Public Relations Tactics

The Secret Sauce: How One ‘Untern’ Changed Golin’s Hiring Strategy

May 2, 2016

A year ago, Golin tried an experiment. We didn’t know what would happen. We didn’t know how it would affect our agency, our hiring strategy and our view of millennials, the largest generation in our workforce.

All we knew was that we had to find a way to attract unconventional talent, the kind of people with intrinsic creativity, curiosity and bravery. People who would make our agency even better and help us deliver the stellar work our clients expect.

We launched the experiment by adding a new element to our successful internship program: the search for our first “Untern.”

An Untern differs from an intern in one major way: We pay them not to come to the office. For two months, we pay them to go out into the world and do things they have never done before. And then they combine all the knowledge and real-world experience they gain into a full-time position at Golin.

Today, we’re grateful we conducted our experiment because it turned out to have a positive impact on our agency. The Unternship builds our brand with millennials, provides us with a robust recruiting tool and inspires our employees across the globe.

During his Unternship, our first winner, Akinbola Richardson, chronicled his journey living with an Amish family and building homes for people in need through a blog and social media posts. Now, he is working in our Dallas office as a core member of our creative team, conceptualizing, directing and editing videos for clients.

The success of our program in the U.S. has inspired similar searches for Unterns in our London, Romania and China offices.

A different way of thinking

We recently announced the winner of our second annual U.S. Unternship competition. Megan Duncan, a senior at Pepperdine University in California, will immerse herself in new cultures across the country this summer before joining Golin as an associate in the U.S. office of her choice.

Megan was selected from a candidate pool even larger than what we attracted during the first year of the Untern program. What ultimately swayed the judges was Megan’s proposal for a project she calls “Illuminate,” which allows her to shine a light on six unique U.S. subcultures and learn about each of them.

We brought Megan and our two other finalists to Chicago during the winter to meet with Golin leaders and put their sense of adventure to the test. Armed with $40 in cash, our finalists were given two hours to do something unlikely in the Windy City. Megan chose to spend part of her time with a local barista, dissecting the intersection between coffee and human behavior, and even convincing the barista to let her go behind the counter and learn to create coffee foam art. Finally, Megan embraced Golin’s “Go All In” mantra by jumping in Lake Michigan on a 39-degree day.

Megan doesn’t have a traditional PR background, nor did many of our Untern applicants. This year, we expanded our search even more, looking everywhere from art schools to business schools. This technique paid off, leading us to a vibrant young woman who will no doubt grow into a valuable member of our company this fall.

As an agency, the Unternship has inspired us to recruit different kinds of people. If you look in new places, then you will find bold leaders with diverse perspectives who will strengthen your company. In fact, we hired all five of our Untern finalists from 2015, and they are each contributing in their own special way to our business today.

The Unternship also helped Golin strengthen its brand. After touring colleges across the U.S. to find our first winner, Golin and its unconventional “anti-internship” became a topic of conversation on campuses. Clearly, we stood out from the crowd.

Our next Untern will soon embark on her personal adventure. We can’t wait until she’s back, ready to bring her fresh perspective to our agency.

Fred Cook
Fred Cook is Golin’s CEO and is responsible for key client relationships, strategic planning and managing the firm. He’s also director of USC Annenberg’s Strategic Communication and Public Relations Center. Email:


Denise Ferguson says:

Megan truly is one of our creative thinkers, who, while not a public relations major, did complete my introductory public relations course required of all IMC majors.

May 4, 2016

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