In 1956, a young public relations professional made a cold call to an aspiring Chicago businessman who owned a few hamburger stands. More than 50 years later, people all over the world know that once fledgling restaurant chain as McDonald’s, and it remains one of the largest clients of the GolinHarris public relations firm.

Earlier this month, the Institute for Public Relations and Arthur W. Page Society co-hosted the two-day Public Relations Leadership Forum at GolinHarris headquarters in Chicago. Wrapping up the research-based seminar, GolinHarris Founder and Chairman Al Golin reflected on his career and offered advice to up-and-coming communicators during a moderated discussion with IPR Trustee Dr. Don Wright of Boston University.

In the beginning, Golin said he and his employees had to sell not only on the services provided by GolinHarris, but the entire concept of public relations. However, today the field is very strategic, based on facts, requiring research to back up the work they do. “It makes it incredible,” he said.

PR Leadership Forum GolinHarris May 2014

Golin considers his biggest professional accomplishment to be the work he did with McDonald’s to help begin the Ronald McDonald house. When a Brazilian businessman approached him and told him no big corporations had really done charity work before that, it was a proud moment for him.

With the use of social media – what he considers the greatest revolution he’s seen not only in public relations but in life – people are more suspicious of organizations, so transparency is important.

“We always need to remember public relations is a business, not just a profession” he said. “If you’re not current, you’re not good at it.” He also said, “Ideas can be cheap unless you know what to do with them.”

At the end of the conversation, Golin offered unconventional advice to mid-career professionals who can’t seem to get their ideas through to their upper management: “Life is too short to go through that,” he said. “You’re probably trying to educate somebody who doesn’t want to be educated… Why not go somewhere else? Take a chance.”

Alyssa Hubbell is a public relations associate at the Institute for Public Relations.

Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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One thought on “Leadership Lessons from Founder of GolinHarris

  1. Al Golin is a true legend in the public relations field. It’s always an honor to have him speak to one of the Public Relations Leadership Forums.

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