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What Would Golin CEO Fred Cook Do? How to Master the Art of Improvising


Golin CEO Fred Cook taught PRSA Midwest District Conference attendees how to master the art of improvising by taking something ordinary and making it special.

“Dedicated to those who don’t know exactly where they’re going, but have the courage to figure it out along the way.” – Fred Cook

Fred Cook, Golin CEO and keynote speaker at the PRSA Midwest District Conference (MDC), shared those words in his book – Improvise: Unconventional Career Advice from an Unlikely CEO. And, as a PR professional, it led me to think about what it means to improvise.

If someone were to ask me what “improvising” meant before hearing Cook speak during the MDC, my definition would have revolved around something going wrong or being unprepared. Cook explained it differently, however, as the following:

Improvising means to take something ordinary and make it special.

He then went on to paint a picture that started with himself. Cook didn’t grow up wealthy or well-connected. He didn’t graduate in the top 10 percent of his class or get an MBA from an Ivy League, nor did he land his dream job right out of school. But he has used his insanely weird experiences to get him to where he is today. He improvised his way to the top and encourages others to do the same.

Using his life experiences, Cook has been able to adapt and adjust to the modern world. The PR industry is about doing just that and coming up with great ideas. But, as Cook explained, these ideas are only generated from those with experiences unlike others. The only way to stay relevant and be creative is step outside the office and experience something new.

For example, Golin has mastered improvisation with the creation of three new business ideas: the g4 model, The Bridge and the Golin Unternship.

g4 model

Golin remodeled the structure of its business to adapt in the ever-changing environment with the g4 model. Under this model, employees are divided into four groups:

  • Strategists — use data and research to serve as business analysts
  • Creators — idea generators
  • Connectors — channel experts, using both traditional and social “touch points”
  • Catalysts — use best practices, partnerships, and other methods to keep clients ahead of the curve

The Bridge

Another way Golin has improvised to adapt to the modern world is with The Bridge, which is an engagement system put in place to evolve transparency and authenticity in real time. With global clients like McDonald’s, Disney and Toyota, Golin has seen the need for large companies to implement short-term tactics on social media channels to enhance brand perception.

Golin Unternship

The Golin Unternship is unlike any other program. Instead of hiring in-house interns, Golin has implemented the “Unternship” where one chosen “untern” is challenged to experience adventures for an entire three months outside of the cubicle. At the end of the Unternship, they are hired on full-time to use their experiences and creativity for the agency’s clients.

Before Cook’s inspirational speech was over, he provided ten tips to master the art of improvising.

  1. Expose Yourself
  2. Hit the Road
  3. Ask the Captain
  4. Listen to a Guru
  5. Enlist an Entourage
  6. Work for Tips
  7. Drive a Drunk
  8. Guide a Tour
  9. Substitute
  10. Make the Rules

If you’re interested in learning more, you can order his book here. Or, you could bike to the nearest Amish town, ski down a volcano and wrestle an alligator…your pick. But remember, #WWFCD (What Would Fred Cook Do)?

Stephanie Miller is a PR Account Executive at H&L Partners where she is dedicated to creating robust PR plans for the agency’s clients. You can find her on Twitter @StephMill89.

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