The Lesson of Al Golin's Career in Public Relations: Make That Phone Call

By James R. Hagerty Features Dow Jones Newswires

In 1957, when Al Golin was a young public-relations man in Chicago, a friend suggested he should make a pitch to the owner of a fledgling drive-in hamburger chain. Mr. Golin promptly made the call to Ray Kroc, who invited him over immediately for a chat. Mr. Golin noted that encouraging local newspapers to write positive stories about the McDonald's chain would be far less expensive than buying ads.

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Mr. Kroc hired Mr. Golin for $500 a month, and the public-relations firm -- now known as Golin, part of Interpublic Group -- is still working for McDonald's 60 years later.

Mr. Golin urged clients to contribute to local causes, including ones that help children. He called it making deposits in a "trust bank." Those deposits could help protect a company's image "when it faces a crisis or other negative news," he wrote in his 2004 book "Trust or Consequences: Build Trust Today or Lose Your Market Tomorrow."

Mr. Golin also preached humility, based partly on his own experiences. Before representing McDonald's, he briefly did PR work for Spencer Tracy, and risked addressing the actor by his first name. "He looked at me and he said, 'That's OK, son, you can call me Mr. Tracy,'" Mr. Golin recalled later.

Mr. Golin died April 8 of cancer in Scottsdale, Ariz. He was 87.

During a long career, from which he never retired, Mr. Golin urged executives not to take themselves too seriously.

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Decades ago, while making a presentation to senior executives at a maker of home appliances, he leaned back. His chair tipped over, launching him into a backward somersault. Mr. Golin popped back up and quipped, "And now for my next trick...." None of the executives smiled, he recalled in a video interview much later: "These people were wound so tight that no one asked if I was OK or commended my surprisingly acrobatic performance."

Alvin I. Golin was born June 19, 1929, in Chicago. His father owned a movie theater, and Al worked there as a teenager. He earned a bachelor's degree in business at Roosevelt University. Eager to get into show business, he worked in the early 1950s for the Chicago office of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, where he handled publicity for visiting movie stars.

In 1956, he became a junior partner at a small PR firm, Max Cooper & Associates. Mr. Golin later became owner of the firm and stamped his name on it. Since 1998, the firm has been part of Interpublic. Golin has more than 50 offices and 1,600 employees world-wide.

Mr. Golin "knew how to listen" and didn't jump to conclusions, said Paul Schrage, a former chief marketing officer at McDonald's Corp. "Al was a calming influence," Mr. Schrage said.

Mr. Golin stayed involved in the business in recent years while splitting his time between homes in Chicago and Scottsdale. "Even in his 80s, if you'd walk into his office and he was reading the newspaper, he'd sort of toss it under the desk because he didn't want anyone to think he was goofing off at work," said Fred Cook, who became chairman of Golin in January, succeeding Mr. Golin.

Mr. Golin is survived by his wife of 55 years, June, their three children, six grandchildren and one great grandson.

Write to James R. Hagerty at bob.hagerty@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

April 28, 2017 10:14 ET (14:14 GMT)