Carl Byoir's contributions to the field of public relations are rarely noted in textbooks, even though practitioners use his tools to build some of today's most successful campaigns. A lifetime wrought with prestige and controversy, Carl Byoir may not have moved mountains, but he definitely made a career of motivating people to do it for him.
From his early days as a newspaper editor to chief planner of charity birthday balls for President Roosevelt, Byoir constantly looked for what drove public opinion to support his clients' objectives. His time spent with the Committee on Public Information during World War I proved invaluable to his success and armed him with techniques that eventually would lead to his conviction.
As a college student he learned the dynamics of group motivation. As a practitioner, he used that information to change the world.
The Teenage Editor
Born to Jewish immigrant parents from Kinishin, Poland, and raised in Des Moines, Iowa, Carl Byoir started out like most of the PR greats between 1900-1950--as a newspaperman. At the age of 17, Byoir became the managing editor of theWaterloo (Iowa) Times-Tribunewhen his predecessor suddenly died of a heart attack. Before that time, Byoir had worked his way up from the newspaper's morgue to city editor. He stayed with the paper as managing editor until early 1906 when he received a call from his long-time friend, Walter Stewart, asking him to matriculate at the University of Iowa.
Quest for The Hawkeye
Byoir's creativity for making money while in college followed him throughout his life. Numerous contests and competitions existed in writing and debating where the prize was money. He became so successful at this approach, his fellow students routinely claimed "Byoir always wins the cash." During this time, Byoir's techniques, motivations and understanding of public opinion were crystallizing to prepare him for his later career in World War I propoganda work. But first, he needed a little practice.
Like Edward L. Bernays, Carl Byoir was briefly involved in publicizing the arts. Although Byoir was not working for famous ballet companies as Bernays had, he gained experience by managing performances of his college's dramatic club in towns across America. This was merely a warm-up exercise for a man who would change American history.
Byoir's real talent for group motivation began to take form when he planned a two year campaign to win the title of general manager for the school's yearbook, The Hawkeye. This position carried with it the added benefit of 3/7 of the sales profit.
To assure his victory, Byoir organized a command group of five people to help push the class leaders into elected offices, leaving his coveted general manager seat without a worthy opponent. The central group knew nothing of Byoir's intentions, but with his common sense knowledge of political influence he created a "political machine."
Once elected, Byoir worked feverishly to enhance the look and feel of the publication in an effort to boost his earnings. This resulted in the 1909 edition of The Hawkeye, called "the most impressive ever published up to that time." Byoir pocketed a record $2,100 dollars. He graduated from the University of Iowa in 1910 and enrolled at Columbia's Law School.
Montessori School Systems
In 1911, while returning to school, Byoir picked up a copy of McCluresmagazine on the train. This was his first introduction to Dr. Maria Montessori and her training methods for kindergarten. What Byoir saw was the vast appeal these schools would have to American mothers and teachers, because of the system's dual emphasis on physical and mental activities.
After buying the American franchise for the Montessori system, Byoir created the "House of Childhood." Byoir temporarily left law school for several weeks to visit Maria Montessori in Italy. There he learned, under her tutelage, how the system works so that he would become the U.S. expert.
Apprenticeship in the Hearst Empire
After ending a successful business venture producing John Martin's Book, a children's publication co-produced with Morgan Shepherd, Byoir wanted more knowledge of circulation and advertising techniques. He joined Hearst magazine empire as an advertising, promotions and circulation apprentice. With great acumen he conquered each department, often out-performing long-time Hearst employees.
His last assignment was to increase the circulation of Cosmopolitan magazine, which was steadily declining. After a six-week fact-finding tour of newsstands between San Francisco and New York, he concluded that the trend could be reversed by giving attainable incentives to dealers. Soon after the program was implemented, Byoir was named circulation manager for all Hearst magazines.
