My Media Day: Seonag MacKinnon, head of communications, Church of Scotland

SEONAG MacKinnon was appointed head of communications at the Church of Scotland in April this year, to lead ‘Team Comms at the Kirk’. She is a former on-screen correspondent at BBC Scotland (specialising in education) and editorial executive at The Scotsman newspaper.

She submitted this on Thursday, November 14.

What exactly is it that you do?

Right now I am juggling day-to-day involvement in frontline media operations while attending many formal and informal meetings to deal with longer-term issues. In the last six months, I have been to Hungary, Romania and London, as well as spending many days in centres around Scotland including ‘Church Towers’ in Edinburgh’s lively George Street.

It is fantastically varied and rewarding work but it is a challenge for one person so I am delighted that the Church is to recruit a communications manager. We are also advertising for the important roles of communications officer and web editor.

What did your working day today or yesterday comprise?

We were asked to identify a minister who can ice skate, to recreate the famous scene at Duddingston Loch in the Raeburn painting.

I was involved in pitching an article to The Herald on Margo MacDonald’s bill on assisted dying. We discussed a potential radio interview which would major on the Church’s official policy on this sensitive issue, while exploring the feelings some individual ministers have about the status quo.

We received the latest issue of our Life and Work magazine, which contains a feature I wrote on a memorable visit by the Moderator to Romanian orphanages.

We also looked at a short film I have produced for the Church with fun former BBC colleagues.

Today, we fine-tuned some of the planning for a visit to London for an annual series of meetings with political and church leaders.

Colleagues discussed with us the desire of the Church to support important issues but the potential implications if it agrees to requests from political organisations for statements of support for their press releases.

We held an internal team meeting to discuss key issues but also exciting plans for redecoration of our tired office which currently has porridge-coloured walls and carpet.

How different is your average working day to when you started?

We organised a ‘jargon-buster’ for journalists attending the General Assembly in May. It was as much for my own benefit as, with no previous connection to the Church, I was not used to documents peppered with words like ‘anent’ and ‘deliverances’. I was also nonplussed by the multitude of committees and councils which seem to simply co-exist. It is commendably democratic but can make it tricky to keep tabs on what is in the pipeline and to work out exactly who on which committee needs to agree a statement for the media.

Six months on, I now have a better understanding of this organisation and have confirmation that I am working for many warm and witty people who are also extremely able.

How do you see your job evolving?

A recent previous Moderator only did one radio and one TV interview during his year of office. The present Moderator did several, plus major newspaper interviews during her first few weeks alone. The comms team is increasingly proactive aiming to secure coverage for the abundance of  people in the Church carrying out important activities affecting the lives of many Scots. It is not widely realised, for example, that, as a major provider of social care services, the Church is well placed to provide comment, case studies and film locations for issues such as drugs, alcohol, care for the elderly and homelessness. We know how hard-pressed many journalists are and hope that, to an ever greater degree, we can be a source of varied stories plus important extras such as film locations.

We have a talented design team producing wonderfully creative and contemporary posters and publications. I hope to see them develop the higher profile they deserve.

Our website is now frequently refreshed with new material but we hope to see further development.

I sit on the Council of Assembly which is the approximate equivalent of a board in most organisations. It is rewarding in itself but has sparked an interest in possibly contributing to the boards of other organisations. I have agreed to do some consultancy work and may consider doing a little more when I have a time to myself at weekends.

What gives you the most job satisfaction?

It is rewarding to build a team and to see an organisation receive significantly more positive and neutral publicity. I greatly enjoy working for people across Scotland at every level in the Church. That includes the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Right Rev Lorna Hood. Mrs Hood has proved to be someone with a great gift for leadership – and starting a party in an empty room. This job is hard work but great fun too.