By Eli Yokley
St. Louis-based political operative Gregg Keller, former executive director of the American Conservative Union, has left his post to launch a new consulting firm in the region.
Keller, who led Sen. Jim Talent’s campaign in 2006 and served as Mitt Romney’s national coalition director in 2008, has now created Atlas Strategy Group, which aims to provide strategic services for non-profits, small business, corporations and political campaigns, including coalition-building, strategic consulting, fundraising and communications.
Like parts of the business community, Keller said the strategic consulting business is moving toward a freelance model. Keller said by moving away from the large-shop model, where consulting firms will set up large offices and force clients to pay large retainers, his model will allow him to significantly undersell his larger competitors.
“What I want to do is have a very small, stripped down firm that doesn’t take on many employees,” he said. “What I’m doing and have done is built several strategic partnerships with many professionals in different spaces, all of whom I’ve worked with in he past. If you’re smart and not too greedy, you can vastly undersell the big firms who need to pay for the big offices and all the expenses that come with a big firm.”
Keller, a St. Louis native, said the new job will allow him to spend significantly more time in St. Louis with his wife and three children.
“Happiness in life is working in politics at as high a level as I can and living in St. Louis.”
Keller said that particularly in the current news environment — where companies are watching social media and sometimes facing political pressure — coalition building is a key to capturing the attention of policymakers and their staff.
“Historically, there have been a few tried-and-true ways to affect public policy. One is lobbying: You hire lobbyists, build a political action committee, join a trade association and cut big checks,” he said. While he thinks that is still important, he believes particularly among more conservative members, that may not be as effective as a more nuanced route. “The business community is just now waking up to the kind of powerful coalitions that can enact public policy change if they just know who to talk to.”
Pointing to relationships built during time at ACU and his prior experience as National Executive Director of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, a social-conservative public policy coalition, Keller said bringing together activist and grassroots organizations behind an issue is an effective way to tug at the hearts and minds of lawmakers.
“There are a lot of conservative members of congress and state legislatures who aren’t moved as much by big corporate donators or well-paid lobbyists,” he said. By turning a business’s niche issue — whether it be a liquor regulation or an energy issue unfamiliar to the general public, for example — coalition building can in turn make that issue a conservative issue, he said.