Among his many learning experiences, Byoir discovered that successful promotion required a personal approach. This type of business integrity would become the hallmark of Carl Byoir & Associates.
Byoir asked George von Utassy, the general manager of all magazines published by William Randolph Hearst, for a job. Surprised the young publisher was out of work, Utassy allowed Byoir to began an apprenticeship.
Byoir conquered advertising by being bold and determined as a sales promotion managed by discovering that successful promotion depended upon a personalized approach. It is here that we begin to see Byoir learning what shapes a consumer-minded public by realizing everyone is important to themeselves first.
After successful positions in Cleveland and Chicago, Byoir was sent back to New York City to increase circulation for Cosmopolitan which had dropped from 1 million to 79 hundred thousand. He analyzed the problem and decided the loss could be reversed if local distributors could be given new incentives to sell the magazine. By creating a contest with cash prizes for distributors who make the largest increase in sales, Byoir obtained his goal of 1 million in distribution after three months. Although the use of contests was not new Byoir chose to gauge a distributors success by percentage increases vs. number of copies sold. This way small distributors could compete with larger distributors who typically won. Byoir was promoted again, but this time, to Circulation Manager for all Hearst magazines.
Byoir later wrote about what he learned while at Hearst:
- "Tenacity and determination of purpose on the part of a salesman is not a substitute for imagination and knowledge based upon factual analysis of data regarding your product and the business environment that affects it."
- "It is often easier to sell a big package than a little one."
- "Never make a sales presentation unless you have personally studied the sales problems involved in great detail, but make your presentation short. A long presentation wears out the interest of your audience."
- "I [realized] that it was the editor, and not the circulation manager, who really created circulation."
"Having learned...that the editorial content of the magazine really determined my success as circulation manager, I made it a point to get acquainted with the various editors in order to get their cooperation."
In June of that year, Byoir would receive a call from Washington to assist on the newly created World War I Committee on Public Information. He had accomplished quite a bit in his 28 years, and embarked on a life-changing career with George Creel.
Committee on Public Information
One year before Edward L. Bernays joined the Committee on Public Information, Byoir was called to Washington by George Creel (founder and director of the Committee) on the recommendation of Byoir's mentor and the former editor of Cosmopolitan, Edgar Sisson. Creel unknowingly surrounded himself with men who would become our profession's forefathers. Like all the men on that committee, Byoir was trained to believe words could be used as weapons.
Byoir's college and legal training combined with his sales, advertising, publishing, newspaper reporting, and newspaper editing skills, made him Creel's publicity machine.
Byoir's first project was to solve CPI's printing problem. The Committee had the content for its pamphlets and newsletters, but no method to produce them during a backlog of wartime print jobs. Carl Byoir drew on his experience at The Hawkeyeand remembered printers who mostly worked on mail order catalogs had a slack period in early spring and fall. A contract was signed, and the deal saved CPI forty percent of their normal printing costs. For this and other creative solutions young Byoir became known as "the miracle man."
Other valuable public relations lessons were learned from Byoir's work with foreign ethnic groups. He was keenly aware that foreign-language groups had no knowledge of American institutions and war aims, so therefore they were not particularly sympathetic to the war effort. Byoir's success in the second selective service enrollment sealed his worth to CPI. His tactics included: newspaper advertising campaigns throughout the United States to reach three million estimated non-English speaking draft eligibles; 75,000 Four-Minute-Men who spoke every place the public assembled in the nation; six million notices sent to rural delivery boxes; and newsreel announcements shown to inform 30 million people of their obligation to the war effort.
His proudest contribution to the Committee was creating the League of Oppressed Nations--which was a representation of the various ethnic loyalty groups in the U.S. who had relatives in Europe under Austrian or German rule.
Following the war, President Wilson recognized Byoir's contributions to CPI and asked him to continue in the post-war fight for the minds of the people in Middle Europe.
Byoir was officially released from active duty with The Committee in March 1919, and he relied on his relationships formed there to keep him busy for the next few years.
