There aren't too many PR professionals of whom it would be worth
asking the secret of their success. One really needs someone
consistently successful over a long time, building a global network on
client relationships enduring for decades.
One such person is 71-year-old Alvin Golin - universally known as Al -
chairman of Golin/Harris International. Golin has worked in PR for 40
years, building a 1,300-strong group with offices in the US, South
America, Europe and the Far East. He was in London last week to visit
family, as well as to meet staff at Springpoint, the corporate identity
firm he has acquired.
In addition to holding the McDonald's account for 40 years, the agency's
long-term clients include DaimlerChrysler, which has been on board for
more than a decade, Hewlett-Packard, Michelin and Nintendo. Golin has
advised the US Government on promoting the benefits of export to
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Golin emphasises the importance of
entrepreneurial spirit. He tells a story of an employee who - on hearing
aviation giant Boeing was considering re-locating from its Seattle base
- concocted a plan to bring the company to Golin's beloved Windy City.
He called the Chicago Mayor's office to offer the agency's services in
producing a brochure to extol the virtues of the city. It led to Boeing
executives being flown in, wined and dined, and ultimately to Chicago
being chosen as Boeing's new home.
'It was a guy in our office - not a senior guy - who called the Mayor's
office. Some of that entrepreneurial spirit is missing today. Too many
people are afraid of making mistakes ,' he says.
Golin certainly understands the importance of making the occasional
sales call. His legendary call to McDonald's founder Ray Kroc led to a
40-year association between the two, starting with a dollars 500 monthly
The link lasted as both men built global businesses.
He still describes that call as his biggest break. 'It was a cold call,
which should give hope to anyone selling. He said "come on over", we
talked and I started on Monday. He was a good client as he was very
receptive,' Golin recalls.
He says the secret of keeping clients for so long is treating them as if
they were new clients. 'We have a tendency to show the newest client the
most attention and not to take care of older clients. I always say we
should treat all clients like we just got them, not take them for
granted - as with any relationship,' he says.
Part of what this involves is proactivity. One of his least favourite
phrases, he says, is 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it'. 'I say: "Fix it
before it breaks." We sometimes need the courage to change things before
they need changing - especially in a long-term relationship,' he
He is honest enough to accept that more of this proactivity might have
helped McDonald's - the target, to his apparently genuine surprise, of
so much anti-capitalist ire in recent years.
'McDonald's is a collection of small businesses, not a big multinational
entity. That story has not been told,' he argues.
One of Golin's distinctive traits is unflappability. With difficulties
such as those McDonald's faces he says the important thing is to believe
that, for example with a strong community programme, the company is
doing the right thing.
'They should not to be deterred. It's easy for people to attack a major
corporation on the net, and it is the big guys they will attack. In
these situations the client could get emotional and over-react, which is
Golin's aproach would be to remain calm and use his honed listening
skills to sound effect. Sue Farr, Golin/Haris EMEA managing director,
says he is 'a brilliant listener and often hears what others do not. He
also has integrity and is often referred to as the soul of the
Golin is not a natural at dealing with technology. He admits to having
been 'terrified' by the internet before he got to grips with it. He
deals with issues face to face, finding it irksome that some colleagues
use e-mail as a lazy alternative. 'Some people don't want confrontation
so leave me e-mails instead of discussing things. It is a quick fix that
enables someone to get something off their desk,' he says.
Where e-mail does have a useful place, he believes, is with keeping in
touch when he is visiting his many overseas offices. He travels a lot
and clearly enjoys it, recently going through Brazil, Argentina, China,
Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan.
For the future he anticipates more travelling, with ambitions to grow
the business in China, and develop European representation in France,
Germany and Italy. With some 50 years in the PR business behind him, he
will then be able to retire to his beloved Chicago a happy man.
PR field rep
Wins McDonald's on cold call to founder
Agency named Golin Communications
Agency acquired by the Interpublic group of companies.