Type: Wholly Owned Subsidiary of the Interpublic Group of Companies, Inc.
Address: 111 East Wacker Drive, 11th Floor, Chicago, Illinois, 60601, U.S.A.
Telephone: (312) 729-4000
Fax: (312) 729-4010
Sales: $85 million (2007 est.)
Incorporated: 1956 as Max Cooper & Associates
NAIC: 541820 Public Relations Agencies
SIC: 8743 Public Relations Services
Golin/Harris International, Inc., which operates as GolinHarris, is one of America's leading public relations firms, with a client list that includes McDonald's, Dow Chemical, and State Farm Insurance. In addition to managing its clients' public image, the company offers specialty units that focus on employee communications (Insidedge), activism (Engage), and social responsibility (Change). Founder Al Golin serves as board chairman of the firm, which maintains 30 offices around the world. Golin/Harris is owned by advertising and public relations giant the Interpublic Group of Companies.
Golin/Harris traces its beginnings to 1956, when Alvin "Al" Golin joined a six-person public relations (PR) firm called Max Cooper & Associates in Chicago. Growing up in a family that ran movie theaters in Chicago and California, he had taken a job five years earlier as a field press representative for MGM Pictures, seeing it as a first step toward a job in film production. After discovering that he liked the work, he decided to stick with publicity.
Public relations was sometimes confused with advertising, as both sought to increase a client's visibility, but there was a distinct difference. Ad agencies were charged with developing company-approved messages and paying for their placement, while PR firms strove to win their clients media attention with more open-ended techniques like staging promotional events and issuing press releases, hoping for (though never guaranteeing) favorable news coverage. Effective PR could have a greater impact than advertising, however, as members of the public generally gave more credence to a news story than to an ad. In addition to burnishing a company's image, a PR firm was also called on to "put out fires," minimizing the negative impact of events that tainted a company's reputation.
At Max Cooper & Associates one of Golin's tasks was drumming up business by soliciting customers with cold calls, and in 1957 he placed one to Ray Kroc, who had opened his first McDonald's restaurant in nearby Des Plaines just two years earlier. Kroc agreed to a meeting, and within an hour Golin had signed a $500-per-month contract for the firm to represent McDonald's.
The agency soon landed publicity for its new client with newspaper stories such as one about Kroc giving away burgers to Salvation Army workers in Chicago during the Christmas holidays. Not long afterward, an interview with Kroc that was picked up by the Associated Press triggered hundreds of inquiries from prospective franchisees.
Al Golin Named Partner in 1958
In 1958 Golin and Ben Burns were made partners in the agency, after which it became known as Cooper, Burns, & Golin. Burns, a journalist, had helped publisher John H. Johnson launch Ebony magazine in 1945 and served as its first editor.
In 1962 the firm moved to new offices on North Michigan Avenue in Chicago, and in 1965 its name was changed to Cooper & Golin when Burns quit PR to return to writing. That same year Golin and Cooper joined with another investor to buy three McDonald's restaurants in Birmingham, Alabama.
Cooper was in the middle of a two-year leave of absence from the agency to build up the hamburger company's national advertising department. His first efforts included purchasing 3 minutes of ads on the television broadcast of the 1965 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, which featured a McDonald's-logo marching band and the debut of company mascot Ronald McDonald. Cooper also used his PR skills to help McDonald's double sales in several of its most difficult markets, and later created a publicity campaign that turned a tongue-twisting Big Mac hamburger jingle into a national phenomenon.
In 1967 Cooper & Golin opened an office in San Francisco, and two years later the firm added another in London. In 1975 Max Cooper left to run his growing chain of restaurants and produce Broadway musicals, after which the company took the name Golin Communications. In 1977 it created the first corporate sponsorship for the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Muscular Dystrophy Telethon.
Al Golin had long believed that successful PR was based on building a relationship of trust between a firm and its customers, and during the 1970s he and Ray Kroc of McDonald's elaborated on this to develop the idea of the "Trust Bank." It was defined as the accumulated public trust built up by a company, which could be used to help weather controversies. Trust was developed by contributing to a firm's community, which in McDonald's case ranged from sponsoring Little League baseball teams to building "Ronald McDonald Houses" around the country that provided accommodations for parents whose children were in the hospital.
Firm Becomes Golin/Harris in 1981
In 1981 the agency's name was changed to Golin/Harris Communications in recognition of partner Tom Harris, who had been hired as its president three years earlier from the PR division of advertising giant Foote, Cone & Belding (FCB), which he had founded and run. In 1985 Golin/Harris was purchased by FCB and became a part of its Carl Byoir & Associates PR unit, which by this time was the world's third largest firm of its kind. Byoir's Chicago office was merged into Golin/Harris, which would keep its name, while Al Golin continued to serve as CEO and chairman, with Harris in the roles of president and chief operating officer. Golin/Harris was one of Chicago's top three PR firms, with its clients including Campbell Soup, Dow Chemical, Sara Lee, Citicorp Services, and Levi Strauss & Co. During the year billings jumped 72 percent to $9.1 million, with new clients including Johnson Wax, Frito-Lay, and Quaker Oats. McDonald's accounted for 15 percent of revenues.
As part of FCB, Golin/Harris soon began to expand, in 1986 opening an office in New York and taking over smaller FCB-owned firms in Philadelphia and London. When FCB subsequently sold Carl Byoir & Associates, Golin/Harris would become its main PR unit. In 1987 the company also acquired two Canadian agencies, which took the name Continental/Golin/Harris.