Lithuanian National Council & Edward L. Bernays
After assisting George Creel in reestablishing communciations between Czechoslovakia and capitals of various allies, Carl Byoir returned to New York in early 1919.
The Lithuanian National Council in the United States hired Byoir for his first non-CPI campaign. In turn, Byoir hired Bernays to assist in collecting ample public support to have the U.S. Senate recognize Lithuania. This support would allow Lithuania to be recognized as a free and independent nation, thus securing Lithuania's future as an ally with the U.S.
The two public relations innovators used techniques from their CPI days, including print media, prominent local spokesmen, and wrote editorials and telegrams to influencial parties. Their campaign was successful, and the motion to recognize Lithuania was approved by Congress.
In Byoir's memoirs he wrote, "After the war,...[Eddie and I] started a little [publicity] business--and believe me it was a little business--it was so little that...I decided to go into something more profitable."
Following stints with a motion picture company, and an import/export business, Carl Byoir returned to what he knew best — sales and advertising.
Nuxated Iron was produced and sold by E. Virgil Neal whom Byoir asked for a sales job. Neal had no room for another salesman, so Byoir decided to prove himself by working without pay. Byoir bargained that if he succeeded in increasing the sales of Nuxated Iron in cities where it was sold, Neal would find him a job in the company.
Carl Byoir's technique was to monitor the stock on grocery store shelves, write advertisements that he thought would sell Nuxated Iron, and return to count the number sold. If sales increased he would move on to the next town. If the opposite occurred, he would stay in the city until he designed an advertisement that moved the product. Within weeks, Carl Byoir had increased the sales of Nuxated Iron and was hired as vice president and general manager of the company. Byoir stayed with the company until his health began to deteriorate in 1929.
The climate in Cuba relieved Carl Byoir of his life-threatening sinus infections, and soon he was back to work. He leased two small newspapers: the Havana Post,a morning paper, and the Havana Telegram,an evening edition, whose audiences consisted of English-speaking Cuban residents and tourists from America. Byoir wanted to increase the circulation of his newspapers, but rather than find a standard marketing solution, he decided it would be better to increase the number of American tourists to Cuba.
Cuba in the late 1920s and early 1930s suffered under President Gerardo Machado. Not wanting to meddle in Cuban politics, but still desiring American tourists, Byoir struck a deal with Machado. The details of the agreement stated that if Byoir spent his own capital to increase tourism to Cuba, Machado would sign a five-year contract worth $300,000 to hire Carl Byoir & Associates as the public relations office for the Cuban government.
A large scale campaign to brand Cuba as a premier vacation spot was designed by the first members of Carl Byoir & Associates. Their strategic planning and good timing resulted in an increase from 80,000 tourists to 165,000 in a single year, and President Gerardo Machado became the first client of the newly formed public relations firm.
Byoir's association with Machado later cast a dark shadow on the reputation of his firm. The rumors and vehement criticism from the public often put Carl Byoir & Associates on the defensive long after Machado was overthrown in 1933.
10 East 40th Street, New York City, New York
Byoir left Cuba in 1932 to stay alive both professionally and physically. His association with Machado was not positively viewed by the local residents who saw Byoir was a servant to the dictator who crushed independence. With a handful of prestigious clients, and barely escaping an attempt on his life, he relocated to New York City.
While handling the Cuban tourist account, Byoir recruited Stuart Hall of the Loomis, Beavis and Hall advertising agency; Gerry Swineheart, publicity manager for West Palm Beach, Florida; Charles Canny, a newspaper reporter; and Carl Dickey, a Doremus account executive. Their New York office was opened at 10 East 40th Street.
At the time of Carl Byoir's return to New York, he had acquired a number of prestigious clients: The Provence of Quebec, The Trotting Club of America, North American Aviation, and the Cuban government. The firm's founding members focused primarily on what they knew best — tourism and travel. Byoir saw to it that he and his staff were not simply creating a business, but building a profession.
