Obituary: Dr. Reginald Watts Hon FCIPR
The Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) is saddened to learn of the death of Dr. Reginald Watts on Tuesday 5 April. Reginald was President of the Institute in 1989 and former Chair of Examiners of the CIPR Awarding Body.
Outside of the Institute, Reginald was for many years UK CEO of global consulting firm Burson-Marsteller and a member of their international board in New York. During that time he wrote four books and was elected to the City of Westminster Council, where he was appointed Chairman of Housing and also represented Westminster on the Inner London Education Authority. He was awarded a PhD for a dissertation, ‘The Application of Visual Semiotics to Corporate Communication Policy’ (University of Wolverhampton).
His considerable contribution to the reputation and development of the public relations profession, as well as his personal qualities have been praised by friends and colleagues.
Reg worked for me for many years as chairman of our London office and he was outstanding both as an employee and as a person. No matter what client or assignment he was given he could handle it in an intelligent and unemotional manner that always led to a successful result. He was a vital factor in growing our business so successfully when he was in charge. And even when he left he was someone I always liked to stay personally involved with because he was Reg Watts.
Dr. Reginald Watts, Reggie to those who knew him well was quite simply a polymath-experienced in public relations of course, but business and politics at local and national level. He was also an art expert and fascinated by many other topics besides. Apart from running Burson Marsteller London for many years, at which he attempted to develop methodologies which would make PR more strategic and credible, he set up his own firm Reginald Watts Associaties (RWA), later TWG, which became known as one of the top strategic boutiques in London. I was proud to work for him in both organisations. I learned a lot. We all did. He also did much to persuade CEOs to take PR seriously and to integrate it into their thinking.
He was President of the CIPR, an advocate of PR as a key part of strategy. He also found the time to become a parliamentary candidate and was a Westminster councillor. He was a keen member of the Bow Group and a life member of the IOD. In his spare time he also wrote quite a few books on the role of marketing and PR in business, including two with me.
It was, I must say a stimulating collaboration, especially in recent years when we found the time to reflect on business, politics and PR’s journey from an immature discipline to a more sophisticated one, while admitting that it still has a ways to go. Like me he was an advocate of skills training and a closer alignment between academia and practice in the profession.
Always courteous, he nevertheless was keen to interrogate all the issues, if only to find just a few of the answers. It is amazing that, later in life he decided to undertake a PHD in semiotics, a topic requiring much research, reading and joining of intellectual dots. He certainly added to the body of knowledge, but above all helped so many young people in daily life, many of whom are in top positions now and are mourning his passing.
He leaves a great family, in particular his wife Sue, who with her intelligence and sense of fun has always been there for him and his ‘tribe’.
Reggie – I always knew him as Reggie – was one of the first industry leaders that I met during a study leave to the UK from Canada in 1982 – 1983. He was very helpful to me during my doctoral studies, giving me generous access to the consultancy experience of Burson Marsteller.
Conversations with Reggie. then and since, and the approach taken to practice by BM provided insights that have lasted years. He was exceptional in the seriousness with which he regarded the contribution public relations can make to organisational decision-making and leadership, and in his willingness to invest in research to explore this contribution. This led him on to pursue his own doctoral studies in later years, and to stimulate the Institute’s own research interests by bringing together members who have completed doctoral studies in aspects of practice. He was also a strong believer in continuing professional development, and invested in this for his own staff in the consultancy, Reginald Watts Associates, that he established after leaving Burson Marsteller.
He was an industry leader – and a thought leader. He was an example, an influence and an advisor who will be sorely missed.
Reggie was a deeply experienced practitioner and furthermore talented chief of the famed Burson- Marstellar consultantcy in London during its arguably “Golden Years”.
But in reality he was much much more. His intellectual contribution to understanding of our craft is noteworthy driven as it was by his appreciation of the moral and social values plus the professional principles implicit therein bolstered by his consistent and instinctive pursuit of true facts and real truth.
Reggie was a true gent, he always had something positive to contribute to the conversation; as President Elect and then as President, he would always seek me out to offer words of encouragement and advice, it meant a huge amount to have the support of such a leading light of public relations. I offer my most sincere condolences to his family.
In 1988 he contributed a future-gazing piece to the 40th Anniversary edition of the IPR Journal which discussed the PC revolution, multi-channel television, and the future impact of smartphones and artificial intelligence. A digital version of this article has now been made available via Influence online.