GolinHarris had a banner year, and CEO Fred Cook is justifiably proud. But the bar has been set high for 2007.
CEO Fred Cook is never seen without his GolinHarris pin, depicting the orange lozenge logo the firm unveiled three years ago. At the time the agency launched that new identity, it seemed a highly optimistic bid to erase the perception that the firm was deeply troubled, and would in fact one day no longer have an identity of its own, but rather be rolled up into Weber Shandwick. Cook and Harris Diamond, head of Interpublic Group's Constituency Management Group (CMG) and CEO of WS, denied it, but few believed.
Roll-up rumors have been put to rest now, and Golin in 2006 pulled away from its recent struggles and asserted a strong positioning for growth. This year will be critical to reinforcing that momentum.
Benefitting from CMG
Golin's ascendancy is happening at a time when the agency business is generally booming. But some other firms of a similar scale have struggled harder to reap the benefits of the market. It is the predicament of the smaller large agencies - too big to be boutiques, too small to be truly global.
But Golin has been a beneficiary of the efficiencies and focus of CMG, a group of marketing services firms within IPG that includes such PR names as WS, DeVries, and MWW Group. Since CMG's inception in 2003, the group has grown to include other names and disciplines such as Futurebrand, Jack Morton Worldwide, and Octagon.
In a 2004 PRWeek interview, Diamond explained the benefits of the CMG structure: "The goal was to figure out if we could find a way to combine forces, or back-office resources, or intellectual capital to better service the clients." Certainly the advantages in creating greater operational efficiencies were and have been significant for all the CMG firms.
However, he added, the real advantage has been to client service. "We're really finding that the benefit is that we're able to partner for our clients in a way that is significantly greater than we thought a year ago," Diamond continued. "We hoped to see some of that take place, but, to a certain extent, when we originally started we were just looking for a collaborative effort on the back office. We are way past that now. We are seeing on the front end, working with clients, the ability to bring in additional resources as really being the magic behind this group now."
Diamond is famously reticent to discuss client specifics, but in 2006 one example was made apparent when Dow selected IPG to lead its corporate reputation brief, after a review that invited holding-company pitches. The account would be led by Golin, in what would eventually become the Human Element campaign.
"In our case, [Dow] contacted Golin, and we brought in Foote Cone Belding [now DraftFCB] as our partner," said Cook in an interview at the time. "Usually, the context of these holding-company efforts is the ad agency is in the lead and PR gets brought along as part of the team."
Of course, Golin had an edge over the competition in Patti Temple Rocks, who was formerly at Dow, then at Golin during the review, and returned to Dow as VP of global communications. The team is a tight-knit one, and it pulled together a remarkable campaign in impressively short order.
A cornerstone of the Dow work, and indeed of Golin's business model, is the work carried out by the InsideEdge unit, a division launched in 2004 and headed up by Keith Burton, which focuses on employee communications.
The success of this unit also provides insight into how CMG is tapping the resources of its component companies, as InsideEdge is available to all CMG clients. In that, we learn that Golin is not just the beneficiary of the heft that such an umbrella organization can provide; it is also a significant contributor.
Clients tell the story
While Golin certainly has its stars, it is an agency less known by the caliber of its individual talent than for its overall client-service reputation. Widely recognized for its long-term client relationships with the likes of McDonald's and Nintendo, the firm is also picking up new business across a wide spectrum of industries, and frequently across global locations. Accounts snagged recently include Unilever (Breyers), GlaxoSmithKline, The Kimberly-Clark Foundation, TransUnion, and eMusic.
Among the wins, in a story that struck an ironic note among the marketing trades, the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4As) hired Golin after a competitive review to provide outreach support for the industry. The ad industry seeking PR help? That news was almost too perfect.
The win also highlighted the fact that Golin in 2005 finally secured a lead for its New York office in Jennifer Cohan, formerly of GCI Group. The previous lack of leadership in this office had been problematic for some time.
The agency did suffer a loss recently when SC Johnson moved its account to Edelman. Cook was characteristically candid about the development. "In the end," he said, "it just wasn't a very good fit."
Golin celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2006. But rather than presenting a laundry list of achievements, it chose to look ahead to the next 50 years in a brochure it distributed to clients and contacts, as well as events it held all over the US. The effort embraced the legacy of chairman Al Golin, without sacrificing innovation for tradition.