Byoir's corporate culture was quickly established. The firm operated under Byoir's three basic rules: 1) new accounts would not be directly solicited (that was the job of their reputation), 2) each client would be charged a yearly fee of $36,000 plus the expenses of carrying out the public relations programs, and 3) employees would be divided into executive staff and operating staff. Each account was served with one executive and as many operating staff deemed necessary. This became the model for contemporary pr firm staffing.
From his days as a salesman, Byoir knew that a personal approach to managing accounts was necessary for a company's success. He once stated that the two things required for a successful practitioner were to have an understanding of what motivates people, and to work for a good firm which stood behind him. Byoir believed that nothing took the place of integrity in the client relationship, and often let staff mistakes go unpunished if they were honestly made.
Years after the founding members moved on or passed away, the firm stayed in the top five list of best public relations firms as late as 1960 behind Hill & Knowlton, Lee & T.J. Ross, Selvage & Lee, and Dudley-Anderson-Yutzy. In 1977, it was the third largest in the United States. In 1978 it was sold to Foote Cone & Belding.
The firm was sold one last time to Hill & Knowlton, where it resides today. The last shop in Los Angeles, California still bears the name of the great pioneer, but the doors to the New York office closed in 1998.
War on Depression
Byoir disliked how President Herbert Hoover attempted to restart the economy during the Depression. So the pr pioneer went down to the White House, armed with an idea for a national campaign.
With the President's blessing but no government funding, Byoir declared "War Against Depression." The goals of the campaign were to encourage businesses to hire more people and use public opinion as a catalyst for change.
Byoir's tactics included the selection of well-known national organizations to lend prestige to the campaign. The American Federation of Labor, Association of National Advertisers, American Legion, and the American Legion Auxiliary all nominated representatives to serve on Byoir's committee.
Byoir quickly issued a notice to national media indicating President Hoover had put certain organizations under orders to assist in stimulating the economy by finding one million jobs for the unemployed. On February 15, 1932, the War Against Depression began.
The first few weeks saw a slight increase in employment, but the campaign slowly began to fail. Byoir and his committee closed shop having secured only a few thousand jobs. From this campaign, Byoir learned that public relations is not always the remedy to society's problems, and that simplistic solutions cannot solve them either. Despite the campaign's failure, Byoir was becoming more visible to the public.
FDR Birthday Balls
Carl Byoir & Associates won the Henry L. Doherty account, beating out many top firms of that time. Doherty was a shady and shrewd businessman who made most of his money through fast deals during The Great Depression. Byoir had worked with Doherty on a number of tourist projects, but looked for the opportunity to overhaul public perception of Doherty.
One afternoon, a call came from Keith Morgan who worked for President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the Warm Springs Infantile Paralysis Foundation. Morgan requested a donation from Byoir's multi-millionaire client. Byoir saw this as a chance to rebuild his client's image, and a public relations campaign was born.
Morgan agreed to speak with Doherty directly, and when Doherty asked why he should contribute to the President's favorite charity Morgan replied, "Because it might get an old pirate like you into heaven." Doherty liked Morgan's audacity and agreed to meet with the President to discuss the campaign.
Throughout the campaign for Infantile Paralysis, Carl Byoir remained in the background and allowed the spotlight to focus on his client. After all, if Byoir was going to gain presidential favor for his client, he would have to do all the work and receive little credit.
Byoir designed a fundraising event to make news and meet his client's objectives. In this campaign every person involved would be a useable news product. As a part of his strategy, Byoir used third-party influences such as the Elks, Masons, American Legion, labor unions, business organizations, Kiwanis, Booster and Exchange clubs to assist in this national draft for fundraising. To further the uniqueness of this occasion, the president's birthday was selected as the night of the event.
