a Republican shop. And we decided to move very quickly and aggressively into state lobbying. Unlike many of our competitors, who monitor state issues and who will put you in touch with lobbyists in the various state capitals if you need help, we offer monitoring almost as a loss leader, but we will coordinate campaigns across all 50 states if necessary.”

In fact, the firm is in the process of introducing a proprietary state monitoring and lobbying program that will complement its existing software system, which offers coalition building, direct mail, and e-mail assistance.

The final key to MWW’s success has been its ability to combine public affairs and lobbying—an approach that has become increasingly popular since the firm opened in D.C. eight years ago. Today, law firms are opening PR subsidiaries (as Patton Boggs did last year) and PR firms like Burson-Marsteller, Fleishman-Hillard and Ketchum have lobbying subsidiaries. Few have achieved the degree of integration MWW enjoys, however.

Sommer estimates that 80 percent of the firm’s clients use both its PR and lobbying capabilities at one time or another.