Oral Histories

Al Golin

Interview Segments on Topic: Characteristics/Qualities of PR Professionals

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: What I hear you saying for public relations person to be effective is that they have to know more than just the discipline of public relations. They really have to have a broad knowledge about the company or the organization that they work for. Is that fair?

Golin: Oh that’s very fair.  I think that’s been something that I talked about for a long time because I think it’s critical to the success of our whole industry. We want to be taken seriously. We want to be considered as part of top management of companies and of counselors in our case who might represent these companies. So we have to know the companies as well as they know themselves.

Interviewer: When selecting people for your organization at GolinHarris what characteristics do you look for in the individuals. What qualities or talents or abilities do you believe that someone ought to have in order to qualify for a job either at a senior level or an entry level job?

Golin: Well I think that I’ve always felt strongly that individuals should be well rounded. It’s great to be to have the skills in writing and communicating and oral skills and things of that nature. But that’s very important. I think those are given. But I look for people who are more rounded in everything they do. Whether it’s sports or the arts or economics. And I know that’s a big order. But and you can’t always have everything like that. But I try to encourage our people to become well rounded. No one impresses me if they try to tell me that they are workaholics. Because I think being a workaholic is one thing and I work as hard as anybody. But I do think that I like to take time to be rounded and be interested in the theater or in sports or in business in general. I don’t think we’re going to be able to continue to counsel our clients if we’re not really able to communicate with them on all these levels. I’ll give you an example. A funny thing I had dinner not that long ago with the head of a major advertising agency. And I was telling him about a move I had seen the night before. And he was boasting to me that he hadn’t seen a movie in 20 years. And I kept thinking why is he bragging about that? He’s a guy who’s supposed to be able to communicate on what’s current and what’s going on today and have the pulse of what’s happening. And he was sort of boasting to me that he hasn’t seen any kind of a movie in 20 years. I figured well I’m sure he hasn’t’ watched any television or heard any videos or you know any plays or anything of that nature or read any books even if you want to go to that extreme. He was just talked about how he works and he had no time for anything else.

Interviewer: Well you’ve also you already said that you are not impressed by someone who says they are a workaholic. What other turn offs are there for you that when somebody says something or their behavior is such that they either you reject them or they get in your dog house or you say sayonara? What I mean you know if being well rounded is a good thing, what’s the opposite of that?

Golin: The opposite of being well rounded. Well maybe too interested in maybe an organization they might belong to and they might devote all of their waking hours to that organization. And I’m not saying that it might be worthwhile. It may be a terrific thing to do. But I’ve seen people who get so wound up in outside activity of some sort or another that they neglect what they are here to do on a day to day basis. So there’s that balance that delicate balance that you are always looking for. You don’t want anybody to be workaholic but by the same token they still have to understand that we’re here to do our daily jobs. And when they are neglected and they spend more time on their outside activities, those are the things that might turn me off.

Interviewer: Do people coming out of college programs. I assume you hire recent college graduates or journalism graduates or whatever. Is there an education that you look for? Is being educated in public relations or mass communications equate to a liberal arts background. Or how is that all in your judgment.

Golin: Well I think that having the academic skills are important but I like to have somebody who knows something about sales. Now this may sound a little far a field but I think that selling is not a dirty word. I think that some of the top people in our business are pretty good salesmen too. They have to not only sell the client that we’re involved in but this is a good idea and they should pursue this. But sell people who work for t hem. It’s a constant selling job. I think that some companies major companies have hired CEOs who had no experience at all in sales. They might be Chief financial officers or they might be in the manufacturing part of the business and I think that’s fine. But I think that they have to have some sales background knowing what makes their customers tick and what makes their employees tick as well because I think that the selling concept permeates all areas of a person’s job. So when I see I’ve seen certain CEOs of major companies fail because they came out of the other ranks. And they when I say sales these are people who have never who are feel uncomfortable talking to media people or to their own employees. And they’re so introverted that they may not be able to communicate properly. I mentioned Ralph Larson of Johnson & Johnson. I go back to Johnson & Johnson not because they’re our clients which they are not but because I think they are one of the quintessential good guys and they always have been in terms of their ratings and things. And he always said that he spent 75 percent of his time communicating internally and externally and it’s selling if you will. Whether it’s security analysts on the quality of the stock the value of the stock or the people who work for him. He felt that that was such a big part of his job description. But I think too many boards of directors forget about that when they’re looking for CEOs.

Interviewer: In our world you mentioned sales as being important which I think the ability to sell. Where does creativity fit in your thinking as far as characteristics or quality of people you hire?

Golin: I think creativity is an extremely important element of our business and it always will be no matter how the media may change over the years. I think being creative still gets the juices flowing and one of the things I always enjoy doing at the office is getting involved in brainstorm meetings. Whether it’s an existing client or a new client prospect that we’re working at. I always like to get involved in that process because the creative part of it is still one of the things that got me interested in being in this business.