Byoir personally called every newspaper publisher in the U.S. and asked him to nominate a local FDR Birthday Ball chairman (a tactic United Way uses today) and in turn, this made news. Byoir mused,
"When you set out to influence and persuade people to action, when the campaign is tremendous, nation-wide [sic] in scope, don't think that it just happens; something has to be done to get millions of people to think the thought you want them to think and then to get them to act on that thought."
January 30, 1934 was the first of many successful Birthday Balls. "Dance so that a child may walk" became the slogan and a song was written by George M. Cohan which Lily Pons sang for the newsreels. In attendance at varying locations were the Morgans, Whitneys, Vanderbilts and Wideners. By May, Byoir turned a check over to the Infantile Paralysis Foundation in the amount of $1 million dollars.
Today, the campaign still exists, but under a new name. The March of Dimes is one of the many legacies of Carl Byoir which exists because of a single public relations plan to bolster a businessman's image.
German Tourist Account Controversy
In October of 1933, Carl Byoir & Associates began work on tourist travel promotion for the German Tourist Information Office. The account caused adverse publicity for the firm between 1934-35 and again in 1940 with allegations of Nazi propaganda by U.S. Congressman Wright Patman of Texas.
The client, George Sylvester Viereck, asked for the firm's assistance to increase tourism to Germany, beginning a $108,000 contract with the German Tourist Information Office. The firm accepted a $4,000 cash advance from the German Consul General in New York for distributing press releases to improve Germany's image in the United States, in response to publicity about German anti-semitism.
While Byoir was on vacation in Europe, Carl Dickey, the firm's general manager and partner, had been called to testify before Congressional investigators concerning Carl Byoir & Associates' alleged hand in Nazi propaganda. In late 1934, Byoir dissolved the tourist account and nullified the contract with three month's notice.
Five years after both the dissolution of the account and partnership with Dickey, Byoir's reputation became a matter of national controversy. One day in 1933, Wright Patman challenged Byoir's credibility and patriotism on the floor of the House of Representatives.
"[Byoir is] the American citizen who rode the first Hitler Trojan Horse of propoganda into our country."
— Rep. Wright Patman
Patman believed Byoir's contract with agents of the German Propaganda Ministry was an American's effort to disseminate informative material on the New Germany. He stated, "[Byoir is] the American citizen who rode the first Hitler Trojan Horse of propoganda into our country." Patman then called for an investigation by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) chaired by Representative Martin Dies of Texas.
Byoir denied Patman's allegations of espionage in a New York Times article on May 28, 1940. On June 5th of that year, Patman addressed Byoir's alleged abuse of power as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Reserve and cited allegations that Byoir might have gotten access to secret American defense plans with intent to inform Nazi Germany.
Byoir requested an investigation, which was granted and reviewed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. On July 17, 1940, the U.S. Department of Justice cleared Carl Byoir of any wrongdoing. For the rest of his life, Byoir fought public opinion pegging him as a Jew aligned with Hitler's interests.
Freeport Sulphur Company
After the embarassment of the German tourist account, Carl Byoir & Associates turned to corporate counseling and industrial public relations, leaving behind the infamous experiences with tourism.
The Freeport Sulphur Company was the firm's first big industrial account. It owned a large amount of sulfur deposits in Louisiana and Texas. The company watched in horror as the sulfur severance tax in Louisianna increased more than 200 percent. Carl Byoir was hired to prevent a similar trend in Texas.
Byoir's research revealed that the bill for an increase in the Louisiana sulfur severance tax passed with only one dissenting vote in the Louisiana legislature. Instead of focusing on preventing similiar legislation in Texas, Byoir's executives chose the third-party technique to overturn the Louisiana decision. Overturning the new law set a precedent for the region.
First, the firm organized large groups in Louisiana state who represented enormous segments of public opinion. To involve the various groups, Byoir showed how the tax not only was against the economic interests of the company, but against the economic interests of the state. Louisiana legislators heard from various opinion leaders on the subject, and soon the tax increase was rescinded and lowered. Not long after the appeal, the Texas legislators voted not to tax sulphur any higher than Louisiana.
