- The Washington Times - Monday, December 13, 1999

Washington gets Hill information from company

Robert Hansan thinks legislators should listen to their constituents. That’s why he started a company that publishes pocket-sized congressional directories.

Fourteen years later, his products play an essential role in Washington’s political life. And his company, Capitol Advantage, is expanding and going on line.

“I have always been very involved in politics,” said Mr. Hansan. “And I always worked on how to get people involved in the process. Politicians’ job is to listen to what their constituents want or don’t want.”

Mr. Hansan founded Capitol Advantage a few months after earning a bachelor’s degree in political science from Virginia Commonwealth University in 1986. For a year and a half he worked out of his father’s study, using a $10,000 loan from his family.

Although he was the firm’s only employee back then, he had plenty of help.

“A lot of friends and my family helped me gather information,” said Mr. Hansan. “In fact, it was a landing zone for all my friends between college and employment.”

Capitol Advantage’s first employee started in late 1987, and she is still with the company.

In 14 years, the business has grown. Last year it published more than 600,000 directories, which provide everything from members of Congress to formal names of committees and subcommittees.

The directories can be purchased for $14 at local bookstores, but 90 percent of Capitol Advantage business comes from large companies and organizations. Those clients order their directories customized, with their company name on the cover and additional information inside. Then they give them to their clients, or include them in packages at meetings and fund-raising events.

Weber McGinn, a public relations firm that specializes in government relations, has been buying about 2,000 copies of Capitol Advantage’s directories since the business started.

“We provide them to media contacts, our current clients and potential clients,” said Michael Fulton, senior vice president of Weber McGinn. “It’s one of the things we hand out as a brochure because it makes a statement of credibility a statement that Weber McGinn is plugged into Washington and the top resources that are available about working and succeeding in Washington.”

After acquiring several of its competitors over the years, Mr. Hansan decided to expand Capitol Advantage’s services to the Internet. CapitolWiz.com is a site where constituents can find out who their legislators are from federal to state level and governors and how to reach them.

Using the site, Capitol Advantage delivered more than 5 million messages to Capitol Hill and state agencies last year.

Congress.org, an on-line version of the Congressional Directory, is another Web site run by Capitol Advantage.

The next step for the business are several agreements with Internet service providers such as America Online and Juno Online Services. On AOL, Web surfers can find out how their legislators are voting on certain issues. Those AOL users are also forwarded a weekly on-line update on the topics.

With Juno, Capitol Advantage runs a site (www.e-advocates.com), where users can find out about legislators’ votes and get in touch with political consultants.

Although the company was not profitable for the first five years, it does very well now. Last year, its revenues were roughly $2 million; this year that number will double, said Mr. Hansan.

Capitol Advantage was the first Congressional Directory publisher to include fax numbers in its books in the late 1980s. Mr. Hansan recalls how much that upset people on the Hill, and how including e-mail addresses in the directories is reviving that anger.

“The Hill went crazy when fax numbers were published,” he said. “They didn’t want an onslaught of communication. But eventually they dealt with it.”

He added about e-mail: “Yes, it’s uncomfortable for the Hill to get high numbers of e-mails. The Internet is slow to grow on Capitol Hill. But there are several offices with the capabilities and we expect this to grow.”

Capitol Advantage is not the only company that published directories. Congress itself publishes one, but it is released late in the year, whereas the commercial ones come out much earlier. Mr. Hansan’s guides, for example, are done early March, two weeks after the final subcommittees on Capitol Hill are assigned.

“People literally drive up here to pick them up,” said Mr. Hansan of the new directories. “It’s a large part of Washingtonians’ lives.”

Although he is deeply involved in Washington politics, Mr. Hansan said he sometimes forgets just how political everything in the city is.

“Sometimes I go visit clients, and I forget how politically charged everyone is,” he says. “And we are on the outskirts of involvement. We are not a political company. We are a Washington company what allows Washington to keep working.”

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