I first met Lou Williams too many years ago to count. I was on the public relations faculty at the University of Georgia and he was in charge of Hill & Knowlton operations in Chicago. Each year Lou made one or two trips to UGA where he would speak to classes, the IABC student organization and PRSSA gatherings. His wonderful visits always were spectacular and after the speeches we would party, sometimes having so much fun we should have been arrested.
Lou passed away at age 77 on Dec. 27 in Sevastopol near Sturgeon Bay, Wis., following a long and courageous battle with cancer. He will be remembered as one of the true leaders of the public relations industry especially for his efforts helping PR people measure and evaluate their work. Few practitioners did more than Lou to bridge the gap between PR education and practice.
Most who study and teach PR will agree the 1992 IABC project about “Excellence in Public Relations and Communication Management” remains one of the more seminal works in our body of literature. That $100,000+ research study never would have been funded were it not for Lou’s insistence and his status within the IABC leadership. Once the funding was secured, Lou continued to play a crucial role managing the interests and egos of a group of educators and practitioners working together on an extremely important project.
If not for Lou’s dedicated support, IABC itself might never have survived the combination of internal and external strife it faced in the 1980s. He also spent a number of years serving on the Board of Trustees of the Institute for Public Relations (IPR) and its measurement commission where he helped bring together researchers from corporate, nonprofit, governmental, agency, academic and research provider pillars.
In the mid-1980s Lou founded L.C. Williams & Associates, an agency that went on to become one of the top 10 independent firms in Chicago with a good portion of the firm’s work involving research, measurement and evaluation. Lou was noted for trying to improve PR research, once saying, “When I see what people are using for research versus what research should be, I get really nervous. They are still counting clips. It’s disturbing and it’s a sign of what we were as a profession many years ago. We’re trying to move out of it, but it’s hard to do.”
For the rest of his life, with considerable support from his wife, noted corporate executive Mary Moster, Lou remained one of the leading advocates for having public relations research, measurement and evaluation focus on the outcomes of PR campaigns rather than message outputs. Through speeches, workshops and seminars, he did his best to help make public relations measurement and evaluation more meaningful. He once scolded judges of several of our industry’s major awards competitions for not being critical enough while assessing research and measurement.
In addition to his volunteer efforts with IABC, IPR and PRSA, at the time of his death Lou was a member of the Board of Directors of the International Public Relations Research Conference (IPRRC), an annual gathering that brings together some of the brightest minds from the academy and the practice.
At the 2016 annual IPRRC conference in Miami, Lou co-authored a short but significant paper with Dr. David M. Dozier of San Diego State University, one of the world’s most respected PR professors. The paper was titled, “What’s Wrong With Public Relations . . . And How it Might be Fixed.” Many believe it should be required reading for everyone in PR.
Lou Williams was inducted into PR News' Measurement Hall of Fame in 2012.
Donald K. Wright, PhD, is the Harold Burson Professor and Chair in Public Relations at Boston University’s College of Communication. He was inducted into PR News' Measurement Hall of Fame in 2013.