The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company
Carl Byoir & Associate's success with the Freeport Sulphur Company brought the firm a new client — The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company (A&P). Adding A&P to the firm's portfolio not only illustrated the growing power of public relations, but brought about more litigation.
At the depth of the Depression, governments sought ways to invent new revenue for depleted treasuries. A movement to tax chain stores emerged, and A&P was in danger. John and George Hartford, brothers and owners of A&P said, "If the people of the United States like our stores so little that they are willing to tax us out of business, that is their affair. We will shut up our shop."
Just as Ivy Lee convinced Vanderbilt to change his famous statement "the public be damned" to "the public be informed," Carl Byoir encouraged the Hartford brothers not to close their doors without a fight.
Carl Byoir & Associates was hired on October 1, 1937 to repeal or modify the anti-chain store tax laws. Byoir worked to stop the pending chain store tax in the New York State legislature. If the bill passed, there would be a $2 million dollar price tag for A&P and each of the 2,000 stores in New York would have had to pay $1,000 under the new bill. Using his third-party approach, Byoir rallied farm and consumer organizations to tell their representatives they did not want the bill. Byoir created so much support to throw out the bill that it never went beyond committee.
During public opinion research, Byoir discovered a paradox in the mindset of A&P patrons. Through the newly established research format of opinion polling, Byoir found most of A&P's customers favored higher taxes for chain stores, but they were unaware such taxes would increase the cost of their food. By releasing this information to key groups, Byoir began his fight against the national chain store tax.
Carl Byoir showed legislators who were facing re-election campaigns that even though it seemed constituents supported the tax and only a few hundred chain stores were against the bill. The real issue was the families who would be affected if A&P closed.
In the end, one-by-one, the states began to repeal their chain store taxes and on June 19, 1940, a congressional subcommittee rejected the proposed national tax. Two years later, controversy followed when a Federal Grand Jury returned an indictment of A&P and Carl Byoir for violating sections 1 & 2 of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890.
The Railroad-Trucker's Brawl
Fortune magazine called the bitter public opinion battle between the Pennsylvania truckers and the Eastern Railroads "The Railroad-Trucker's Brawl." Truckers in Pennsylvania wanted to raise the weight limit on trucks to 60,000 pounds to expand their growing businesses. Eastern Railroads hired Byoir's firm to mount a conterstrike ultimately to keep truckers from stealing railroad clients.
Again beating out Hill & Knowlton for the account, Carl Byoir & Associates worked with Eastern Railroad's vice president for public relations, and external counsel, T.J. Ross of T.J. Ross & Associates. Even though it got into the case late, Carl Byoir & Associates mastered an impressive campaign.
Byoir created unfavorable ads about truckers and generated anti-truck literature to reporters. He also sent an advance copy of Maryland's State Road Commission's test which reported the negative effects of differing truck axles on highways. Almost overnight the bill was vetoed.
Upset over the verdict, the truckers hired David Charnay's Allied Public Relations Associates to fight in the court of public opinion. Charnay's firm used a disgruntled former employee of Byoir's — who had saved key files and notes on the case--to aid in filing a lawsuit against the Eastern Railroads Presidents Conference and Carl Byoir & Associates for violations of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and the Clayton Act. The battle endured for five years, but Carl Byoir would never know its resolution.
At the beginning of the Railroad-Trucker's Brawl, Byoir gave an emotional speech to his staff predicting the firm would emerge victorious. In 1961, the United States Supreme Court exonerated Carl Byoir & Associates of all consiracy charges.
Though Byoir died in 1957, the firm went on to thrive for nearly two more decades. Even though it was left to be absorbed by Hill & Knowlton, the Carl Byoir name continues to be on of the most well known in PR history.