In early 1989 Shandwick Plc, the world's third largest PR company, bought the firm from FCB, which was seeking to win the advertising account of Burger King, the archrival of top Golin/Harris client McDonald's. The price was approximately $25 million in stock, about $5 million more than Golin/Harris' annual billings.
In 1990 Thomas Harris quit to devote himself full time to writing books and teaching at Northwestern University, though the firm's name was not changed. A year later Rich Jernstedt was named CEO, and in 1995 Shandwick merged PR firms it owned in Atlanta and San Francisco into Golin/Harris. The agency continued to grow during this period, winning major new accounts like Chrysler Corp. and aspirin-maker Bayer. In 1997 the company's headquarters moved to Wacker Drive in Chicago.
In the fall of 1998 Shandwick was purchased by the Interpublic Group of Companies (IPG) for $170 million. New York-based IPG was one of the world's largest advertising/communications companies, with more than $4 billion in revenues. The firm's name was subsequently changed to Golin/Harris International, Inc.
Major Expansion Begun in 2000
In 2000 IPG realigned its PR operations and shifted some public affairs, lobbying, and technology functions from sister units Weber and Shandwick to Golin/Harris. It also merged technology specialist Ludgate Communications into the firm, giving it new offices in Frankfurt, Tokyo, and Hong Kong. The subsequent purchase of Forrest International further expanded its Asian presence by adding offices in Singapore and Taiwan and affiliates in India, Indonesia, South Korea, Malaysia, and Thailand. Revenues of $40 million were projected from the firm's Asian operations.
On the home front, in 2000 Golin/Harris acquired the MWW Group of New Jersey, which had 250 employees and $27 million in revenues. It would continue to operate as an autonomous unit to represent clients like Hard Rock Café International and the New Jersey Lottery. South of the border, the firm acquired Mexico's largest PR agency Zimat Consultores, which would become known as Zimat/Golin/Harris.
In 2001 the company appointed former BBC public service marketing head Sue Farr to expand its European operations, and soon afterward it purchased London-based brand consultant Springpoint, with estimated revenues of $5.3 million and clients like Vodafone and Campbell's Soup. It was subsequently enlarged by opening new offices and through a merger with IPG unit Luxon Carra.
The company was also expanding into South America, with new offices added in Brazil and Argentina, while Golin/Harris/Forrest absorbed Scotchbrook-BSMG's Hong Kong and Singapore operations to broaden its reach in Asia. New business was won from the likes of Sprint Corp., though the firm had lost the multimillion dollar IBM account to another agency.
The bursting dot-com bubble and concurrent U.S. economic downturn soon caused Golin/Harris to cut back its expansion plans, however. Company President Dave Gilbert was let go, with his duties absorbed by CEO Jernstedt, while Sue Farr quit. Despite these setbacks, in the spring of 2002 the firm acquired the Nixon Group of Miami, Florida, with Nixon branches in Tallahassee and Washington absorbed by Golin/Harris offices in those cities. In the fall the agency also appointed company veteran Fred Cook to fill the vacant president job. New accounts for the year included brewer Adolph Coors.
In 2003 Golin/Harris closed its offices in Hamburg and Dusseldorf, Germany, consolidating that country's operations in Frankfurt. The firm's U.K. arm was also merged into parent IPG's Weber Group, while new offices were added in Orange County, California (through a merger with the Benjamin Group), and in Brussels, Geneva, Madrid, Milan, Paris, and The Hague.
Rebranding in 2004
In 2004 the firm underwent a makeover, with its brand name shortened to GolinHarris and specialty practices created for corporate social responsibility and employee communications, named Change and Insidedge, respectively. The company also added a number of new clients including State Farm Insurance, United Egg Producers, and industry news journal PR Week during the year, and expanded into China by opening offices in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. Rich Jernstedt, who had recently switched titles from CEO to chairman, left the company, with Golin resuming the role of chairman he briefly had given up and Fred Cook adding the title of CEO.
Golin/Harris' expansion continued in 2005 with the opening of offices in Baltimore, Toronto, and Dubai, its first in the Middle East. In honor of their nearly half-century partnership, McDonald's created the Al Golin Public Relations Award of Excellence during the year, which was given to franchisees or other McDonald's units that had built trust through community involvement. New agency clients included media giant Vivendi Universal, Drugstore.com, and the California Avocado Commission.
In 2006 Golin/Harris added another new specialty practice called Engage to deal with issues related to activism and to monitor activist groups and their agendas. The firm won a number of new clients during the year, including the American Association of Advertising Agencies and Dow Chemical. Its contract with S.C. Johnson was lost to another agency, however.
In 2007 Golin/Harris was named Large Agency of the Year by PR Week, with new accounts including the Florida Citrus Commission and food giant Kraft. For the latter, the firm would promote new lines of coffee in the United Kingdom and Europe that were sourced from Rainforest Alliance-certified growers.
At the beginning of its second half-century in business, Golin/Harris International, Inc., had grown to become one of the top public relations firms in the United States, with a presence in more than two dozen countries around the world. In addition to its 50-year relationship with McDonald's, the company also managed the image of clients like Vivendi Universal, Dow Chemical, and the Florida Citrus Commission, building trust for the companies it represented in keeping with the vision of still-active founder Al Golin.
Golin/Harris International Ltd. (United Kingdom); Golin/Harris B&L GmbH (Germany); Golin/Harris International Ltd. (China); Golin/Harris International Ltd. (Japan); Golin/Harris International Pte Ltd. (Singapore); Springpoint Ltd. (United Kingdom).
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— Frank Uhle