Veteran of 50 years in public relations and founder of Chicago-based GolinHarris, which was named Agency of the Year by the Holmes Report and PRWeek in 2007. Named one of the 100 Most Influential Public Relations People of the 20th Century. Recipient of the PRSA Gold Anvil, the Hall of Fame Award from the Arthur W. Page Society and lifetime achievement awards from PRSA, the Publicity Club of Chicago and INSIDE PR.
I began my business life almost 50 years ago when I joined a small public relations firm in Chicago, coming from my first job in the promotion department of MGM Pictures. About a year later, I made a phone call that proved to be a turning point in my life.
In 1957, I made a cold call to a man named Ray Kroc who had a handful of the old red and white McDonald’s around the Chicago area. None of us ever dreamed they would grow to over 30,000 restaurants in over 100 countries around the world. Earlier this year they celebrated their 50th anniversary with much fanfare.
Their community involvement was part of their culture from the very beginning–and still is today, even with their huge advertising budget. I coined the term “Trust Bank” for all the community involvement–which helped them build “deposits” of goodwill in case they might need it for a “withdrawal”–when a crisis or sensitive issue arose.
Back then, there were no color TVs, no mobile telephones, no fax and, of course, no email–let alone blogs. The quartz watch I’m wearing has more computing power than existed in the entire world.
There is a problem, however, with a high-tech, low-touch culture. Too many of us are becoming increasingly reliant on impersonal communication. People are much more willing to use email than to set up face-to-face meetings or even talk on the phone.
We live in a “transparent” society now. Anyone with an Internet connection and an opinion can influence perceptions. Also, people and companies can’t “get away” with unethical or questionable actions–with the watchdogs in government, media and consumer groups that are active today.
Whenever I have the chance, I reiterate my own twist on the old adage: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Actually, it’s my most un-favorite saying. I’ve always said, “Fix it before it breaks.”
We should all have the courage to change things before we have to. Sometimes familiarity can breed contempt. I think JFK (Kennedy, that is, not Kerry) said it: “The time to fix a roof is when the sun is shining.” Nothing could be truer.
Whenever I meet with young people in our office, they usually ask a couple of questions that help me evaluate what I’ve done over the years. There are two questions they always ask: “What have you done that you’re most proud of?” And “What do you regret not doing?” I like the last question because it’s something I can still do something about and perhaps help them. So we come back to my tried and true tag line: “Fix it before it breaks.” It really boils down to “going with your gut feeling.” The same thing can happen when I’ve been talked out of a good idea when I know it makes sense. We’ve had some of our greater successes when we “stuck to our guns” when the nay-sayers tried to play it safe.
In any business or in life, you must take risks…learn to love it. If you play “not to lose” rather than “to win,” you’ll never be a success.
Albert Einstein once said: “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”
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