Former PR Newswire EVP Williams dies at 66

CHICAGO: John MacLeod Williams, a former EVP at PR Newswire, died last week at the age of 66.

CHICAGO: John MacLeod Williams, a former EVP at PR Newswire, died last week at the age of 66.

Williams joined PR Newswire in 1986 as SVP of sales and marketing for the US, where he developed a sales-management system focused on local customer service. He led the company's launch of its first transaction-oriented press release using the “T Button,” which allowed for interactivity between PR Newswire staff, reporters, and editors.

“[Williams] was always trying to raise the bar, both for our business and for the PR industry in general," said PR Newswire EVP Ken Dowell, who worked with Williams for more than 20 years. "He focused on online when the rest of the industry was counting press clips. He viewed PR as a way to sell directly to your customers instead of pitching for coverage."

Williams was also instrumental in PR Newswire's expansion into China when parent company UBM invested there through a joint venture with Xinhua Financial Network. Williams retired from PR Newswire in 2009.

"He was off to China before the rest of us realized the potential," added Dowell. "He tried a lot of things that others wouldn't touch and laid the groundwork for the ideas that were later embraced. He will be sorely missed by his PR Newswire family and the greater communications industry."

Previously, Williams served as a manager at Business Wire, director of corporate press relations at CBS, and public affairs officer at CitiBank. He also worked as a reporter at United Press International and on the metro desk of the New York Daily News, according to media reports. Williams also served in the US Air Force from 1966 to 1970.

Dave Armon, now president of Critical Mention, was hired by Williams in 1989 as Cleveland bureau manager. Armon was eventually named president of PR Newswire Americas, and subsequently COO.

"[Williams] was wired differently," he said. "He saw opportunities far earlier than many of us. He was our idea guy. He was the kind of guy who would sit across from you, stare into your eyes, and you were the only person in the room at that moment. He had that ability of making anyone feel special when they were engaged in a conversation with him."

Williams is survived by wife Donna Manke Williams of Plymouth, MA, and two sisters.

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