H&K Suspends Operations of Byoir Brand in U.S.
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H&K Suspends Operations of Byoir Brand in U.S.

Hill & Knowlton has suspended U.S. operations of Carl Byoir Associates, which once boasted one of the most respected brands in the public relations industry.

Paul Holmes

NEW YORK—Hill & Knowlton has suspended U.S. operations of Carl Byoir Associates, which once boasted one of the most respected brands in the public relations industry. Reinvented in recent years as a kind of premium boutique agency—offering strategic counseling and creative thinking to blue-chip clients that wanted a more personal approach than bigger agencies tend to offer—Byoir had seen its business fall off in recent months.
 
“The Carl Byoir brand has a tremendously rich heritage, but it struggled to find its niche from the mid-80s to mid 90s,” says Howard Paster, chairman and CEO of Hill and Knowlton. “Five years ago, we brought in new management and the reengineered Byoir has enjoyed tremendous success serving high profile clients in a strategic, unbureaucratic manner.  But current market conditions have shrunk the pipeline of the premium business Byoir targets—counseling CEOs whose companies need to establish a market position or reinvigorate one. 
 
“We have decided jointly with Byoir management, that it is preferable to suspend operations until the economy improves, rather than reconfigure the agency’s mission.”
 
Maureen Crow, who was named president of the Byoir operation in 1996, is leaving the firm and says that for the immediate future at least she plans on spending more time on family and friends and on a variety of non-profit causes. “I want to give more time to my personal life,” she says. “I want to be a better mother, a better friend, a better board member.”
 
Crow says that she might eventually return to the business with H&K, or as a consultant, but that she won’t be rushing out to take a job at another agency. She said the management of CEO had been “completely supportive” but that the market’s “appetite for the non-traditional programming we favor is understandably muted.”
 
H&K acquired Byoir in 1986, at which time it was the world’s third largest public relations firm, with $32 million in revenues (H&K was number two, with $78 million). The two firms were integrated, and over the next year or so Byoir essentially evaporated as its senior staff departed. The firm was revived under the leadership of Chris Komisarjevsky (now chief executive at Burson-Marsteller) as a strategic boutique, and then reinvented when Crow joined.
 
“We had a very special brand of client,” she says. “We didn’t go in on competitive pitches. We preferred to work with friends who had worked with us before. New business dried up and we were looking for it to come back. But things didn’t pick up and we felt the world didn’t need another agency that would take $5,000 a month accounts. I wasn’t willing to practice PR in a different way than the way we had been practicing it.”
 
The latest move will not affect Byoir businesses outside the United States. The agency currently serves clients from operations in Sydney, Melbourne, Milan, Brussels and Amsterdam. And H&K reserves the right to reopen Byoir in the United States at a future date.
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