April 10, 2017
Al Golin, Fellow PRSA, chairman of GolinHarris (now Golin) and a recipient of PRSA's prestigious Gold Anvil Award, died on April 8 in Scottsdale, Ariz. He was 87.
Of his six decades in public relations spent providing counsel to executives and mentoring young professionals, Golin is best known for his work with McDonald's, where he helped the fast-food restaurant grow by emphasizing the importance of strong communication with customers and local organizations.
His start with the company, though, was humble.
"In 1957, I made a cold call to Ray Kroc, who had a small office at LaSalle and Wacker, here in Chicago," he wrote in a 2006 issue of The Strategist, PRSA’s quarterly magazine. "At that time, they had only a handful of McDonald’s restaurants around the Chicago area. After about a half hour, he said, 'OK, start Monday.' And we did, for a fee of $500 a month."
Some of the community initiatives he helped launch for the brand include the McDonald's All-American High School Basketball Game and the All-American High School Marching Band. He's also credited with naming Hamburger University — McDonald’s global center of instruction for operations and leadership development that provides training to 7,500 McDonald’s managers annually — and promoting the expansion of the Ronald McDonald House Charities program.
"Al's name has been on our door for a long time. But it’s his character that defines who we are,” Golin Chairman Fred Cook said in a release. "We've always been blessed with a special culture that sets us apart from others and makes us want to work here forever. And that culture is based on the simple, Midwestern values that Al lived by every day."
One of his lasting contributions to the PR lexicon is his "trust bank" philosophy, which he describes as a continuing accumulation of "deposits" of goodwill made over time that can be "withdrawn" when companies face problems.
"We basically confounded everyone when this little company thought as big as it did — when it couldn't really afford to — by getting its franchisees involved in their communities," he told The Strategist in 2005.
Golin lectured on this topic at Princeton University, Dartmouth College, Yale University, Northwestern University and USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, and also addressed PRSA Chapters across the country. PRSA honored him with the Gold Anvil, the Society’s highest individual award, in 2005.
His legacy carries on through McDonald’s annual Al Golin Trust Bank Award, established in 1992 and presented to the McDonald’s franchisee that best represents the spirit of community engagement.
— Dean Essner