The Legacy Companies (1971-1997)
The organization that is today known as LarsonO’Brien has roots extending as far back as 1971. This was the year former ALCOA executive David Hawbaker established his own advertising agency in downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He named his new company Hawbaker Communications and promptly took on his former employer, ALCOA, as his first client. For the next 27 years, Hawbaker Communications flourished, establishing itself as one of the region’s top B-to-B ad agencies. Hawbaker clients included ARDEX Engineered Cements, Kellogg Air Compressors, Townsman Manufactured Parts, PPG Coatings, Fisher Scientific, TRACO Windows, Steelite Metal Panels, Chromalox, and Wheelabrator, to name just some. Not exclusive to B-to-B, Hawbaker also enjoyed longstanding client relationships with Gallatin Bank, Bell Federal Savings, Dollar Savings, Henderson Brothers Insurance, Westminster College, GACC Printing, and Jefferson Hospital.
In 1981, with over a decade of direct experience in the advertising industry under his belt, Jack R. O’Brien founded JRO advertising agency in Erie, Pennsylvania. The agency had humble beginnings, with Jack as its sole employee and an office located in the pantry of his home. However, Jack quickly built his agency to a staff more than twenty employees strong by churning out fresh, award-winning creative advertising for local, regional and national clients. He also established JRO Pictures with Emmy-Award winning filmmaker Jim Riccardi in Cleveland, and together with Brad Drumheller, Jack created the first digital video post production house in Western Pennsylvania - The Video Post Office. JRO clients included companies and organizations in a wide range of industries and business sectors, including Welch’s Grape Juice, The Dairy Industry Association of Western Pennsylvania, Smith Meats, Lord Corporation, Seaway Manufacturing, First National Bank of Pennsylvania, Gannon University, Crawford Furniture, Jamestown Sterling Furniture, Penn State Behrend, Saint Vincent Health Center, Geisinger Medical Center, Warren General Hospital, Carolco Film Studios, and TRW Bearings, to name a few.
Merging to Create LarsonO’Brien (1998)
By 1997, with David Hawbaker preparing for retirement, he, along with his young business partner Ronald Larson, began a search for an existing agency with an experienced and proven leader and complementary resources and experiences with which to merge. Hawbaker and Larson identified JRO Advertising as fitting the bill. By early summer of 1998, a merger of Hawbaker & Partners, Inc. and JRO Advertising, Inc. was completed. JRO offices in Erie were consolidated with Hawbaker offices at One Oliver Plaza, in downtown Pittsburgh and JRO employees, including Jack’s 28-year-old protege, Garrett Andrae, settled into their new city. September of 1998 David Hawbaker retired and Jack R. O’Brien was named President and Creative Director and Ronald Larson was named CEO of the newly branded firm, LarsonO’Brien Advertising.
Expanding Services. Building Specialization. (1999 - 2006)
Under the new leadership of Jack O’Brien and Ron Larson, the agency expanded client services by establishing a full-service Public Relations practice to integrate with the agency’s advertising practice, and in 1999, LarsonO’Brien Advertising officially became LarsonO’Brien Advertising & PR. Between 1999 and 2004 the agency worked with such clients as Butler County Community College, First National Bank of Pennsylvania, Fisher Scientific, GNC, Bayer, Wheelabrator, Siemens, and PPG Industrial Coatings. During this period, the agency developed and first began using its formalized strategic planning process, Creative ESP™. LarsonO’Brien continued expanding its expertise in the architectural products industry working extensively with PPG Architectural Coatings, CENTRIA Architectural Systems, CENTRIA Coil Coating, HH Robertson Floor Systems, Follansbee Steel, and Dietrich.
September 2004, LarsonO’Brien moved its offices from downtown Pittsburgh to Mount Lebanon, Pennsylvania, a nearby Pittsburgh suburb. Here, the company’s experience and success in the building products industry helped spawn additional clients in the building industry, including architectural start-up division of Cambridge International, Cambridge Architectural Mesh, under its energetic new Director of Sales and Marketing, Kevin Mayer and lighting controls powerhouse, Lutron.
