Fred Cook, Chief Executive Officer, GolinHarris

The PR industry is evolving from being a media relations function to a strategic marketing and communications discipline. Our work is much more complex than what it used to be, which is why we are moving from being generalists to specialists. It is no longer possible for one person to be good at every aspect of communications, which is the rationale for our G4 redesign. We have moved from a vertical hierarchy of generalists to four communities of specialists. We still have a long way to go. But that is the future.

by exchange4media Staff
Published - Sep 13, 2013 12:00 AM Updated: Sep 13, 2013 12:00 AM
Fred Cook, Chief Executive Officer, GolinHarris
The PR industry is evolving from being a media relations function to a strategic marketing and communications discipline. Our work is much more complex than what it used to be, which is why we are moving from being generalists to specialists. It is no longer possible for one person to be good at every aspect of communications, which is the rationale for our G4 redesign. We have moved from a vertical hierarchy of generalists to four communities of specialists. We still have a long way to go. But that is the future.

Fred Cook has been the Chief Executive Officer at GolinHarris International (GH) of Interpublic Group of Companies Inc. since June 2003 and has been its President since September 2003. Cook is responsible for key client relationships and strategic planning. He has been with GH since 1986.

During his tenure at GH, Cook has managed strategic planning and brand marketing campaigns for companies such as Nintendo of America, Visa, Southwest Airlines and Amazon.com. He has orchestrated public affairs and handled crisis management programs for BAX Global, The Walt Disney Company and Toyota. He has developed research-based brand positioning campaigns for Yahama, Walt Disney Imagineering and Weyerhaeuser. In addition, he has developed numerous international public relations programmes for clients such as the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board, Air New Zealand and Canon.

In conversation with exchange4media’s Priyanka Mehra, Cook speaks at length about the changing face of public relations today, the JV with LinOpinion, finding real-time solutions for clients and more...

Q. You have been in this profession for over three decades, what is your advice to young professionals in PR today? I am actually writing a book on this topic. What I would recommend young people entering any field is to expose themselves to new ideas, diverse people, different media, and other cultures. Businesses are looking for people with fresh thinking and global perspectives. To gain those, you have to be willing to improvise with your life.

Q. Being a veteran in this field, how have you seen the industry evolve over the years? The PR industry is evolving from being a media relations function to a strategic marketing and communications discipline. Our work is much more complex than what it used to be, which is why we are moving from being generalists to specialists. It is no longer possible for one person to be good at every aspect of communications, which is the rationale for our G4 redesign. We have moved from a vertical hierarchy of generalists to four communities of specialists. We still have a long way to go. But that is the future.

Q. How has the restructuring with the G4 structure paid off for GolinHarris? Our restructuring has paid off in three important ways. We have been able to deliver deeper insights, bigger ideas and better engagement to our clients. We have hired a variety of very talented people with specialised skills. And we have been able to expand the scope of the products and services that we offer our clients.

Q. What were the insights behind this restructure? We realised that if we wanted to continue to be successful, we needed to adapt to the dramatic changes impacting communications. We were motivated by the opportunity to provide a broader scope of services to our clients and expand our business in exciting new ways.

Q. How has this restructuring worked out in terms of getting new business? Have you added any new clients to the rooster due to the new alignment? We have won a number of new clients, who have told us that the promise of our G4 model was the primary reason they chose us. We’re developing campaigns for them that would not have been possible two years ago.

Q. Golin Harris entered into a JV with LinOpinion earlier this week. Are there any plans of entering into similar ventures in other markets? We are always looking for opportunities to expand our global footprint with the right partners. But the strategic and cultural fit has to be right. With LinOpinion, we have a perfect match.

Q. What is your view on the Indian public relations scenario, from a global perspective? The key word for us is opportunity. There is tremendous potential in the Indian market for a company that is offering something new and different. I believe, our JV will do that.

Q. What are some of the global best practises that will be leveraged in India post the JV to strengthen the India operations? First and foremost, LinOpinion will be adopting our G4 model and we will be investing heavily in new technology and training to make that happen. We will also be sharing our expertise in key practices areas such as healthcare, technology and internal communications. All of these have tremendous potential in India.

Q. Please share the agency’s expansion plans and focus areas for 2013-14? India will be a primary focus for us in the coming year. We will be investing heavily in building our new JV.

Q. What kind of training on social and digital is being given to employees? We recently conducted a G4 live training for our people in Asia and a number of LinOpinion employees participated in it. Social media and digital are a big part of that training, but they’re integrated into the overall goal of delivering deeper insights, bigger ideas and broader engagement. Under our new model, we have tripled the amount of training we provide our staff. There is more on the way.

Q. Has the PR domain been able to find ‘real-time solutions for its clients? Our research tells us that real-time communications is the future of marketing, and we are investing heavily in the technology and training to take advantage of that trend. The concept of engaging in immediate conversations with their customers is very appealing to our clients. So, we are pioneering new ways to harness the convergence of mainstream and social media to help them be part of that minute-by-minute consumer dialogue. The work we’ve done so far has broken new ground and the future potential is unlimited.
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