Remembering Douglas Smith Hon FCIPR

UPDATED 20.35 4 January 2012 with comment from Bob Skinner

Britain’s PR profession is today mourning a legend: Douglas Smith, one of the best known public affairs practitioners of the past 50 years.

Doug, who died of a heart attack just before Christmas, was president of the (Chartered) Institute of Public Relations the year I joined the institute, 1990. He also chaired the Public Relations Consultants Association. Doug set up Westminster Advisers and was also involved with a number of other public affairs agencies. It’s ironic that Doug died when debate is raging again about Britain’s membership of the European Union. Early in his career, he worked as a press officer with Ted Heath on Britain’s first (unsuccessful) bid to join the EU’s forerunner, the EEC.

Doug helped the triumphant 1989 campaign against Foxley Wood, a proposed new town in Hampshire – taking advantage of the growing concern about the impact of large developments on the environment.

I first met Doug soon after that triumph, when I was working for Eagle Star insurance, one of his clients. (Eagle Star was proposing a similar new town, Micheldever Station; the outcome was the same – eventually.)

Doug was a joy to work with: astute, professional, brilliantly connected and above all joyous company. Over lunch in Westminster in 1998, after I left Eagle Star, he was full of ideas about what I might do next. ‘Why don’t you write the definitive book about PR for the insurance industry?” he asked me. ‘You’d be perfect for it!” I never wrote the book – I didn’t share Doug’s confidence in my expertise, and doubted whether the industry’s PR needs were distinct enough to justify the publication. But the encounter was typical of Doug’s concern for a colleague and enthusiasm for a new project.

Enthusiasm – that was the essence of Doug. He brought energy and passion to everything he did, whether it was making a case for or against a new development, explaining the vital need to educate people on the danger of fires – or sharing his love of cricket. His infectious, slightly high-pitched laugh made any meeting or party unforgettable.

I last met Doug last July, at my first CIPR fellows’ lunch at the House of Lords. Happily, my father Bob Skinner, a 1973 CIPR Fellow, joined me and greeted Doug years after they cooperated as PR local government pioneers. Dad gave Doug a copy of his book about his career in PR and journalism, Don’t Hold the Front Page. On a glorious summer’s day, Doug’s smile illuminated the terrace of the House.

Thanks for the laughter and memories, Doug.

PS: My father, Bob Skinner, adds:

“Doug was exceptional. He was the most effective advocate and supporter of local government I have ever met and that commitment continued throughout his incredibly distinguished career that reached national and international level. And he never lost that enthusiasm for local government, which he served so well in many ways.”

Fellowship – thank you CIPR

I’m not one to blow my own trumpet. But I was thrilled this week to learn that I have been awarded Fellowship of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR).

I have been a CIPR member for 21 years. I helped organise its 1994 annual conference at Warwick, and have served on its West of England, Cymru/Wales and Corporate & Financial Group committees.

The nicest thing about becoming a Fellow is that I’m following in my father’s footsteps. Bob Skinner became a Fellow in 1973, and served with distinction as chairman of the Cymru/Wales group twice. Dad also wrote a fascinating history of the group, which served as the story of the development of the PR profession in Wales.

The CIPR has had its ups and downs. It has often been too focused on the UK capital. And it has not always served the interests of members who can’t rely on a generous employer to pay for expensive London hotels and events. (We deliberately chose a modest motel in the south Midlands for that 1994 conference, rather than the likes of Claridges.) It almost came a cropper in 2010 thanks to its old St James’s Square HQ. But under Jane Wilson, its savvy new chief executive, the CIPR is enjoying a resurgence. It is championing the professionalism of PR. It’s embracing social media. And it’s engaging in the debate about lobbying.

Long may it continue.