Meanwhile, 2005 saw LarsonO’Brien expand services again with the launch of a sister interactive services company called Blackfish, Inc. At this time, LarsonO’Brien also created a special team of employees, under then VP of Account Service, Garrett Andrae, to establish a specialized practice area focused exclusively on the building design and construction industry. In 2006, LarsonO’Brien expanded Blackfish with its purchase of a small but highly talented interactive company, 365 Interactive.
Building Design and Construction Specialists (2007-2009)
In 2007, LarsonO’Brien charged its interactive team with creating a proprietary Learning Management System, ArchitectCES.com, so that it could begin offering continuing education to architects, on behalf of the agency’s architectural clients. When word of the new platform reached Hanley Wood, publisher of Architect magazine, they contacted LarsonOBrien and asked if it could become the media and marketing partner for ArchitectCES.com. LarsonO’Brien had well-established experience in researching, writing and producing high-quality AIA continuing education courses, as well as its strong interactive capabilities. So, together, LarsonO’Brien and Hanley Wood launched ACES, later to become Hanley Wood University, in September 2007, with Hanley Wood as the site’s outward promotional face and LarsonO’Brien as its behind-the-scenes course content creator.
November 2007, LarsonO’Brien made the strategic decision to shift the entire focus of the company – its people, products, services, and practice areas – to the building design and construction industry. Blackfish Interactive became LarsonO’Brien’s third practice, known simply as LarsonO’Brien Interactive and a fourth practice area, Continuing Education, was added to serve the needs of LarsonO’Brien and ArchitectCES.com clients.
During this period, LarsonO’Brien produced AIA CES courses for a many companies including 3M, PPG, Solatube, Jeld-Wen, WeatherShield, LG, Delta Faucets, and Nichiha, to name a few. At the urging of CENTRIA executives, LarsonO’Brien also created a Chinese “Wholly Owned Foreign Entity” and opened and operated an office in Shanghai, China for nearly two years to serve Western companies marketing into Asian growth opportunities. Clients included CENTRIA International, Germany’s Ritter Chocolates, The Australian Wool Council and a number of project-based relationships. Other full-time LarsonO’Brien clients added at this time included Litecontrol, Henkel, Birdair, and Australian-based company Ronstan.
Accommodating Growth. Innovating New Methods. (2009-2013)
Much in need of more space to accommodate growth, LarsonO’Brien moved again, October 2009, into a newly renovated building that was formerly a train station in nearby Bethel Park, Pennsylvania. It’s here the company remains headquartered today. In early 2010, LarsonO’Brien and Hanley Wood dissolvedArchitectCES.com and in April of that year LarsonO’Brien, along with media partner Architectural Products magazine, launched an innovative new website for architect continuing education, TheContinuingArchitect.com. The user- and sponsor-friendly site was the first architect continuing education resource to provide free, high-quality, streaming HD video courses on-demand - a distinction that remains to this day. Notable new client additions for LarsonO’Brien these years included Ellison, Swiss-based company Sefar, Metal Sales, Banker Wire, Bayer’s EcoCommercial Building Network, and Syntheon.
Going Beyond Marketing (2013-Present)
In 2013, looking to further expand value to customers, LarsonO’Brien recruited longtime client Kevin Mayer to build an entirely new division for LarsonO’Brien. Working with Kevin as a client and helping him to quickly transform two companies into market leaders, LarsonO’Brien was ready to tap his industry knowledge, professional experiences and talents for helping LarsonO’Brien clients achieve similar transformations. Today, Kevin Mayer heads up LarsonO’Brien’s Growth Consulting services, to help client companies streamline and integrate sales with marketing for maximum impact.
LarsonO’Brien added client Hope’s Windows, Inc., Masonite, and Zurn in 2013.
Also in 2013, LarsonO’Brien worked in close collaboration with Scott Kriner and Bob Scichili of RSK Avanti Partners, to create an AIA Continuing Education program about a new retrofit metal roof system combining multiple energy savings technologies, that Scott and Bob helped bring to market through their building product innovation firm. Immediately recognizing synergies between the two companies, in June of 2014 LarsonO’Brien joined forces with RSK Avanti to provide LarsonO’Brien Product Innovation services.
2014 LarsonO’Brien opened a second office location in Baltimore, Maryland to better serve the Mid-Atlantic States. 2014 has seen the addition of LarsonO’Brien's newest clients and Aurora Doors, Tate Access Floor and Cascade Coil, Inc.