The Post: Public relations pro pushes students to be “unconventional”

Fred Cook, the Golden Anvil Award recipient at the 2014 PRSA National Conference in Washington D.C., shared some of his “unconventional advice” with Ohio University students on Monday evening in the Walter Hall Rotunda.

Cook was speaking as part of a book tour, said Ben Clos, executive vice president of Scripps’ Public Relations Student Society of America chapter and a senior studying strategic communication. Clos called his speech a “once-in-a-college-career experience.”

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PRSSA hosted the event for the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. 

Free copies of Cook’s “Improvise: Unconventional Career Advice From an Unlikely CEO” were given to the first 200 students studying strategic communication who came to the event.

“There’s something special about Golin,” said Cidnye Weimer, PRSSA chapter president and a senior studying strategic communications, of the company Cook runs. “I heard (Cook) speak last year at the PRSSA National Assembly, and I was hooked.”

Golin’s new motto, “Go All In,” inspires young people to experience life’s many different opportunities and challenges them to “play it by ear.” 

“Think of life as a magazine rack,” said Cook, CEO of Chicago-based Golin, an “unorthodox” PR agency. Instead of reaching for the same brand every time, Cook urged students to “grab something different. You’re exposed to people different than you –– and those are the kind of people you’re going to be working with.” 

Cook’s journey from small-town Evansville, Indiana to the top of a PR corporation wasn’t at all anticipated by the former doorman at a Biltmore Hotel. 

After getting kicked off his high school tennis team his freshman year, Cook recalls that’s when his “formal education had reached an end,” and he began associating with a rather different crowd at the local bowling alley.

“Instead of taking math and history,” Cook said, “I majored in smoking, drinking, cruising, hustling, fighting and sex. But I mostly audited that last class.”  

If traveling the world as a ship’s cabin-boy or leading guided tours throughout the state of California wasn’t enough global exposure, Cook attempted to start his own company. 

Called Sober Chauffeur, this taxi-service for transporting inebriated customers had only one fatal flaw that ultimately eliminated Cook’s chances of becoming a multi-million dollar entrepreneur. 

“All my clients were drunk,” Cook said. 

He then began to substitute teach at a Los Angeles high school, teaching history and English, while also attending night classes at the University of California, Los Angeles for public relations.

Upon the completion of his PR education, Cook started his life’s work in America’s coveted “idea business.” 

“If you step out of your comfort zone, it gives you new ideas,” Cook said. He reminded students to “not be afraid to follow your own path. Take these ideas and turn them into something real.” 

To reinstate these ideals of passion and daring adventure, Cook’s company is now offering an internship opportunity unlike any other in the industry. 

Dubbed the “Golin Unturnship,” this three-month career opportunity pays one lucky “unturn” to not come into the office. Instead, the selected finalist will have his or her chance to travel the United States in search of inspiration and come back to Golin to enact new-found ideas. 

Golin’s first “unturn” will be announced May 18, 2015. 

“What I’ve learned from all of these experiences is that your career and your life is about the experiences you have, not the promotions or the salary increases,” Cook said. “I encourage all of you to do whatever you can to make it special.” 

This story also appears on The Post