A group of female consultants from Chicago are using Donald Trump’s White House win as inspiration for launching a new firm with a unique business model.
Instead of pitching clients, signing contracts and banking retainers, Rodham Consulting offers female candidates in Illinois one hour of free consulting services from a collective of experienced practitioners. If the candidate wants to retain the firm’s services — or a member of the collective — she can do so down the line. But the first session is free.
“We want to be the first phone call an Illinois women makes when she wants to get involved politically in her community and hopefully run for office,” Anne Szkatulski, an attorney and principal at the firm, told C&E. “We really exist as a pro bono firm to get [candidates] started down that path. [After the intro session], we could recommend certain professionals to help her run her campaign.”
All the advisors on the firm’s roster have kept their day jobs and offer their services around their and the client’s work schedules. In addition to the political advice, the firm can also help introduce a female candidate to potential donors and supporters — providing a holistic all-in-one package.
The inspiration for the local shop was the firm’s namesake: Hillary Rodham Clinton. Her defeat to a first-time candidate, albeit a wealthy and famous one, could have a chilling effect on aspiring female pols. Or at least that’s what Szkatulski and her partners were worried about after November 8, 2016.
“After the election, I woke up the next day and my biggest fear that women who were inspired to run for office because of Hillary’s campaign would after her loss be afraid to do so,” Szkatulski said.
Joining Szkatulski on the masthead at Rodham Consulting are Sarah Cottrell and Kate LeFurgy, who met while working at ASGK Public Strategies, David Axelrod’s former firm, in Chicago. The two consultants met Szkatulski at a "Lean In" group in Chicago called PowerPump Salon a few years ago.
Rodham isn’t the first female-only consulting firm. On the GOP side, Burning Glass Consulting has catered to female candidates for several years. Meanwhile, there’s a coterie of organizations that train female candidates including Running Start, whose training program is called Elect Her. There's also VoteRunLead, which has a similar type of training for female candidates, and WUFPAC, which helps support female candidates who are 40 and under.
Now, Chicago is becoming a hotbed for female-led political industry startups taking aim at Trump. In the days after the presidential election, Chicago-based strategist Ellie Bahrmasel and entrepreneur Genevieve Thiers launched the Rise Movement, a new PAC that’s hoping to use digital tools to form new coalitions of voters who oppose the incoming president. But whether these sorts of organizations will inspire more women to run is an open question.
LeFurgy firmly believes Rodham will help increase the number of female candidates running in Illinois. “A lot of women were discouraged by this most recent election. You look at Secretary Clinton and how qualified she is running against someone who wasn’t as qualified.
“I’m a firm believer that you can’t be what you can’t see,” she said. “Having more female consultants getting women to run for office is key.”
Szkatulski added that a team of female consultants can better relate to the challenges a female candidate will face.
“Women take different factors under consideration when running for office,” she said. “They often have to consider things that male candidates don’t. When you have female consultants who can understand very subtle differences in the process, female consultants may actually be more effective for female candidates.”