EDITORIAL: Golin's leadership must command the spotlight if the agency's new identity is to truly resonate

Golin Harris' new corporate identity, a kind of orange and gold lozenge, is no doubt designed to evoke an image of the rising sun.

Golin Harris' new corporate identity, a kind of orange and gold lozenge, is no doubt designed to evoke an image of the rising sun.

For the past couple of years, the agency has strived to right itself, following a period when tangential acquisitions muddied the brand and pushed the firm too far beyond its core strengths, all in an unforgiving climate.

In March 2003, the firm's CFO was replaced with an executive from Interpublic, the agency's parent company. That April, Weber Shandwick CEO Harris Diamond was given responsibility for Golin - along with MWW, DeVries, and other IPG brands - at the holding-company level under the Constituency Management Group. Some feared that meant Golin would be cannibalized for the good of WS. Then last July, Fred Cook became the firm's CEO and Rich Jernstedt moved into the chairman's role.

Jernstedt, who has taken a new post at Fleishman-Hillard, was in many ways the personification of some of the firm's traditional attributes - as its new identity material puts it: "honest, personal, trusted." Without losing those core values, Golin is now attempting to layer in a new level of aggressiveness, to be seen as, it says, "nimble, breakthrough, vital."

Cook says management changes have been made in seven of its 26 offices and half of the firm's locations have moved - some to more advantageous spots, others via space consolidation with other IPG firms. The brand-identity and special-events practices, impractical extensions that they were, have been shuttered. The firm has opened new locations in Bangkok, Shanghai, and the Middle East, and Cook claims that all of the firm's offices are breaking even or profitable.

Golin lost the Visa International account this year after less than 12 months on the business, but it won State Farm, the Special Olympics, Quest Diagnostics, and others. The firm is focusing on employee communications and social marketing, the latter of which is a strength that dates back to the successful acquisition of Nixon in 2002. The antismoking work of that firm helped Golin win the American Legacy Foundation work last year.

Cook says that the firm's challenge is to make its size - somewhere between mid-size and mega - a virtue, to "combine the agility and creativity of a boutique with the resources of a global firm." Or, as he also characterizes it, to become the "world's biggest boutique." The agency also needs to assert a strong and focused presence in New York.

But the firm has other challenges. For one, it hasn't yet managed to fully quell latent speculation that it will eventually merge with WS, in part because of the consolidation of back-office operations.

Cook counters that IPG's continued investment in the firm's growth clearly belies that perception (and Diamond affirms that is the case). But part of the reason for its endurance may be Cook's relatively low profile. In person, he is a persuasive spokesman for the "new" Golin. But his industry presence still lags behind the personalities that populate the senior ranks of IPG firms.

The agency, too, can seem stuck in its Midwestern reserve, which may be mistaken for aloofness and complacency - a kind of bureaucratic chill. Golin needs to better harness its evangelical clients (which it is fortunate to truly have) and a presumably newly motivated workforce to lend veracity to its claim that this is a new day for the firm.

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