CHICAGO—It is perhaps too early to say whether the changes implemented by Fred Cook at GolinHarris over the past 12 months will have a disruptive impact on the public relations business as a whole—the cultural and organizational revolution is certainly the most dramatic reimaging of PR agency structure in recent memory—but it is certainly not too early to say that his leadership has had a transformative impact on the agency he has led for the past nine years.
It’s not that GolinHarris was flailing before Cook took the reins. The firm had a hard-earned reputation for creativity in the consumer realm and for its collaborative work environment. But there was also a feeling that Golin was a little too comfortable as a perennial runner-up, flattered to be involved in big pitches against bigger agencies even if it didn’t win out, content to be either (depending on your perspective) the biggest midsize agency or the smallest big agency in the US.
Cook quickly instilled a culture that valued winning as much as it valued the softer values of consensus and creativity; put in place a strong senior leadership team that includes vice chairman and leader of the global consumer marketing practice Ellen Ryan Mardiks; global corporate practice leader Scott Farrell; president of the Americas Gary Rudnick; international leaders Jonathan Hughes and Matt Neale; and of course agency founder Al Golin, who continues to play an active role.
Cook joined Los Angeles-based Berkhemer Kline as an account supervisor 25 years ago, and was already a part of that firm’s leadership team when it sold to GolinHarris in 1989. He was later named managing director of Golin’s LA office, and became president and chief executive of the agency in 2003.
In addition to transforming the firm’s culture and architecture, Cook has also continued to work on client business, providing counsel to some of the firm’s largest accounts, including Amazon.com, Disney, Mattel, Nintendo, Southwest Airlines, Toyota, Walmart, Visa, and Yamaha, on brand marketing and corporate positioning.
But it is his work over the past two years driving a radical change in the PR agency model that made his recognition with one of our SABRE Awards for Outstanding Individual Achievement inevitable. In a bold challenge to the traditional “pyramid” structure and the centrality of media relations, his G4 model splits the firm’s talent base into strategists (for insight), creators (for content), connectors (for engagement), and catalysts (who essentially act as account managers).
“As our world evolves, so do the needs of our clients,” Cook exlained. “They are searching for new, innovative ways to engage employees and customers. We get that. That’s why, after 55 years, we’ve completely redesigned our agency to combine strategy, creativity and engagement into one seamless package that is delivered to clients – big and small.”
His goal, he says, is to double its size to $250 million. The first year of the new structure represented an impressive first step in that direction, with organic growth of around 10 percent supplemented by international acquisitions funded by a parent company, Interpublic, that seems to have rediscovered its faith in its second public relations brand.
The award will be presented at our annual SABRE Awards dinner, to be held May 8 at Cipriani on New York's 42nd Steet.