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Webster PR changes name following sexual assault allegations against founder

By | Published on Thursday 2 November 2017

Webster PR

Nashville-based PR company Webster Public Relations – which counts artists such as Dolly Parton, Billy Ray Cyrus and Meatloaf as clients – has announced that it is changing its name, after sexual assault accusations were made against its founder, Kirt Webster. The publicity company, thought to have closed completely at one point yesterday, will now be known as Westby Public Relations.

Inspired by the #MeToo hashtag on social media, former country singer Austin Rick, aka Austin Cody, said in a post on Facebook over the weekend that he had been sexually assaulted by Webster in 2008, while he was a client of the PR company.

“He sexually assaulted me repeatedly, he drugged and sexually violated me, he offered me publicity opportunities and magazine columns in exchange for sexual acts”, Rick wrote. “He paid me to keep my mouth shut. And he did everything under threat that he’d make sure nobody in the industry ever heard my name again. It took me a year to escape from him and get away to where he couldn’t find me or reach me any longer – although he still continued to harass me via phone and text messages”.

Then eighteen years old, Rick alleges several instances of misconduct by Webster in an interview with Nashville Scene that was published on Tuesday. The first, he said, came when Webster told him that, in order to pitch for an appearance in ‘Playgirl’ magazine, he would first have to see him naked. When he undressed, he says, Webster performed oral sex on him.

On another occasion, at a party at Webster’s house, the PR exec fondled his genitals in a hot tub. Later the same night, he woke up in Webster’s bed, apparently having been drugged, with him “hugging me, kissing me all over my face and mouth, and neck and lips”.

“I know I was sexually assaulted”, Rick said. “I don’t know if I was raped. When I woke up in his bed, I knew after that I had to leave”.

Rick didn’t just leave Webster’s house, but the music industry entirely, instead enlisting in the army. He added that he has no interest in returning to the music industry now. Following Rick’s initial allegations on Facebook, Webster PR put out a statement, accusing its former client of an “opportunistic” move to reignite interest in his singing career.

“As a single adult, Mr Webster has had multiple relationships over the course of his professional life, all of which have been consensual”, said the company. “This includes a brief relationship with Mr Rick. It saddens Mr Webster that nine years later, after Mr Rick’s music career has been stagnant, Mr Rick has taken the opportunistic approach of mischaracterising that relationship and posting untrue allegations”.

Everything then appeared to carry on as normal, with the firm sending out a press release promoting an album by Heidi Parton just yesterday afternoon, UK time. However, then the company, which celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, announced on its website that it was “no longer in business”, after which said website went offline completely. But it returned hours later, with a new statement that it was simply rebranding, while Webster “takes some time away” to fight Rick’s allegations.

“Webster Public Relations will continue operating – but under the name Westby Public Relations – while Kirt Webster takes some time away from the business to focus on combating the egregious and untrue allegations made against him”, it said. “The company’s work on behalf of its clients will continue under the leadership of Jeremy Westby, Kirt’s longstanding colleague”.

As yet, these changes are not reflected on the agency’s website or social media accounts.