The CGCN Group and Matador Announce Merger

Bringing our teams together will not only expand our stable of award-winning strategic communications experts but provide an even deeper bench of knowledge and expertise for all of our clients”

WASHINGTON, DC (Thursday, October 28) – Today, the CGCN Group, an advocacy and strategic communications firm, and Matador, a public affairs firm, announced the merger of their respective companies. The combined organizations, operating under the CGCN name, will offer a comprehensive list of services ranging from strategic and crisis communications to public affairs and advocacy.

The CGCN Group is a fully integrated advocacy and strategic communications firm recognized for its unparalleled relationships across government and media, and its ability to develop winning campaigns by successfully shaping policy and regulatory debates.

Founded by veteran communications strategist Tracey Schmitt in 2018, Matador has quickly become a go-to communications shop for those seeking creative, sophisticated, and informed counsel to drive impactful public affairs and strategic communications campaigns.

Schmitt, a campaign and communications strategist, will join CGCN as a Senior Partner. Merrill Smith will join as a Partner and Katherine Coughlin as a Policy Advisor. Matador’s Chief Creative Officer, Nick Lintott, will continue to provide creative and production services through Matador Media Group.

“We are thrilled to be joining forces with Matador.  Bringing our teams together will not only expand our stable of award-winning strategic communications experts but provide an even deeper bench of knowledge and expertise for all of our clients,” said Matt Rhoades, co-CEO of the CGCN Group. “I’ve known Tracey and Merrill for years, and they are top-notch talent with an exceptional level of experience, talent and professionalism.  We can’t wait to hit the ground running.”

Schmitt founded Matador after nearly two decades of developing winning strategies for high profile leaders in the public, private and political sectors; including the White House, and three presidential campaigns.

“We are excited to join forces with the respected, talented, and trusted team at CGCN Group,” said Schmitt.  “Since our launch in 2018, we have been approached by other firms, but it wasn’t until my discussion with Matt and the team at CGCN that I was confident this was the right move at the right time. I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve built and believe this next chapter will result in a stronger organization, poised to meet the growing demand for savvy and cutting-edge communications campaigns.

Smith has over 20 years’ experience working in the highest levels of government, politics, and private sector communications. She worked on two presidential campaigns, the White House, and in the private sector prior to joining Matador.

Coughlin is a lawyer who served as a counsel on the Senate Judiciary Committee. She has vast experience and expertise in judiciary, health care and immigration issues.

The merger will go into effect on November 1, 2021.


What follows are Schmitt, Smith, and Coughlin’s biographies: 



Veteran communications strategist, Tracey Schmitt founded Matador after nearly two decades of developing winning strategies for high profile leaders in the public, private and political sectors; including the White House, and three presidential campaigns.

​On the front lines of Republican politics, she advised candidates and campaigns at the forefront of the national political and policy debates as the National Press Secretary for the Republican National Committee, a Spokeswoman for President George W. Bush’s re-election campaign, National Press Secretary for the 2005 Presidential Inaugural Committee, and the Deputy Communications Director and Spokeswoman for the McCain-Palin Presidential Campaign, in the fall of 2008.

​In the private sector, Tracey has counseled numerous business leaders and CEOs at the intersection of policy, government relations, and public relations. As Senior Vice President of Global Public Affairs at Emergent BioSolutions, a global biodefense and biopharmaceutical company, Schmitt led an award-winning team whose portfolio included Public Affairs, Global Public Relations, Investor Communications, Branding, and Corporate Social Responsibility.

She has been published in the New York Times and has appeared on network and cable television as a political analyst. Her work has taken her to over thirty countries across Europe, Asia, Middle East, Australasia, Africa, and Central America.

A graduate of the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Journalism, her graduate studies have included Executive Education programs at both the Harvard School of Business and Oxford University.



​Merrill Smith’s career in public affairs and politics began when she nixed the idea of law school and took leave from her job as a real estate paralegal at Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP, to volunteer on then-Governor George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign. Following him to the White House in January 2001, she held various positions, ultimately serving as Deputy Director for Public Affairs in the Office of The Vice President, where she was engaged in strategic communications planning and execution for foreign, domestic, and political affairs.

​Later, as a spokesperson for the Bush-Cheney 2004 re-election campaign, she developed and led the campaign’s strategic communications for the critical Midwest region, which included Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Illinois. In this role, she served as the primary on-the-record liaison with key state reporters and national media covering the region and led a team of state-based communicators. Following the President’s re-election, she was tapped to be the Deputy Director on the 55th Presidential Inaugural Committee where she was responsible for the development of the inauguration’s official commemorative book, George W. Bush: Portrait of a Leader.

In the private sector, Smith has provided legislative, public affairs, media and development counsel for clients ranging from Fortune 50 corporations to grassroots coalitions and some of the nation’s leading philanthropic organizations, both as a Director at Public Strategies, Inc. and as an independent consultant. Her smart and substantive approach has earned her a reputation as a trusted advisor for public policy, political and business leaders alike.

Smith earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Virginia.



Katherine Coughlin’s diverse and distinguished public policy, legal and legislative career has placed her at ground zero of some of the most critical debates of our time.

Upon passing the Texas Bar, following her graduation from the University of Texas School of Law, she began her Washington career as a Presidential appointee in the Office of the Assistant Attorney General, Civil Division at the US Department of Justice. Six days into her tenure there, the attacks of 9/11 forever changed our country, and became the primary focus of her work at DOJ. She received a Special Commendation award for her role in the development of the 9/11 Victim Compensation fund. Additionally, she worked closely with the State Department on the issue of terrorism financing, and later filed a brief on a critical deportation case in the Eleventh Circuit.

As counsel on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Katherine advised US Senator Chairman Orrin Hatch on Judicial nominees, including the confirmations of several sitting federal judges.  A long-time advisor to United States Senator John Cornyn, Katherine served as his lead counsel for immigration and health care, intimately involved in all aspects of those key policy areas. In this capacity, she provided legislative counsel, drafting critical policy and speeches, and led the dialogue with critical stakeholders including leaders of PhRMA, hospitals, patients, insurance, and physician groups.

​Katherine graduated cum laude with a Bachelors in Business Administration from Southern Methodist University, and she received her law degree from the University of Texas School of Law.