Oral Histories

Al Golin

Interview Segments on Topic: PR and Technology/Change

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: You’ve by your own admission now this firms been here for 50 years. What changes have you observed in the practice of public relations over that period of time. From when you started to where we are today?

Golin: Well some of the big change of course is technology. I don’t think anybody dreamt of how the important of technology would take over everything we do in our lives really. And certainly it’s so important in the business that we’re in. You know because of communication and so it’s our business. So naturally technology has certainly come into play in such a major way. But I think there’s a danger here too because I think that with all this technology we have to balance some of that with what I like to call high touch. I didn’t create that term. It was started a few years ago with a guy named John Naisbitt who wrote a book called Mega Trends, which maybe you and I would remember. But he talked about high tech and high touch. Before all the tech really came in. He was sort of way ahead of his time. And I think that I love to borrow that term because I think we all have to be so conscious of balancing that hype that high tech with some human element which is the high touch part of it. Because I like to talk about a guy who used to sit 50 feet from me in my office who’ s no longer here that would constantly send me emails or voice mails. Never come in to discuss anything. And I think that I would I was constantly ask him why don’t you come in and let’s talk about this. But I think too many people today want to get rid of something. They call somebody and they’re shocked when you answer the phone because they’d rather leave a voice mail. They don’t want to talk to you anyway. So I think that’s a real danger and I think I’m guilty of it too sometimes. That I’m always amazed when somebody will answer their phone and I just wanted to get rid of a subject and leave a voice mail. But I think it’s a danger. I like to talk about an old radio show that radio you may remember radio. Where they had there was a guy who was a door to door salesman and he was an introverted guy. And he was hoping on hope no one would be home when he knocked on their door. And I think today all this technology is a crutch where people hope no one would be home so they don’t have to confront anybody or even discuss it let alone confront anybody.

Interviewer: We’ve talked a little bit about or you did about the challenges that you confronted and one of the major ones. What challenges do you see facing what would be known as the public relations profession or other executives today and how the challenges which you are about to identify, how can they be resolved or met?

Golin: Well I think that we might have a tendency today with all this technology to overreact and try to take out the human element out of the whole thing. And I think that’s a danger. You know technology changes as we all know so fast that who would have predicted these things happening. I was supposed to give a talk. I’m still supposed to give a talk about the next 50 years in public relations. And I’m reminded of the guy who gave a talk I don’t know about ten years ago who predicted there would be helicopter pads on every major building in the United States. Well obviously it didn’t happen. So I think that you can overreact to things. And be influenced by this to a dangerous extent. And I don’t mean I want to turn the clock back on a lot of things because I’d like to. But there’s no turning the clock back. That I think that newspaper readership is going to be almost decimated in the next ten twenty years and I hate to see that. Because I’ve been such a great proponent of that since I was a kid. And I’ve always been kind of a news junkie. And I just hate to see something like the newspapers die out. And I do see that they are having so many problems. Young people just aren’t reading and it’s true you can get things online almost everywhere you go but it’s not the same. So it’s again not letting technology rule everything. To try to keep the human element is going to be extremely important thing for all of us.