Industry News

Life fellow and past chairman Norman Woodhouse remembers John Makin (right), former IoIC president, who passed away in January


An early memorable encounter was during my 1971-72 year as British Association of Industrial Editors (BAIE) chairman, when John Makin volunteered to form and lead the organising team for the annual convention, choosing the compelling theme of The need to know?  
 
Among the speakers he briefed was our new president, Peter Parker, an up-and-coming national business leader who helped put BAIE on the British management map and we helped him climb to the top rank of leading industrialists, marked by his knighthood. He spoke our language by berating bosses using pompous company propaganda in their messages to employees. “Beware of the bull!” he warned. 
 
I did an unnecessary check an hour before the final night banquet at Bournemouth’s Royal Bath Hotel to find John and his team’s talented designer collecting all the programme menus from the tables. Had they spotted an embarrassing typo? No such problem. Noticing a couple of the menus, in the stylish shape of a question mark, were beginning to curl at the end, they carefully picked up the lot and neatly replaced them a few minutes before guests arrived. What dedication!
 
John had the knack of linking with colleagues who were do-ers. He and past chairman Peter Ireson launched the impressive Communicators in Business magazine with 17 issues up to BACB’s jubilee conference in May 1999. The flagship publication featured the best practices in corporate communications presented by creative writers, illustrators and designers. Having introduced advertising and sponsorship, their persistent drive helped to defray costs.    
 
Flair and efficiency

With customary flair and efficiency, John organised a series of yearly Colquhoun Lectures, commemorating his late friend and colleague Ian (1968/9 chairman) of the John Lewis Partnership. John asked me in l986 to present at London’s Royal Society of Arts, Communicating in a conflict – the National Coal Board’s multimedia programme during the year-long National Union of Mineworkers strike (see BAIE News edition, below, with Norman Woodhouse pictured). With John in charge it was reassuring to know the array of presentation equipment would function and that was evident in the short rehearsal just before the event.   
 
He gave me astute guidance about emphasis and pauses to get the message across and then went back to the beginning. “There’s no sparkle in the intro. You must do more to rivet the audience, get them on your side,” he said, while looking up at the massive ornate ceiling painting of a medieval battle. “When you start, point up there and set the scene,” he advised. “There’s Ian MacGregor (the Coal Board chairman) charging down the hillside on horseback leading the cavalry. Over there advancing toward him is banner waving Arthur Scargill (the miners’ union president) leading his foot soldiers…”
 
It made a great start and I could see the audience looking relaxed and smiling. Incidentally, the then Metropolitan Police Commissioner was there and we soon followed up his invitation to brief his team on crisis communications – the strike year having been the start of 24-hour news broadcasting in Britain. 

John was active beyond our shores, keenly backing in the ‘90s Britain’s leading role in FEIEA (Federation of European Industrial Editors Associations) to spread effective communications media across borders in 12 other countries.
 
John and [his wife] Alicia have always been great company at past chairmen’s yearly dinners – nostalgically reflecting those rather frugal times when the task was to run the strategy and organising side of the business and finance a chunk of it. We were the stars for a night at London’s celebrity restaurant The Ivy in 2006, enjoying the customary mix of banter, plus a policy briefing on the challenges ahead. John introduced me to propose the toast to The Association with his crisp trademark advice: “Keep it short and don’t tell any of your jokes. John Aspery and I know them all and we can tell them better!”
 
John’s epic five-year reign as president provided BACB with stature and clear continuity of purpose during a period of great doubt. His voice was always authoritative on the direction the Association should be travelling. In his astute personal memoir in 2000, John modestly called himself a pygmy among giants. That could only have been the case in a few very early years.
 
John Makin will long be remembered as the towering leader in the art, practice and organisation of internal communications and a friend and colleague who will be sadly missed by many of us.
 
 

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