By Erika Hanes
While Gary Rudnick earned his BA in English, he had a PR internship and fell in love with it. Rudnick toyed with the idea of law school after graduation, but after only one year in a law office, he committed to PR.
Rudnick used his early career to try new things. He knew he wanted to explore many options, not just as a way to build his resume, but to figure out what would make him happy. This would later serve him at Golin, working on the company’s structural model.
Even as the President and CEO of the Americas at Golin, Rudnick uses a professional coach. “[My coach] gives me an unfiltered reaction that, in my position, is hard to get sometimes. Other people can tell you what you want to hear. What’s the point in that?”
Rudnick also mentioned another source of education: Al Golin, the founder, CEO and company namesake. Knowing how lucky he is to be on such good terms with a paragon of the industry, Rudnick praised Mr. Golin’s kindness, openness and acuity. “He’s a good North Star for the company and for me. I ask my coach for advice, but I go to Al, too.”
Rudnick started at Fleishman-Hillard as an Assistant Account Executive. After five years, Golin contacted him to run the Gerber baby food account as an Account Supervisor. While the move was partially due to Golin’s offer, in a more long-term view, Golin’s culture appealed to Rudnick. Fleishman was more conservative; while that’s not a bad thing, Golin, he said, “is more like a family.”
Rudnick also thinks culture plays an important role in retaining clients. “Clients want to work with people they like, but they also want to work with people who like each other. If you have a great culture, people stay. You don’t need to explain to the client why the person they loved left.”
Five years ago, corporate gave the leadership team a challenge: make Golin the agency of the decade. Rudnick and the rest of the team knew Golin couldn’t rely on its size; the agency needed to do something different to set itself apart. The team realized that the PR industry at the time was flooded with “generalists”, but not “specialists”. With Rudnick’s support and influence, the team charted into unknown territory with the creation of the “g4 model”, the new company structure that broke down “generalist” barriers and would put Golin among the first specialized agencies.
For clients, it meant showing the agency’s capabilities on a tactical level. At the time, this was revolutionary. “There was skepticism from the industry, but now, most agencies are trying to do this. We get credit for doing it first, but I think we get credit for doing it best.”
For fellow employees, the new model meant different titles, and explaining the change internally wasn’t easy. But, Rudnick communicated the change by explaining the new career tracks the change would create. “The Managing Director job is a great job, but there are 10 other senior level jobs that are just as important, and people don’t see a clear path to those, so we wanted to open those up.”
In a world where corporate executives so often lose the ability to connect with employees, Rudnick shatters that stereotype. Despite the glaring flaw in his choice of alma mater, Rudnick proves to be an exemplary human being, possessing genuine goodness and compassion. If only more leaders could emulate his leadership style.
Erika Hanes, a PR and social media contractor at Huron, just completed her coursework in DePaul’s graudate PR/AD program where she researched and interviewed Golin Americas President Gary Rudnick as part of Culpwrit’s Agency Management class. This is the second in a series of Career Capsule posts from the students’ interviews.