A cornerstone of its next phase is its collection of branded divisions that, in its own words, are "nine critical areas that are shaping the future." These include Anthrographics (consumer segmentation that is informed by an ethnographic research model) and Longevity (dealing with aging consumers, from public policy to marketing), to accompany such other existing areas as InsideEdge and Change (corporate social responsibility). In identifying and classifying these areas as such, Golin has shown that it's making strides in the areas in which clients are increasingly demanding expertise and guidance. Golin may not have all the answers yet, but it is certainly asking the right questions.
Following the leader
At the top of Golin is a leader who is genuinely enthused by the actual work of PR as much as he is by the business. He hit the road for the Nintendo Wii launch and is one of Dow's biggest boosters. Under Cook's leadership, Golin has a new confidence and swagger, something that had been missing for a long time.
"When it comes to predicting the future," wrote Cook in his introduction to the 50th anniversary booklet, "we have no illusions about our ability to gaze into a crystal ball. But we can make educated extrapolations about where our business is headed - and we'd better. Because those who don't prepare will become extinct."
In that spirit, 2006 is now past and Golin must work hard to sustain and build on this period. Its New York presence is still slight, compared with other firms its size. Global capabilities are still not entirely transparent from the US perspective, at a time when clients seeking more insight into the global landscape, even before they make moves towards it.
Finally, Golin's second tier of management needs more time in the spotlight. While Cook is a calmly charismatic leader whose enthusiasm is infectious, an agency of that size needs a whole raft of leadership that is visible in order to truly belong in the big leagues.
For its determination, pride, innovative perspective, and the promise of much more to come, GolinHarris is PRWeek's 2007 Editors' Choice.
When the "blogs as a cultural force" concept began its mainstream rise in 2004, a healthy percentage of the PR industry was skeptical or dismissive of the new medium.
Those individuals eventually understood the importance of blogs without really grasping how or why they held such sway. Case studies revealing the online travails of such companies as Dell, Sony, and Kryptonite made apparent "why" blogs were important. However, the "how" has been more elusive.
The online monitoring landscape is changing, however, and on it is a new product, BuzzLogic, that gives marketers highly calibrated, yet do-it-yourself tools that offer a snapshot of how influence is traded between traditional and nontraditional media.
San Francisco-based BuzzLogic is headed by CEO Rob Crumpler, who joined in 2005 and was formerly with such companies as Microsoft MSN Money.
While BuzzLogic's beta product (which launches proper in 2007) has been getting rave reviews from test users, the company's inclusion on this list portends a larger prediction for the future: the layman's understanding of how information spreads online.
The heavy hitters in online measurement and monitoring will continue to put out reports with highly scientific research and analysis, which can provide strategists with a valuable overall vision for the online environment. But 2007 is the ripe time for BuzzLogic and other vendors to create the interactive tools for the teams in the trenches.
Using BuzzLogic, a PR pro can see exactly how a story that started out in the blogosphere made it to a popular blog or mainstream article, and thus decipher who holds influence over the influentials.
"You can see instantly who is being influenced by whom, and who influences whom," notes Burghardt Tenderich, CEO of Bite Communications, a beta tester.
If PR is an amalgamation of science and art, these interactive tools can pair the vendor's concept of science with the qualitative skills of humans. Automated "favorability" analysis is still inexact, so allowing PR pros to gauge friends and foes provides a huge benefit.
"Reports are nice, but they're not as dynamic," notes Joanne Kisling, senior PR manager at Sun Microsystems, who saw an earlier version of BuzzLogic.
More tools may initially frighten some PR pros, but the end result allows for more strategic client work.
"If there is an influential blogger who doesn't like your product, you can look at who influences that person and try to influence those people [positively]," Tenderich says. "It gives the notion of strategic media relations some truth."
Last year's picks
New-business momentum for the firm was breathtaking, with Microsoft Vista's launch perhaps the most riveting example of Edelman's heady profile. But it was also a testing year, with the departures of its consumer head Lisa Sepulveda and vice chairman Leslie Dach. The firm is still flush with new business and buzz, but other firms are finally catching up to its new-media momentum.
Procter & Gamble has become the model for PR measurement, and has opened up more and more about its efforts where communications leads. With the integration of Gillette, P&G now has a larger portfolio with which to prove its marketing leadership and innovation.