The Unseen Power: Public Relations, a History

By Scott M. Cutlip | Go to book overview

Chapter 17
Carl Byoir: The Little Giant of Public Relations

When Carl Byoir, one of the towering giants who built today's highly successful public relations business, died on February 3, 1957, the public relations agency he had founded in 1930 was at the top of heap with 25 major industrial and trade association clients. Five years earlier, The Reporter had described Byoir as "undoubtedly the most successful public relations counsel now in business." Yet 30 years later, the firm was dead, killed by its longtime archrival, Hill & Knowlton, Inc. H&K had purchased the Byoir firm from Foote, Cone, and Belding, a major advertising agency. Foote, Cone, and Belding, successor firm to pioneer Albert Lasker's Lord & Thomas, had bought the Byoir agency from Chairman George Hammond, President Robert Wood, and other shareholders in 1978 but had been unsuccessful in managing this public relations agency.

Although Carl Byoir was a major architect and builder of the public relations counseling profession, he had difficulty in defining the function as late as 1950. That year he told the National Industrial Conference Board, "If you were to ask me to define public relations I confess that I would be at some difficulty because public relations is not like the learned professions. . . . We in public relations are self-baptized." Ironically, The New York Times headlined his death: "CARL BYOIR DEAD: PUBLICIST WAS 68."

The rise and fall of the agency that Carl Byoir's talent, drive, and innovative ways had built demonstrates that in the highly personal field of public relations an agency is often but the lengthened shadow of a person.

Carl Byoir's "self-baptism" in public relations was a meteoric career starting as a newspaper reporter at age 15 that provided the broad range of

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