Al Golin, the original public relations man for McDonald’s and founder of the Chicago-based firm Golin, died Saturday morning.
He was 87 and had yet to retire.
It was a now legendary phone call to McDonald’s CEO Ray Kroc in 1957 that helped define his career and launched a more than 60-year relationship with the brand.
“Decades-long relationships like that don’t just happen,” Golin Chairman Fred Cook said. “And he worked on McDonald’s until the day he died.”
Golin cold-called Kroc in 1957 — when the company was little more than a handful of burger joints — and pitched his services. Kroc asked him over for a meeting and he hired him on for $500 a month.
In those days, McDonald’s didn’t have the money to advertise, but Golin believed the company could build brand awareness and generate trust by making franchise owners important civic figures in their communities.
“Kroc trusted him completely,” his friend Chuck Ebeling said. “He was really a pioneer of modern communications. Al was instrumental in the creation of the brand’s community outreach and messaging.”
Golin liked to say that building goodwill for the company could be like putting money in the bank. Every time the company did something to help its community, it would add up over time.
In a statement Sunday, McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook said the company benefited for decades from his wisdom and leadership.
“McDonald’s owes Al a tremendous debt of gratitude for all he accomplished in his partnership with us,” Easterbrook wrote.
In a testament to his legacy, each year McDonald’s gives the Al Golin Trust Bank Award to the franchise owner who played the most important role in his or her community that year, Cook said.
“We had other clients, but McDonalds was everything,” Ebeling recalled. “We considered it the ultimate in community relations opportunities; to deal with the relationships of millions of people on a daily basis and always try to find ways to improve the quality of those relationships.”
Golin worked constantly to improve his work and was never satisfied with leaving things the way they were the day before, his friends and co-workers recalled. He like to tell people that curiosity was the key to success in his industry.
Even at 87, he would wake up and watch the news every day. He read multiple newspapers, kept up with books, movies and television and enjoyed going to plays.
“That’s part of what made him so skilled,” Cook said. “He took one single, small office in Chicago and grew it to a company with 1,200 employees and 50 offices around the globe.”
Golin died in his sleep about 6 a.m. at his second home in Scottsdale, Arizona after a battle with prostate cancer.
He was the recipient of lifetime achievement awards from the Public Relations Society of America and the Publicity Club of Chicago, as well as numerous other honors. He was inducted into the PR Hall of Fame in 2015.
Born in 1929 in Chicago, Golin got his start in the early 1950s as a publicist for the film industry, working in the Chicago offices of MGM studios.
Golin is survived by June Golin, his wife of more than 55 years; their children Barry, Karen and Ellen; six grandchildren; and a great-grandson.
A memorial service to be held in Chicago will be determined at a later date.
In lieu of flowers, the Golin family asked that donations be made in his name to Ronald McDonald House Charities, the Off the Street Club, the Goodman Theatre or Roosevelt University.
“McDonald’s owes Al a tremendous debt of gratitude for all he accomplished in his partnership with us. We have benefitted for decades from his wisdom and leadership, from his friendship and his support.”