The PR business needs more balls, said Golin CEO Fred Cook today in summing up his presentation at a Communications Week session presented by PRSA Tri-State at the Yale Club in New York.
He said the same thing last week during his acceptance speech for PRSA's Gold Anvil at the group's annual conference in Washington.
Cook believes creativity and risk-taking are limited in PR because firms hire the same drones. Staffers are commodities that come from the same schools, take the same courses, watch the same TV shows and surf the same media. He wants "improvisers" or people who "play it by ear."
His whole life has been one of improvisation. Getting stripped of his high school tennis team trophies---for participating in a more senior tournament—turned out to be the one of the best things to ever happen to Golin's boss. "It was the day my formal education ended and life education began." That trophy "loss" triggered a transition from a Beaver Cleaver family life in Indiana to hanging out at the local bowling alley with drop-outs and tough guys. Life began one of experiences focused on smoking, drinking, fighting, cruising and sex.
Cook's career is a series of jobs, each leading to a better opportunity. He told of launching "Sober Chauffeur, a Discrete Service for the Drinking Class" in Los Angeles, which received national press including a story in the Wall Street Journal hailing it as the best idea to emerge from crazy California. One fatal glitch: drunks don't remember to call for their pick-up.
Cook led California Adventure Tours for Olsen, though he had never visited the destinations beforehand. While his tour members slept, Cook would read travel guides about places he would visit the next day so he could tell the busload of people about them. He was a substitute teacher in LA who volunteered to teach in the toughest areas of the city. Cook taught gang members about auto mechanics and home economics, but studied PR at night at UCLA.
At 36, Cook got into PR at a firm that was acquired by GolinHarris. He shared an image of the firm's staff that showed Cook standing in the top row. Cook moved up the ranks by taking on any assignment for any account regardless of practice or office location. His goal was to become indispensible. That life path led to the top of the Chicago-based firm. Cook then showed a recent photo of Golin people that features him in the front row.
Cook is the author of "Improvise: Advice from an Unlikely CEO." It's a must-read. I plan to give copies to my millennial daughters.
My takeaway from his presentation: The PR business needs more Cooks in its kitchen.