Industry luminaries pay tribute to Al Golin

Communications leaders including Harold Burson and Richard Edelman look back on Golin's leadership, dedication, and innovation in the PR industry.

Al Golin (center) and Golin's executive board last July (image via Golin)
Al Golin (center) and Golin's executive board last July (image via Golin)

CHICAGO: Industry leaders and colleagues of Al Golin remembered the legacy of his 60-year career in PR. Golin, who founded his firm in 1956, died Saturday. He was 87.

Golin had many notable career accomplishments, one being his decades-long client relationship with McDonald’s, another growing and leading his PR firm into an international agency with 1,500 staff and revenues in excess of $200 million.

Friends and colleagues remember his work and his friendship:

Harold Burson, founder, Burson-Marsteller
"Al Golin is a role model for those public relations professionals who aspire to  lead a global agency. He was a leader in every sense of the word. He was a magnet who brought together a stable of talented people who displayed a special loyalty to him, his company, and his clients. He was what I would describe as ‘a quiet man.’ His deeds vis-a-vis his clients and the members of his staff were seldom self-proclaimed. He devoted a lifetime of service to an outstanding client list and to the public relations community."

Richard Edelman, CEO, Edelman
"Al became a very good friend of my father’s, very true in the last 10 years of my dad's life. It started at the PR Seminar and grew into something rather special. He and Al had a really strong relationship. They were both at their heart marketing PR gurus and founders and had passed their firms along, in Al's case to Fred [Cook] and in my father’s to me. That was a really lovely thing for my dad. He was the best of us."

Fred Cook, chairman, Golin
"Dan [Edelman], Harold [Burson], and Al are three pioneers of the industry, and now only Harold is left. We've lost a legend, somebody who was a founding father of PR. Al was always innovative in his time, even in his eighties when we announced g4. Al was all in on g4 and thought it was a great idea, even when some of our senior management were skeptical."

Gary Rudnick, co-CEO, Golin
"Every day, I have heard him interact with colleagues, strangers, clients, prospects and friends. He was always interested, caring and unassuming. For him, it was just another conversation in his day. For the others, it was a highlight - possibly of their entire career. Yet he treated each person with respect and as an equal. He had a gift for that, and I was fortunate enough to witness it every day. McDonald's slogan for many years was ‘Billions and Billions Served.’ In our industry, and in particular at our agency, that same slogan fit Al Golin. He ‘served’ so many of us with his friendship, his wisdom, his humility, his creativity and his kindness. We are better professionals and people for his influence, and he will never, ever be forgotten."

Jon Hughes, co-CEO, Golin
"When so much of conversation is around what’s fake or famous, Al’s qualities of authenticity and humility stood out all the more. He was genuine and genuinely interested in what was best for his clients and colleagues and he was loved for it. Seeing the industry evolve so much meant he was never afraid of change. In the management meeting when what would become g4 was first being talked about, Fred turned to Al and said 'Hey Al, what do you think of all this? This is your firm we’re talking about ripping apart.' And Al said, as only he could, 'Well, Fred, if you all think this is the best thing we can do for our clients and our firm then let’s go ahead and do it.' This was very much a part of his ‘fix it before it breaks’ philosophy that he lived by."

Matt Neale, co-CEO, Golin
"Befitting his role as a curious, creative gentleman, Al was one of the world’s great raconteurs. His stories were so good, every time I travelled to Chicago I’d ask Al to retell them, even if by now I could almost quote him word for word. One of the most famous in the agency, was the day Al and a friend travelled to Havana in the early 1950s, only to discover Ernest Hemingway in the corner of a nightclub. The story involves paparazzi, a great American novel, and a question about - how shall we put it – a man’s crown jewels! Now it’s our turn to pass on his stories to those that weren't so fortunate to work with one of the founding fathers of public relations."

Ellen Ryan Mardiks, vice-chair, Golin
"Al was a pioneer and a legend, but he never acted like one. That was key to his greatness. I have never met a more genuine guy. I never heard him brag. He was proud, for sure, as he should have been. But this humble giant led through inspiration, not intimidation, and that set the standard for all of us who carry on his legacy."

Scott Farrell, global corporate practice president, Golin
"Some of my best memories of 20 years at the agency Al founded were standing or sitting next to Al as he rocked and swiveled in his favorite leather chair. I looked forward to those times. His counsel was always wise and spot on. His ideas were fresh. His feedback was frank and honest. And his passion – for the work and the conversation we were having – was palpable. He truly loved this business and it was evident in every word and action."

Steve Easterbrook, CEO, McDonald's
"McDonald’s owes Al a tremendous debt of gratitude for all he accomplished in his partnership with us. We have benefited for decades from his wisdom and leadership, from his friendship and his support."

Jano Cabrera, corporate SVP of U.S. communications, McDonald’s
"He was a legendary figure in all things communications at McDonald’s. Certain names are held in high esteem: Ray Kroc, Fred Turner, and Al Golin. Two of those were founders of the company, so that says something about Al that even though he was an outside advisor, he was very much considered a member of the team. When I met Al he was welcoming me to McDonald’s and I was struck by his use of language. It wasn't the founder of an agency having a conversation with a client about how they can help. It was somebody who was part of the brand and equally passionate about it, if not more so."

Travis Heriaud, franchise owner-operator, McDonald’s
"At McDonald’s he will be remembered as an artist who helped shape this brand, telling our story to the world – that in addition to being a burger restaurant company, McDonald’s is a centerpiece of our communities and the franchisees are ambassadors of the brand. He will be missed and his passion and knack for storytelling will continue to inspire us."

Renee Wilson, president, PR Council
"Our industry has lost a legend and a pioneer. Al Golin’s legacy touches us all. I love his motto: 'fix it before it breaks.' It’s an inspiration to our whole industry during this time of great transformation."

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