Hall of Fame 2021: Fred Cook

Chairman emeritus, Golin; director, USC Center for Public Relations

Fred Cook has worked at Interpublic Group PR agency Golin for over 35 years and credits the company’s culture for his long tenure with the firm. He started at Golin in 1986 as managing director of its Los Angeles office, rising to become CEO of the whole agency in 2003. Having established the firm as a global powerhouse, in 2016 he evolved to become chairman, transitioning to chairman emeritus at the start of 2021.

As chairman emeritus, Cook remains part of Golin’s global executive leadership team and continues to oversee key legacy accounts. Based in Los Angeles, Cook has special responsibility for evolving the firm’s LA office to be a beacon of progressive PR.

What would your advice be for a young person entering PR in 2021?

I’m fortunate that at USC I get to give a lot of advice to young people entering the world of PR. I usually tell them they will have a great career filled with amazing opportunities if they are creative, curious and brave. And I always tell them to ask for more money.

How are the founding principles of PR relevant in today’s fast-moving and febrile comms environment?

The thing I like the most about the PR industry is that it changes all the time, mostly for the better. Today, it’s more diverse, more digital and more important. We have a lot to be proud of, but we need to do more.

The current level of polarization in the U.S. is an enormous communications problem and professional communicators should be able to help solve it. As an industry, we need to use our platform to advocate for greater understanding and empathy between people who have lost the ability to listen to each other.

Cook (right) with IPG Dxtra’s Andy Polansky at the PRWeek Global Awards in 2016.

Give us some unconventional advice from an unlikely CEO.

I wrote a book called Improvise, which is the text for my leadership class at USC. The main theme is to experiment with your life by regularly stepping outside of your comfort zone. As we get older, we fall into a pattern of repeating things that are familiar. We go to the same restaurants, read the same magazines and spend time with the same people. These innate habits are very comforting, but they stifle our creativity. Trying something new every week, no matter how small, is the only way to remain relevant.

Which of your many former jobs best prepared you for a career in PR? And why?

Being a cabin boy on a ship taught me to ask questions. Being a doorman taught me how to serve customers. Being a tour guide taught me to lead when I wasn’t sure where I was going. Running Bar-B-Q Records taught me that I would never be successful without the help of other people. Creating Sober Chauffeur taught me that if you have a good idea, run with it, even if it turns out badly.

How do you relax?

I used to run all the time. Twenty marathons. Due to a knee injury, I can’t run as fast or as far as I used to. I also ride a bike and a motorcycle. But in LA, neither is very relaxing.

Favorite sportsperson? 

Roger Federer.

Favorite drink?

Pinot Noir.

Favorite bands?

Right now: Judah & the Lion, Girl in Red and The Tallest Man on Earth. Long-term: Leonard Cohen. I’m also a big fan of Bo Burnham. I think [Burnham’s comedy special] Inside on Netflix is the best thing to come out of the pandemic.

Fred Cook with his wife, Cheryl, in Saint Petersburg, Russia, in 2015, where he spoke at a Baltic PR conference.

Which three people, living or dead, would you like to host at a dinner party? 

I find hanging out with famous people is often disappointing. I would rather spend time with my long-time friends at Golin and my wife, Cheryl. It would be nice if Al [Golin] could join us for one more dinner. I wouldn’t mind seeing my kids [son Noah and daughter Emily] more often either.

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