It is with great sadness that I report that Al Golin, a dear friend and a member of the Arthur W. Page Society Hall of Fame, passed away on Saturday.
In 1956, Al joined a small public relations agency called Max Cooper & Associates. Today, that firm bears his name. Golin has more than 50 offices and 1,200 employees around the world. His famous cold call to Ray Kroc in 1957 led to a lifetime relationship between Golin and McDonald's Corporation, where Al initially advised McDonald's franchisees to focus on building awareness and credibility in their communities.
In his acceptance speech upon induction into the Page Hall of Fame in 2004, Al said, "I coined the term 'Trust Bank' for all the community involvement, which helped them build deposits of goodwill in case they might need it for a withdrawal when a crisis or sensitive issue arose. I'm happy to say that the term has stuck in the McDonald's lexicon all these years. And I'm proud that other companies have incorporated it into their own vocabularies."
This focus on building trust led Al to write a book, Trust or Consequences, which was published in 2004 in the wake of the Enron and WorldCom scandals. For Al, trust was not an obscure or amorphous concept, but rather a business-results-oriented imperative.
He said in his Hall of Fame remarks, "It's gratifying to witness the Page Principles becoming fashionable these days to certain CEOs who probably regarded them as unrealistic, naïve, or soft and fuzzy values until recently. I believe CEOs these days know that public trust is the currency of good public relations that is accumulated and used in the same way capital is used in a broader business sense."
"In the pre-Enron era," he wrote in his book, "I doubt that as many people would have been interested in this book. Then, many companies gave lip service to trust building but didn't see it as an integral part of their strategies. In the post-Enron era, most companies see the connection between distrust and results, and how the by-products of distrust – suspicion, anger, cynicism and disappointment – drive down stock prices, harm employee recruitment and retention efforts, and cause customer defections to competitors."
Al also was dedicated to constant improvement. He was always looking to make things better. In his Hall of Fame remarks, he explained that his favorite expression was "Fix it before it breaks." By this he meant, "In our business, we must take risks – and learn to love it. If you play not to lose rather than to win, you'll never be a success."
In this day of heavy reliance on data analytics, it's refreshing to reread Al's endorsement of human judgement. "In those days," he said in the Hall of Fame remarks, referring to the early days of the McDonald's assignment, "we didn't have much to go on besides our instincts. If it seemed right and it appeared to be working, we kept doing it. … It really boils down to going with your gut feeling."
On a personal note, I just want to say that, in addition to being one of the true pioneers of our profession, Al Golin is one of the nicest people I ever met. He and his wife, June, were regulars at many Page meetings over the years. No one was more polite, thoughtful and interested in others than the Golins.
Al will be missed by all of us at Page. Here are some remembrances from some of his many admirers:
From Fred Cook, former CEO and now chairman of Golin:
I've spent half my life working with Al at Golin. He has been my boss, my mentor, and most of all, my friend. Al loved this company, and his honest, humble, humorous approach to life and business made a huge impact on all of us. We will strive to nurture the enduring legacy he created.
From Ron Culp, professional director of the DePaul University public relations graduate program and former Sears CCO:
Al personified each and every one of the Page Principles. He literally wrote the book on truth, which he was able to make clients and employees appreciate no matter what they might have wanted to hear. He was laser-focused on listening to others, rather than trying to lead conversations. As a result, he was always one of the most informed people in the room, and the one you needed to listen to when he spoke.
From Rich Jernstedt, who succeeded Al as CEO and then later chairman of Golin:
At first, back in 1978, Al was my boss. Then he became a mentor and then a very valued friend. The process took a couple of days. Like his relationships with everyone, all three came together to make an incredible impact on everyone who knew him. His contributions to our profession and the people he inspired – many of whom are Page members – will ensure a lasting legacy.
From Bill Nielsen, fellow Hall of Famer and former Johnson and Johnson CCO:
Al Golin and I were brought together in 1976 when Foote, Cone & Belding, the advertising agency, bought our firm, Carl Byoir & Associates. FCB had already partnered with Golin Harris to handle many of the ad agency's biggest accounts. Byoir was the consummate "corporate" PR agency of the time and Golin Harris was known for its consumer marketing business, most notably with McDonalds.
To say it was a culture shock is putting it mildly. But there was Al to take us by the hand and show us the way. I remember being so impressed by his stature and standing and his very understated and warm manner. He showed great class and quickly won many friends in our firm. Al always took the responsibility of communicating with the public very seriously. He was concerned about client reputations well ahead of his time.
Later, he and I shared many professional encounters and I learned a great deal from his style and grace and his winning smile. He is remembered as a champion in our industry. The caring and supportive culture he created in his firm was envied by his competitors. He was a great guy, a genuinely friendly and likable man and I will miss him.
From Maril MacDonald, founder and CEO of Gagen MacDonald:
When I think of Al, my first thought is "legend," which is likely where most of us go, because Al has, in many ways, built a career that's larger than life. Yet, as the obituaries regale his many, many major accomplishments, I find myself missing most the small moments that made Al so special to me. The twinkle in his eye as he focused on the positive aspect of every moment. The intent way he listened to each of us and offered affirming feedback. The joy he took in his time with family, colleagues and friends. And the generosity of spirit with which he approached every relationship. Al modeled every day that the small things are the big things. While there's only one Al, I'm very grateful for the legions of mentees he's developed to further manifest his philosophy in their own unique ways.
From Bridget Coffing, who recently retired as McDonald's CCO:
Al touched so many people. He gave me, and so many others, our first real opportunity in this business. As a result, his legacy lives on throughout our industry.
From Jim Murphy, CEO of Murphy & Co. and former Accenture CCO:
Al Golin was a stalwart of our profession. He literally wrote the book on consumer public relations, particularly in community affairs. He also built one of our field's great agencies. He has left an indelible mark. We will miss him.
From Bruce Harrison, counselor and faculty at Georgetown University and founder of E. Bruce Harrison Company and EnviroComm International:
Patricia and I join the huge line of followers, associates and friends, in expressing condolences and love to Al's family. His daughter had her first PR job at Harrison, when we got to know him and his terrific family.
Al's casual counsel--with that constant, enabling Golin smile--to "fix it before it breaks"--inspired me and Patricia more than 30 years ago to encourage our enterprise clients to get into the greening and sustainability mode. It built our firm.
On the Golin website, you can find a press release, an obituary and some wonderful videos about Al. There are also obituaries in the Chicago Sun-Times, The Holmes Report and PRWeek and this touching tribute in Ron Culp's Culpwrit blog.
The Golin obit reports that "A memorial service will be held in Al's honor in Chicago at a date to be determined. In lieu of flowers, the Golin family has asked that donations be made in Al's name to Ronald McDonald House Charities, the Off the Street Club, the Goodman Theatre or Roosevelt University."