Oral Histories

Al Golin

Interview Segments on Topic: PR Agency or Corporate PR/Outsourcing

Al Golin Biography

Al Golin, founder of the international public relations firm GolinHarris, began his career in 1951 as a field press representative for MGM Studios.  In 1957, when he was with Max Cooper & Associates, he placed a cold call to Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald’s.  That conversation eventually grew to a partnership that changed McDonald’s from a fledgling company to one that has grown to 37,000 locations worldwide with 243 Ronald McDonald Houses in 25 countries. Al Golin developed the term “TrustBank” with Ray Kroc, believing trust as the greatest intangible at the heart of every long-term business or personal relationship. GolinHarris currently has 30 offices worldwide with corporate headquarters in Chicago, Illinois.


Interviewer:  It appears to me and this would be something that would beneficial for you I would guess.  Corporations are doing more and more outsourcing of work that traditionally they may have done themselves. And it would seem to me that there are definite benefits to corporations for doing this particular from a financial standpoint. Employee headcount and that sort of thing. What obligations does this put on an agency to be the recipient of what greater variety of things that they may be asked to do for their clients? How does that work?

Golin: Well I think that a lot of the companies who are outsourcing these days obviously is a boon for the agency because selfishly it’s good for our business and I think that’s caused a lot of the growth of the PR agencies versus corporations. So I think it does give us a little more heat if you will on performing well because sometimes there aren’t. We have to make decisions for these companies without discussing it as much as we’d like to because they’re relying on us to do almost everything for them. And that’s flattering in many ways but I do think that we like the input of the client as well. So I think we have to again achieve that balance of not going over the line. We can represent clients as we do and be their spokespeople and all that when it’s necessary. But some of the major companies still insist on having their own corporate spokespeople and I think that’s healthy. So I think there’s always going to be that give and take. We like to think that we’re partners with our clients and I know that word is overused a lot but I think that in order for us to have any long-term relationships, we have to have that partnership feeling. Because it’s not them against us in any way because we’re not going to be successful if that happens. And it can happen. Where sometimes a client can resent the outside agency because they’re not living with the client on a day-to-day basis as they are. But so I think that if they realized that we’re not out to compete with them. We are out to enhance their position then it becomes a healthy relationship and then it lasts a long time.

Interviewer: Is it possible for an agency like yours today to be “a full service agency that would handle marketing problems, crises communications, and investor relations, internal relations, government relations, or is there going to be more of a tendency to create boutique agencies downlink that will specialize in these various fields rather than be a total package.”

Golin: There may be

Interviewer: That may not be a fair question. I’m not sure.

Golin: Well for an agency such as ourselves these days we like to think of ourselves as full service because we’re large enough. And I’m not saying that the boutique type agencies aren’t going to have a value and exist because I think they will. I think there will be a place for both. I think when a major company that who is global for example wants an international agency of record. They are looking to an agency that has all the capabilities so we have to do those things whether we like them or not. So we have to have the capabilities in order to compete with the major agencies we have to have offices in Washington and we have to be represented in Brussels and things of that nature. So we have to be almost all things to everybody. And I know that’s difficult because there are a few agencies that really do specialize in just a couple of niches and I think they will do well. They will continue to do well but for agencies such as ourselves we do want to represent a global company. We have to be able to have all those capabilities.

Interviewer: Can you find the people that will fill those kinds of responsibilities?

Golin: Well it’s not easy. It’s not easy to find people because that’s what we’re all about and finding the right people is absolutely the name of the game. And keeping them happy and moving them along at the right levels so they know they have a future within rather than without is extremely important. I do think that sometimes we we like to say we built up a culture here where we don’t have a laundry list of clients. Like certain agencies do who boast about that. And I think that’s fine. But we don’t. We like to say we have fewer clients and well like to have more meaningful partnership relations with them. Because we like to have people work on clients who really don’t just give it a lick and a promise. Because certain agencies will have people working on ten clients and we don’t’ think you can really get to know that kind of company well enough to be effective.