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PR Newswire Mourns the Passing of John M. Williams, Pioneer & Innovator in the News Distribution Industry

Nov 25, 2011, 13:30 ET from PR Newswire Association LLC

NEW YORK, Nov. 25, 2011 /PRNewswire/-- John M. Williams, former executive vice president of PR Newswire and a pioneer and innovator in the media and communications industry, died November 22, unexpectedly.  He was 66.



Mr. Williams joined PR Newswire in 1986 as a senior vice president, responsible for all sales and marketing across the United States.   In this role, Mr. Williams built a sales organization with a regional management system that focused on superior local customer service.  He is credited as being a pivotal player in transforming PR Newswire into a cutting-edge distributor of information to the media, general public and financial community. 

A true visionary, many of Mr. Williams's ideas were ahead of their time.  In 2001, Mr. Williams, an early advocate of transforming the discipline of communications from a one-way monologue into a two-way conversation, introduced the first-ever transaction-oriented press release, the T-Button.   Early adopters saw the benefits of adding immediate transactional and commerce opportunities to their press releases, but the market as a whole wasn't ready for mass adoption.  A decade later, the industry has transformed completely.

With an uncanny ability to determine where the next big opportunity would lie, in early 2002, Mr. Williams lobbied PR Newswire's parent company, UBM plc, to invest in China through a joint venture with Xinhua Financial Network.  Ultimately taking over the sales and marketing operations of the newly created Xinhua PR Newswire and spending the majority of his time in Beijing, Shanghai and numerous other parts of China, Mr. Williams created the foundation for what is now a wholly-owned and thriving part of PR Newswire's global operations.

Mr. Williams was a native of Dunkirk, N.Y., and grew up in a newspaper family. His father was editor of the Dunkirk Evening Observer, which his family founded in 1882. After he graduated from Syracuse University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and journalism in 1966, Williams worked at the New York Daily News metro desk. He had gained a commission in the U.S. Air Force upon graduation and was called to active duty shortly after joining the News.

Williams's first duty assignment took him to George Air Force Base in California where he served as information officer for the 479th Tactical Fighter Wing. Within a year, he was selected to be part of a new squadron sent to Vietnam in 1967 to study the combat effectiveness of a short-range attack jet fighter. While there, he assisted in documenting the combat effectiveness of the A-37 short range fighter airplane during close air support missions in the Mekong Delta and Central Highlands of Vietnam. He was awarded the Bronze Star in 1968. He ended his military service in 1970 with an assignment to the Space and Missile Systems Organization in Los Angeles.

Returning to journalism, Williams worked for United Press International in Los Angeles and New York for several years, assisting in covering a variety of stories including the Charles Manson murder trial, the infamous San Fernando Valley earthquake in 1971 and other forms of mayhem particular to those cities. He joined Citibank as a public affairs officer in 1973, leaving five years later to become CBS Inc.'s director of corporate press relations.  Mr. Williams spent some time at PR Newswire competitor Business Wire before leaving to join PR Newswire where he spent almost 25 years.

The outpouring of gratitude, accolades and love that covers Mr. Williams's Facebook page is testament to the impact he had on so many people's lives. 

Mr. Williams's colleagues remember him as an inspiring leader. 

Ken Dowell, EVP, PR Newswire: "John redefined our business as a service business.  His vision for PR Newswire continues to impact the way we do business today."

Dave Haapaoja, SVP, PR Newswire: "John was an inspiration to whole generations of PR Newswire employees, including myself. His energy and enthusiasm attracted hundreds of people to the communications industry and many of them are still involved today."

Dave Armon, former president, PR Newswire: "He had a keen sense of knowing where the economic levers of power would change globally and what opportunities lied within.  He was way ahead of his time."

Rachel Meranus, VP, PR Newswire: "There are a few things about John that were constant: his heart was huge, his passion for life enormous, his intelligence abounded, his generosity of spirit tremendous and his love of teaching spared no one. He was a fiercely loyal person and fostered loyalty amongst those with whom he worked.  John challenged each of us to do better, to think bigger and to be the best that we could be."

A selection of the outpouring on Facebook:

"John led with passion seeping out of his pores. He had a heart of gold and taught me so much. He'll truly be missed and I'm grateful for how he has touched my life."

"Friend, mentor and father figure to me and so many others. We will miss you but will always remember your passion and contributions on both a personal and professional level."

"You will be greatly missed. You listened attentively & celebrated my effort to think outside of the box, which gave me the confidence to share my ideas with others."

"Thank you for touching us all John. You led by example instilling values in us along the way. The world lost a great man this week. RIP."

"Thank you for all the passion you inspired in so many and for your leadership, unbridled energy and long friendship."

"It's safe to say that John Williams packed more living into those 66 years than most, meaning the gap he leaves in the universe is bigger than usual. JW, you have been and will be sorely missed."

"John's passion and conviction is an inspiration. Intimidating at first, but a heart of gold underneath. He had a significant and positive influence on so many and will be missed."

Mr. Williams is survived by his wife, Donna Manke Williams of Plymouth, Mass.; and two sisters, Julia MacLeod Williams of Richmond and Sarah Williams McCrane of Poquoson, Va.

About PR Newswire

PR Newswire ( is the premier global provider of multimedia platforms that enable marketers, corporate communicators, sustainability officers, public affairs and investor relations officers to leverage content to engage with all their key audiences. Having pioneered the commercial news distribution industry 57 years ago, PR Newswire today provides end-to-end solutions to produce, optimize and target content – from rich media to online video to multimedia – and then distribute content and measure results across traditional, digital, mobile and social channels. Combining the world's largest multi-channel, multi-cultural content distribution and optimization network with comprehensive workflow tools and platforms, PR Newswire enables the world's enterprises to engage opportunity everywhere it exists. PR Newswire serves tens of thousands of clients from offices in the Americas, Europe, Middle East, Africa and the Asia-Pacific region, and is a UBM, plc company.

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