Paul Holmes 27 Mar 2018 // 5:19PM GMT
CHICAGO—Thomas L Harris, former president and partner of Golin Harris and a leading expert on marketing public relations, has died. He was 86.
Harris joined forces with Al Golin and Golin Communications in 1978, after previously working at Edelman, Needham Harper & Steers and as president of Foote Cone & Belding PR which he founded in 1973. He spent two decades at the helm of the firm, departing after Golin Harris (now Golin) was sold first to Foote Cone & Belding and later to Shandwick—voicing his concerns about the priorities of the new owners.
He became an independent management consultant; wrote four books, including the recent “The Marketer’s Guide to Public Relations in the Twenty-First Century”; and served as an adjunct professor in the master’s program in integrated marketing communications at the Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University.
He was a regular columnist of marketing topics for Reputation Management—a predecessor to this publication—constantly advocating a more central role for public relations in the brand-building process. He was also a proponent of ethics and integrity above all. Addressing his last class at Northwestern, he told students: “Truth is what we are all about. Not hype. Not spin. But truth. If public relations is to retain its position as the credible source, we must not blur the line between information and propaganda, between advocacy and salesmanship.
“The old description of public relations as ‘the conscience of the corporation’ is more relevant than ever in today’s complex society. The highest calling of PR is to keep our organization on straight paths, to counsel the powers-that-be not just to say the right thing but to do the right thing but to do the right thing.”
He was named one of the "100 Most Influential Public Relations People of the 20th Century" by PR Week, and was awarded the 2000 Gold Anvil Award by the Public Relations Society of America.
In a statement, Golin said: “We are deeply saddened at the loss of Tom Harris. Tom was a huge contributor to Golin and the perfect partner to Al when they joined forces in the ‘80s. Tom was an energetic thinker, smart strategist, trusted counselor—and a great guy. While we don’t have ‘Harris’ in our name anymore, we have Tom in our hearts and his legacy in our client base and our people. We will miss him.”
Harris is survived by his sons Jim and Ted and two grandchildren. Contributions to the Jewish United Foundation are appreciated.
His longtime business partner Al Golin passed away in April of last year.